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Fr John’s Reflection – Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – 2nd February

Offering ourselves to God

The celebration of the Presentation of the Lord known more popularly as Candle Mass allows the opportunity to notice how Christ brings light to our world. Often this happens at Baptism where we are immersed into the Christ-life and called to allow His life to be the guiding light of our lives. The focus of this feast is how our attention is drawn in anticipation that we will meet Christ even when he comes disguised as a little child totally dependent upon those around him. It is probably good to notice the characters who form part of this story.

First, there is Mary and Joseph who undertake what the law requires in bringing their child before God to be consecrated to Him. There may be a slight sense of irony here in that the one who imparts the blessing is the one they offer to be blessed. Yet in this mystery, we see how fully Jesus enters into our human life. He calls a blessing down upon us that we may allow Him to be at the centre of our lives. That he holds our attention and focus on who He actually is for us and with us.

Second, Simeon lays out how fully this life is missionary in character by the way he is called to bring light to all nations and gather people to Him. There is a recognition that his life enters into our most secret thoughts. There is nothing human that cannot be revealed and opened up before God. There is a sense of confidence that His life will allow others to rise from the oppression which can weigh down on them and love them into a deeper relationship with God. This is like a sword being plunged into us that we may lay our vulnerable selves before God without pretence.

Lastly, there is Anna who praises God with her life. One which is focussed on fasting and prayer so that her heart may be aware of how God is here with us. There is a sense of what she said about Jesus was pondered deeply by those who heard it.

For us, we are called to see how we make each day an offering to the Lord. How we are aware and attentive to where we meet Him. Where do our lives shed light and bring light to others? How do we help others to share what is most important to them and help them to gain the confidence to bring their secret life before God? How do we seek at the end of the day to give thanksgiving for who we are? Each day is an opportunity to meet Christ. Where will we meet Him today?

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time – 26th January

What makes us who we are?

What makes Australian? Is it the fact that we were born in a particular country or that we chose to migrate to this wide dry land? Was there a common bond that drew us to settle in this land and to share both in the benefits and challenges? In our current climate we are called to study the environment in which we live. This is not just about an analysis of the changing nature of our weather but also a deeper reflection on how we are called to listen to what will make a difference to the way we are present to this land.

Whatever happens we can no longer be passive observers of the world around us. The changes of the last few months have devastated communities and have caused widespread suffering. In the moment we reach out to those seeking to rebuild lives but also rediscover hope in the aftermath of this destruction. Yet there is also a deep felt need to engage with the reality in which we now live. The call is to discover what will shed light and not just heat on the situation. This is about what engages us mind, body and soul in working together. What will bring Good News to the situation. How do we live in a way which incarnates the Gospel which walks with people? This is what seems to capture us most, that we are all in this together. Go gently over the coming weeks and months ahead.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Proclaim the Gospel with your lives!

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time – 19th January

Where do we see Christ at work in our lives? Our prayer and our actions are called to raise our awareness and attentiveness to this question. This is a sense of anticipation that Jesus walks in our midst, often unseen, and prompts us to notice where we bump into him on a daily basis. This openness to discover how God is present in our daily lives allows us the possibility to notice what truly centres us as people of faith, hope and love. It changes our outlook to see as God sees and to notice what God notices in our daily lives. It calls us to become people who become co-creators with God by enabling moments of grace which transform our lives and the lives of others.

Particularly as we live through one of our worst bush fire seasons we hear many stories of heroism and generosity. There is a resilience in the human spirit which naturally reaches out to the other in a way which seeks to bring life to another. This daily call allows us to notice how God is at work in our midst on a daily basis and allows us to be open to the promptings of the spirit. On 26th January we will commemorate the effects of the bush fires on our communities and how this can be a moment of solidarity which seeks to bring life out of the ashes.

Yet we also need to pause to reflect on what deeper issues bind us together for the good of God, the good of others and the good of ourselves. How does this experience shape our nation and our souls? What is it that we seek together and what is God calling us to listen to? These questions are the backdrop to our current experience and speak to us of how the Plenary Council helps us to become more responsive as individuals and communities to the prompting of God’s spirit. May we journey together in faith, hope and love bring the light of Christ to our world.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – 12th January

Baptised into Christ

One of the most significant events of the Christian life is one that many people will not remember unless they have been baptized later in life. As we know baptism is efficacious, that is that it achieves in the life of the person what the sacrament intends. A person becomes one with Christ and one with the Christian community. This often has the fancy title of bringing about an ontological change in the life of the person. Yet I am struck that this choice often made by the parents of a child when they were a baby needs to be affirmed in the life of the person as they grow older. It is part of the reason why we celebrate the sacrament of confirmation when a person is a young adult and they are able to start adopting the Christian life for themselves. Yet we know in reality that the celebration of a sacrament can be mired in many other expectations not chosen by the person being baptised or confirmed. They can be the pressure to please older relations, to ensure a place in a good school or even because it is a tradition which keeps us connected with the spiritual side of our life even if people do not regularly attend Church.

