Fr John’s Reflection – First of Advent

First of Advent – 29th November

Guiding Star

 Over the last few weeks, much attention has been focused on the results of the US Election. This has not just caused us to reflect on the electoral process that has taken place but also the varied standpoints which have emerged about whether the result was free and fair. In many cases, this has depended more on which side of the fence one sits rather than on the facts. It appears more than an opinion about those facts has greater credence than the facts themselves. It appears that truth becomes a disposable commodity which counts for little in an era which has thrown doubt on what actually constitutes news. In the midst of the turmoil which has resulted in questions being raised in what and whom we should believe. There is a danger in a post-modern world that truth becomes whatever we want it to be rather than having an inherent value in itself. In a world in which power is vested not so much in belief but rather in external force, we see people become easily disorientated and disengaged with the very process which seeks to give them a voice in their governance. When we do not trust ourselves, we can notice how quickly chaos and disorder can follow.

Yet into this maelstrom, we begin the season of Advent which focuses on the coming of Christ into a disordered and chaotic world. A world which tended to focus on the external expression of belief rather than on an interior conversion of heart. The question of what we believe becomes transformed by the person who meets us in our disbelief. We find ourselves transformed by a person who speaks to the heart of our life and to the heart of our creation. In the midst of the confusion which we have encountered during the year, he seeks to bring a peace which disturbs us with love and joy. This calls us to see the whole of creation with an abiding loving presence. The call to see the whole of creation giving birth to God’s plan for our salvation.

This message is never more prevalent than in a world which is focussed more on the use of power rather than stewardship of what has been entrusted to us. Old wounds have been quickly opened and can fester if left untreated. There can be spirits that rage within us which seek to promote division and anger. The geopolitical map has shifted and fractured in a way which has happened so quickly that many fear the return to old conflicts left unresolved. Yet this is where we need to listen to the Good News which seeks reconciliation between people. This reconciliation is hard-won and easily lost. It seeks a forgiving spirit which finds its origin in God and not solely through our own will power.

What we seek is not cheap grace which covers over the cracks of humanity with a false balm. It calls for individuals, communities and nations to discover not just what divides us but rather the deeper values that abide within us. What makes for peace is listening to a narrative which is more than just our perception of the other but rather listening to the heartbeat which works for the greater good of all. God enters into our human story to bring about this deeper listening which meets our deepest longing not just our wishful thinking. In these days of Advent, we are called to listen for whom will become our guiding star.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Christ the King

Christ the King – 22nd November

Who will I be when I die?

 As we near the end of the Church’s liturgical year we are called to remember the four last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell. This is something which is seldom preached on and when it is memories of those who recall the Redemptorist mission can remember people having the fear of God-driven home. There can be a sense in which this reality needs to be reflected upon as it shapes who we seek to become in life. Rather than a fear of future reward or punishment, a greater emphasis is placed on how we are present to God in this present moment. This is not an exercise in just receiving enough credits in life to outweigh our debts rather it is the orientation that we seek our life to take.

In the readings for the day we see six of the seven corporal works of mercy: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and befriend those in prison. The seventh relates to praying for the dead. What they sum up are not a to-do list but rather a disposition of heart which sees the needs of those around us who are made in the image and likeness of God. It recognises that our spirituality is incarnate. How we seek to be present to others especially those in greatest need reflect on how we see God present in the world. We are called to be people of faith, hope and love not just in our prayers but also in our actions.

The focus is always on the person which proceeds the action. In this way, we do not marginalise the person by their need but rather we restore their dignity to be in right relationship with the whole community. We acknowledge that we are called to see in the other, especially those who are on the margins, the face of Christ. This comes not through an obligation placed upon on us but rather who we seek to become. In this becoming, our actions flow naturally out of a lived expression of our prayer. Our hearts, minds and our bodies unite to attend the needs of the poorest within our community.

The heart of a community is shaped by how we treat the poorest within our society rather than how we reward the most successful. In caring for each person, we seek their fundamental worth not just their utility. In this way, we build up a culture of life which builds the realm of God in our own time. This is by asking the fundamental question who will I be when I die?

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 15th November

Many Gifts, One God

 Each day is a new day when we can give thanks to God for the gift of life. Especially as we move towards Advent and the end of our liturgical year this can become a time of review. Where do we notice we are spending our time and what brings faith, hope and charity to the life of others. A gift or a charism is entrusted to us for the good of the whole community so that they may be drawn into a living relationship with God. We thus become stewards of these gifts rather than becoming people who own them. They are given to us for a good purpose so that others may encounter God.

There are many different charisms, but they all have the same end. They help us to notice and become aware of how God is present to us in the everyday circumstances of life. The three signs of a charism are that it has a feel of being in prayer to which we can give ourselves freely, it is of benefit to the spiritual and material good of another, and it has a felt sense of drawing us deeper into a living relationship with God. This is the reality that we can do ordinary things with amazing grace and presence.

So, the three things I would suggest for us to examine is not just how we use our time but whether we allow it to be a way of being prayerfully present to others. Does it bring us the freedom to be ourselves rather than just becoming a task to be fulfilled? Each moment allows the opportunity to become aware of how God is present in all things and for them to become moments of thanksgiving. As we journey through this next week may we discover the God who walks with us on our journey?

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 8th November

Running on the smell of an oily rag!

 There can be times in life when we just keep on going through an interior motivation to achieve a particular end. Yet we can also be conscious of feelings of tiredness, discouragement and at times being overwhelmed by the world around us. Yet there is a sense that in being present to these feelings with honesty and compassion we can show the same to others. We start to notice that the world does not revolve around me but in a relationship which sustains us to become our true self.

In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the bridegroom’s return, we start to notice our own way of being present to life. We can become aware that the end that we are striving for seems to be a long way off and we can start to sleepwalk through activities. Yet the wake-up call is how we respond when we are most in need to be present. Do we become attentive to our own situation and our ability to respond with faith, hope and love or do we notice what that moment may demand of us and shy away from responding? There is a saying that history is made by those who turn up. We are called to be aware that our presence and response makes a difference to the good of God, the good of others and the good of ourselves.

When so many things can seem to point towards bad news we can choose to be known as a person who responds with life and love to the situation we find ourselves in. We are called to be creatively present with our lives in nurturing that which brings life. In this way, we stand ready to respond in ways which notice the promptings of God to be people who pray, reflect and act for the good of our world.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – All Saints Day

All Saints Day – 1st November

Called to be saints

We are used to the process of elections where we seek to choose the person we believe is best able to govern on our behalf. The process of choosing the right person causes us to notice both their words and their actions. We seek not only to understand who they are, but we also weigh their ability to work for our benefit.

Yet God calls us all to be saints. Rather than just choosing one person he sees that all of us are called into a life-giving relationship with God. God seeks us out that we may discover our capacity to be holy. This holiness is lived out in ordinary ways for the good of God. 

The saints remind us that while each of us are gifted we can choose how we use these gifts. They are not solely for our own good. In helping us to centre our lives on God’s loving presence we notice that we see our lives differently.  We see ourselves as cocreators with God. Each day provides the opportunity for God to pray in union with us. God seeks us out with a love so intense that we can become saints.

Fr. John Armstrong