Fr John’s Reflection – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday – 28th March

 How do we welcome Jesus into our hearts?

 We know the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem all too well. How cheering crowds could so easily turn into a howling mob! It is a reality we see all too often when peaceful demonstrations turn ugly when anger turns into violence and the hope of liberation turns to tyranny. There is something all too familiar with the story which seems to be played out in our own time not only in events over history. It is probably a good reality check to see where our hearts are at the beginning of Holy Week.

There can be anticipation that Lent is rapidly drawing to an end and we approach the climax of Jesus life in the Paschal Mystery. Where is it in his life, death and resurrection that we see the story of our own salvation played out? This is not just a mystery play that leaves us unmoved but a life that touches deeply into our own. Lent is not just about what we have given up but how it has prepared us to encounter the person of Jesus in the reality of our own frailty, vulnerability and sinfulness. His life is intertwined with our own as we journey towards Calvary. We know suffering, disappointment and the feelings which cause us to hide away from a God who loves us. The immanence of the person Jesus overcomes us and surprises us with grace.

Over this week we are called to accompany Jesus, not just as passive observers but as living participants who are profoundly affected by his total self-offering. The at-one-ment opens the gates to the relationship with the Father which lay at the centre of his life. This is not just a blind abandonment to fate but rather an active engagement with what lay at the heart of his life. God was prepared to offer everything of life that we may enter into eternal life. That in his death we discover a life that transforms us and breaks our own hearts with life and love. This Holy Week is not just a depressing repetition of past events or a reminder of the cost of sin on the human heart but rather a hope-filled encounter with the person who reorients our life towards God.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 4th Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent – 14th March

 What bites us may not kill us!

 The image of Jesus suffering on the cross has often been one of the most confronting images in which we encounter a God who self-empties everything for our good. This is a very disturbing reality for most of us as we discover a God who is vulnerable and who can suffer with us and for us. There is a part of us that wishes to save Jesus from this suffering but there is also another part of us that recognises that our own personal suffering afflicts our own body. None of us is immune to the afflictions which can cause us mental, physical and spiritual pain. There is an acknowledgement that Jesus’ total offering of self for the good of another can help us to experience not only a deeper insight into our own life but also how we are called to become vulnerable to what seems unspeakable.

This reality can become part of our own Lenten experience. Through our own penance, fasting and almsgiving we discover that there is an inward desire to encounter God as ourselves. This can be about losing our false image of self which seeks to control outcomes, seeking quick fixes and listening all too easily to the solutions which are not meant for us. Lent ultimately seeks us to encounter God in our own poverty, powerlessness and frailty. This allows us to abandon our whole life into the loving embrace of God who does not seek counterfeit affection but an inward desire which wells up within us. This seeks for us to become real and become who God desires us to be.

So here we stand at Laudate Sunday hoping beyond hope that our lives are centred on the one person who matters. To discover in the midst of our daily confusion, struggles, sadnesses and the pressures of life that there is a God who sustains us in love, hope and peace. This does mean abandoning our plans but rather encountering a God who seeks to bring them to fruition with a graced awareness. The recognition that God sustains us when we make the first step. Thus, our mediation on the cross sees our own vulnerability in his own. That our lives are open to God who is all in all.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 5th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent – 21st March

The Law written on our hearts!

When someone asks us, what is the right thing to do we often turn to a book of rules or laws. When we ask how I am called to be the person that God desires me to be we need to know the heart of the person who wrote the laws. This is often the dilemma we encounter in daily life. In some ways, it is easy to know the law rather than the heart of the lawgiver. Often we encounter this in relationships whether it be in playing a sport, living our lives in the workplace or meeting people for the first time. The encounters that are part of daily life are called to be truly life-giving for ourselves and for others. We are called to become our best self which seeks to show authenticity and integrity.

Over the last few weeks, we witnessed this reality in the life of the nation and the world around the issue of sexual violence towards women. The question is how to build workplaces and social environments which allow women a place where they can feel safe and respected. I believe often we live with the contradictions where physical beauty is seeing people objectively and this causes a diminishment in treating a person with the dignity that they deserve. This is not only present in how we see the prevalence of the trivialisation of relationships that are lifelong and sustaining. Often it is the breakdown of trust between persons which causes people to live in a society that is underlaid by fear and anxiety. The question is not how we apply the law but how we are called to be people who are authentic and integrated.

I believe Richard Rohr noted this in rites of passage that men discover both their power and vulnerability. The fact that these rites of passage are not present as a regular part of our western culture can cause young men to become powerful without recognising their own vulnerability and the vulnerability of others. I can sense that the ability to have power without responsibility can cause many to treat others as objects to be possessed rather than people to be related to. Young men need to learn through prayer and reflection on how to live their lives as people of compassion and integrity. 

When we come to the questions of the heart, we need to recognise that our prayer often deals with the internal conflicts that we all experience. When issues trouble us they call for a thoughtful and prayer-filled response which is for the good of the person and the good of the whole community. There can be a sense in which it is easy to demonise the other and to see our own life as the only thing that matters. Yet at the heart of the gospel is what seeds do we want to be planted within us which blossom to eternal life. I believe that bringing issues into the light allows us to recognise not only the truth of human life but also how we become people of compassion. This allows us to notice what needs to die within us so that we can become our best self.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent – 7th March

Can we buy off God?


 Sometimes our prayers of intercession can sound more like a wish list where we try to bargain with God. We seek to influence a particular outcome in our favour and we would like God to see it from our point of view. Often this can seem like we keep badgering God with the same request even though it may not be what God sees as the best for us. There can be a tendency to see this is as a transaction which if I pay a certain amount of money, undertake a particular sacrifice or spend a certain time in prayer that God will respond more favourably to my request. There may even be a subtle thought that if I do this God owes me the solution which is most beneficial to my circumstances.

Yet sometimes it is in our disappointments that God encounters us as we truly are. The most significant insight is that we cannot buy God off and seek him to compensate us with a certain reward for our good behaviour. Regardless of our action or inaction the love of God is constant and I believe this is what Jesus notices in the turn over of the tables in the temple. His frustration and anger are not that people are seeking to develop a relationship with God but the thought that it can be turned into a transactional relationship. Jesus desires us to encounter God in a way that transforms our lives into a way that brings us into a deeper faith, hope and charity.

I believe this is where our Lenten discipline is the most challenging because it is not what we give up but rather how we abandon everything over to God. This profound surrender seeks to engage our whole being, heart, mind and body in a way of living which acknowledges our total dependence on God’s loving presence in our lives. It is when we do that out of a profound union with the person who loves us most deeply that we start to discover who it is that we are called to be and how we are to act. It allows trust to be discovered which build up a sense of mutuality that we are created in God’s image and likeness. There is a sense that God desires what will bring us the greatest happiness and the best contribution that we can make to our own community. Lent is not what we give up but rather the relationship we are drawn into that recognises that even in our frailty, sinfulness and limited vision that God calls us to see with eternal vision. To notice how God’s presence transforms our world for good!

Fr. John Armstrong