The question that raises its head at the baptism of the Lord is what is actually going on? I believe fundamentally it is an invitation made by God into relationship with his Son. There is a witness that God cares so deeply about us that Jesus enters into our human story. This is not just a repentance of sin and dying to self but rather the planting of desire deep within us to grow in a life-giving relationship with God. In this way baptism is not just a ritual action which happens once in a person’s life but rather an opening up of the gates of heaven to how we are called to live in our everyday lives. There is a realisation that there is now no separation between us and God. This changes how we relate to God and each other. It allows us to be seen by God and to be transformed by grace. It allows us to see the world from God’s point of view and allows us to become people who grow in relationship with God and each other. We are transformed by grace so that we can live with hope, faith and love. Our lives are now no longer solely our own but immersed in the person of Christ who seeks us out. In this way we become people who cooperate with God’s grace in our daily lives.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Epiphany of the Lord

Epiphany of the Lord – 5th January

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How do we use our time and money?

With the Feast of the Epiphany approaching we are able to notice how the wise men lay down their gifts at the feet of Jesus. What I particularly notice about this story is not just their generosity but also their gentleness to give thanks to God in the place they had not expected to visit. They had thought that their wisdom and knowledge would have been acknowledged in the halls of the powerful but instead were led to a stable. They thought that their gifts would win them favour by appearing appropriate to celebrate the birth of a King, yet they found that they knelt at a crib. They thought that they would do the most appropriate and relevant thing but found that they needed to return home by a different way never to be heard of again. The urge to be powerful, spectacular and relevant can linger in our own hearts. Yet often we find that we can appear powerless, ordinary and mundane. We do not have all the answers, but we can seek to live the question of where do we find Christ in our everyday lives?

The three gifts that we bring before God each day are our money, our treasure and our concerns. This may seem pretty obvious but our bank accounts, our diaries and our priorities shape who we become and what we consider important. They are a visible record of who we are becoming and what we notice. They can be a useful guide to observing what we say is important and how we actually place the emphasis of our lives. They become a theological statement of how God is present at the heart of our lives and who we truly follow. Each day presents the opportunity to notice what is enlivening our hearts or what is consuming us. We too are called to live our lives in a way which allows us to centre on the direction that God wishes us to follow.  We discover that our lives can be Good News for ourselves and for others. We start to become aware of how God shapes our world and invites our response in a way which seeks faith, hope and love.

My thoughts at this time go out to the many communities who have been affected by bush fires. I am very conscious of the fires on the coast of Victoria and New South Wales. Having lived through the fires that ravaged Canberra in 2003 I am aware of not just the immediate impact of loss of homes but also the trauma which lingers longer than the smoke.  The devastation that has occurred around Lake Conjola, Mallacoota, Batemans Bay, Mogo and Cobargo is hard to comprehend. The rebuilding of infrastructure and the rebuilding of lives go hand in hand. The next week will not be easy as many of the things we take for granted like shelter, power, food, and water will need to be re-established. We pray for those men and women who often perform this work, often unseen and in difficult circumstances. We pray for their safety and for the communities they serve. Often it is this dedication which defines the human spirit to live your life for others. May we all be able to notice that our lives are built on a solid foundation of seeking out the good in all things especially when immediate circumstances can seem to render us powerless. As we enter into 2020 may we review where we spend our money and time which indicate what we consider most important.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Feast of the Holy Family

Feast of the Holy Family – 29th December

Resolutions

After Christmas we have time to review what is important in our lives. So often we seem to be driven by what is urgent. This can cause us to wonder what direction our lives are taking. What do we consider most important for the way we live. I think this is the essential starting point for any new resolution. How we would like to be gives substance to what we focus on. 

So these may be some suggestions for the next few days as we approach the new year. Spend some time each day considering what fills us with life and hope? Where do we find ourselves undertaking something we love doing? How do our lives encourage others to be their best? Where do we notice God at work in our lives and in the life of our community?

When we look at these questions, what we decide to focus on each day is more than just achieving a goal but rather discovering who we are called to be. May this year be blessed and guided by a God who seeks us out to discover that we can be open to God in all things.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Second Sunday of Advent

Second Sunday of Advent – 8th December

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Prepare the way

The immanence of Christmas can cause us to start to plan with the end in mind. Our activity while being focussed on that event can distract us from what is happening at the moment. The preparations can all seem present to something that has not yet happened but which we anticipate. It is in this sense of anticipation that we can miss the everyday events which make the journey worthwhile. When we hurry towards the destination we can forget who we are travelling with and why we are seeking to arrive there quickly. Maybe it is time to hasten slowly!
Each day is not just to be struck off the calendar as one day less to go. We are called to see what is happening within us as we search for who we long for. What brings meaning and substance to our life? This is a time where we can look at what Christmas and the coming of the Christ child mean for us. What is it that we are looking for and how do we see ourselves more clearly?
With John the Baptist this is a time when we are called to notice what holds our attention and whether this assists us along the way. We are called to be people who are open to the promptings of God and to let go of the things that bind us too strongly. May we become people who travel lightly and freely towards God. May the joy which rises in our hearts disturb us with a peace the world cannot give.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent – 1st December

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Beginning at the end

We start the first Sunday in the same way we finished the liturgical year. We are called to be aware and awake of how God is present to us in our daily lives. This can be especially important as we journey towards Christmas. The season of Advent often becomes lost in a relentless sense of activity which seeks to wrap up the year with attention to exterior activities. I start to lose myself in attending to expectations and pressures which call me to attend to things that seem to be outside our control. It could be as simple as trying to find a car parking spot close to the place we will make our next shopping expedition. It can be the dilemma of knowing who we should send cards to and whether are greetings are truly heartfelt for the good of the person. There can be a variety of pressures which cause us to overcommit and overspend.

