Fr John’s Reflection – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 26th July

Where is my life heading?

Solomon prays for the gift of service for himself into seeking to discern between good and evil in the service of others. In fact, it is one of the reasons we need to pray for the people who offer leadership either in government and in the Church. This calls us to be able to reason with our minds and test the inclination of our hearts to consider what is the right and good thing to do. In fact, it is this balancing of doing the right thing with good intentions that guides us to know how our life makes a difference for the wellbeing of others. This calls us to be people who pray with all our hearts, who reflect with attention not only to our opinions but to the wisdom of others and act in a way which embodies what is true to ourselves.

The call to prayer is not just to say prayers but to notice what is moving us towards a choice. This calls us to see whether in the first stage our direction is towards doing good or doing evil. By noticing what is happening in our hearts we can consider whether we feel disturbed, angry, afraid or anxious. This lack of peace calls us to become dissipated into many different ways of being present which seem to tear us apart. They draw us away from a feeling of unity and communion both within ourselves and with others. These are often signs that the bad spirit draws us into a conflict which is destructive not just of ourselves but also of the other. 

The good spirit is very different. It can help us to notice the inner conflict within ourselves but seeks to navigate the destructive feelings that well up inside us. It helps us to notice first that feelings can be naturally present to each person but they can become a fruitful place from which we can have a conversation with God. They can help us to see that our prayer calls for honest self-evaluation of what feelings lead to life and those that do not. It also allows us to talk to a spiritual companion to sift what is happening in our relationship with God. In essence, this is not by seeing these feelings as alien to our sense of being but allowing them to be brought to the light. This allows us to see how we become constructive in our engagement in the world.

I feel that this is the wisdom that Solomon prayed for. It was not to remove himself from the world but to notice how he could be a person who could bring a sense of balance and equanimity to his considerations. He sought to seek not just what was good for himself but the good of the whole. This was by listening to the stories that people wished to tell him from their own perspective. However, it was not wishing to be influenced solely by that perspective but the motivation that was behind the telling of that story. Was it told for the personal advantage of the person, was it to address a situation which demanded justice for the whole community or was it to reveal the desire of God for the person? These are never easy decisions but a person who helps another to discern listens to the story and also where a person may be guided in the telling of that story. Any discernment seeks to take the next obvious step in the story of a person and our community.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 19th July

The Tolerant Gardener

I was struck by how when I look at the little garden I am cultivating under my window that the weeds seem to be more prolific than the carefully planted bulbs. I have the hopes of a wonderful floral display to greet me especially in these times of winter and COVID gloom which seems to loom heavily around us. What I have noticed, however, is that I need to be patient. While the grass seems to thrive and grow quickly the bulbs only hesitantly push forward the signs of new growth, tentatively waiting the welcome of warmer days. Even with the meticulous gardening, it seems that the grass continues to flourish and the flowers only slowly emerge into the sunlight.

When I turn to the reading of the weekend the difference between the darnel and the wheat is less obvious. There is a fear that if you pull out one plant you will damage the other. There is a sense in which we are called to observe and be present to the environment in which both grow. They both bring forth green shoots but only one produces a “fruit” which is desired. Only one can be made into a bread which brings life. Yet it is only by careful observation that we can distinguish the difference.

In many ways, it is similar to situations we notice in life. What seems to bring forward green shoots and fresh insights does not always bring forth the desired fruit. Yet in these situations, Jesus calls us to be attentive to what is happening and notice what actually leads to life. Often this can look as though we give permission to something rather than developing a tolerance which allows a person to be nourished by the Word planted within them. Just as in all growth we need to help a person distinguish what truly brings life and which nourishes their life and others. This calls us to be attentive, tendering and aware of how in being present we help another to grow closer to our Lord.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 12th July

The Careless Gardener

Over the weeks and months since we entered into the pandemic, I have a fresh appreciation of nature and creation. There has been a growing appreciation of how things grow even in the midst of terrible disasters. Going through some of the countryside ravaged by bushfires you can start to see fresh growth and green shoots emerging. Yet blackened trees still remind us of the ferocity of the fires that threatened many communities. While nature seems to recover the scars left on human hearts take longer to heal. This is not just the physical effort necessary to rebuild shattered lives but also the need to create a place from which our hearts will trust that we overcome the mental anguish we have encountered. This is not only in the lives of those directly affected but is vicariously shared by our common concern for each other. When we notice the effects of the pandemic, we can start to feel growing anxiety about what the future may hold.

Into the midst of this reality, we have the image of a God who throws out the Word with reckless abandon. God does not reserve it to the chosen few but seeks for it to be heard and seen by all people. This profound love which God bears for humanity is that all hearts should be able to truly see and hear that their lives have eternal worth. Also, it is not that this word is thrown out only once but there is a continual showering of that Word in abundance. The Word is called to be planted in human hearts and draw forth a response which is life-giving not just for the person but for the people who share that life with others.

Yet what can prevent us from seeing and hearing that Word in our own lives. We can allow it to be stolen from us by people who cause us to distrust that this is actually being spoken directly to our hearts. Then we notice a leap in the heart which catches our breath but then we do not rest with it to allow the Word to take us deeper. For many of us, the demands of daily life can cause us to seem to be on a treadmill where we seem that time is a relentless master which pushes us from one task to another. Yet in the midst of all this when we do take time to ponder scripture in prayer, we find that many of the tasks which seemed to overwhelm us can be seen in a new perspective and with fresh generosity. We can find our lives imbued with a fresh insight that brings life and hope not just to ourselves but also to others. There are signs that encourage us to take small steps which multiply the hope and love which appear miraculous. What God calls us to is reckless gardening where we throw out the seed knowing that some of it will take root and produce a good crop. The insight that our lives are lived for the good of God who is encountered in everyday life for our good and the good of the whole community.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 5th July

Come to me all you who are heavily burdened!

Often we feel that trying to find God in daily life can be hard work! Yet in the gospel reading for the weekend we discover a God who labours for us and with us. This discovery can change the way we see God at work in our lives. Too often we can set benchmarks that we need to achieve before God will either answer our prayers or recognise our efforts to be present. Yet what is remarkable is that God turns the tables and calls us to discover that there is nothing more and nothing less that will allow us to be loved in the core of our being. God graces us each day with an amazing attentiveness which simply calls us to surrender what burdens us so that we may cooperate with that divine prompting and guidance.

Maybe a simple practice that we can stay with each day is to say to God: Thank you, Help Me, Guide me, Love me, Walk with me. These simple steps notice that we are called to have grateful and generous hearts, that we are not called to be people who seek help when we need and seek guidance when we do not know the way. In the midst of it all, we are called to discover who loves us not so much because of our successes but our willingness to share our life with others. At the heart of our pilgrimage is that we discover the person who walks with us and accompanies both in the highs and lows of life.

Fr. John Armstrong