What may be a useful practice is to consider where the Word of God is called to read our lives. Maybe as a small group or even on our way to work, we can listen to how God wants to plant seeds in our hearts. This allows us to make room for the variety of ways in which God wishes to greet us along the way. It may allow us to pray for the person for whom we will shop or send a card, the consideration that allows our hearts to become attentive and alert to what is happening rather than what we think should happen. It calls us to allow the opportunity to notice what will bring life.

Then at the end of each day, we can review our lives to see what brings life and what overwhelms us. By attending to what is happening in the everyday. By allowing how God meets us disguised as our lives we notice how we always begin at the end!

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Feast of Christ the King

Feast of Christ the King – 24th November

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Who will lead us to the truth?

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. In a world where the idea of the monarchy has diminished to a ceremonial role and leadership is found in the form of democracy, dynastic rule or in the cult of personality, we can lose sight of who we are called to become in Christ. The form of leadership that is put forward talks about being in power, being spectacular and being relevant. The focus moves off the office and onto the person occupying the office. We are then bombarded by opinion polls which tells us to the degree to which that person’s leadership is acceptable rather than a consideration of how they are called to be at service. When this focus shifts significantly we start to recognise that no one person can fulfil all our desires which are beyond their human capacity to achieve in their own lifetime!

It is against this reflection on leadership that we start to notice how Christ leads from the midst of people and their everyday lives. He seeks us out first, that we may discover the truth of who we are called to become. The Kingdom is not something to be discovered and established outside of ourselves but rather a gentle invitation to be at home with him and him at home with us. This desire to enter under our own roof as we so often hear at the time of communion is a recognition that we are worth the effort. This means Jesus meets us in our failures as much as our successes, in our sickness as much as in our health, in our wealth and in our poverty. This meeting is not just focused on our circumstances but on the heart of our life which meets us with an intense desire to be present in all things and in all situations.

So in our own time what is the leadership we seek? Many issues seem to come to the fore as things which compete for our attention. Even over the last week, the relationship to the environment we live has been debated and many have called for fresh vision and insight. We hear many competing voices which speak about the information about how the climate is changing and we struggle to respond in a way which balances our own needs with the impact that we do have on the world around us. In many cases, the emphasis is on how our intervention is needed to provide remedies to a world which has the perception of falling outside our control. However, I believe that the leadership that is needed is to recognise that we are called to be stewards of creation, not masters of the universe. We are not called to dominate the world around us and conquer it by force to bend to our will. Rather we need to listen to how we are called to become at one with each other and with God in cooperating with the natural world. We are called to be co-creators with God. Since we have received all things as a gift, we should treasure what has been entrusted to us. Not to be exploited solely for our own ends but rather used wisely with respect for all creation of which we are part.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection 33rd Sunday of the Year

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – 17th November

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A rule of life

We live in a world where the opinions of others matter deeply. We can become fascinated by the latest developments whether they be about finance, politics, fashion or sport. Part of the fascination can be motivated by a deep interest in a particular aspect of life and how it can help us to give expression to who we are. Yet too often the opinions can just become chatter which prevents us from becoming more deeply engaged either with the person who is speaking or what they are speaking about. It just becomes background noise to an already crowded world vying for our attention. What is more difficult is the intrusiveness of technology which can start to notice what we are paying attention to and give us more of the same. Whether it is a search engine, an electronic device or a social media page we can find our direction being channelled into unexpected avenues and our ability to reflect being influenced by the amount of material on offer.

In such an information-rich environment how do we choose what to listen to? There can be a constant diet of bad news or misinformation that we find it hard to filter out and reflect on what is truly important and valuable. We find that people play with our emotions in ways which can cause us to react rather than reflect more deeply on what actually brings us life. We can be fed with a diet which is not truly nourishing and which does not settle well in our stomachs. There is a sense that we become consumed by what we hear rather than listening to a deeper truth.

This is where we need to look at what brings life and purpose to us. Where do we find meaning which is substantial and life-giving? This is where we need to work for that which brings hope, faith and charity into our life. This is called a rule of life which is not about rigid discipline but rather a way of reflecting on who I am and what I seek to become. The simplest example is the ancient command echoed by Jesus as the golden rule, “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength and all your soul and your neighbour as yourself.” This allows us each day to reflect on how we live this ancient truth which reflects that when we come close to God we come close to others and close to ourselves. We become people who live in a communion which seeks to be present to the God of all creation not the gods of our own creation.

Fr. John Armstrong