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Fr John’s Reflection 21st Sunday of the Year

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time – 25th August

Where are you coming from?

Whenever we meet a new person often the first questions reflect what we consider important about life. Hence the most universal questions in the western world are what do you do and where do come from? What quickly follows are incidental questions about where do they live and more specific questions about their family, education and their interests. These all help us to gain an understanding of what forms the background of the person. Yet what they do not tell us is who they are and what they think. These more intimate questions come as we build trust with the person and cause us to engage with them in a way which is not just a collection of facts. We are called to experience who they are and what forms them to be the person they are.

In a similar way, our understanding of the person cannot just be engaged from a textbook or someone else’s reflection on their life. No matter how deep the insight, we are called to recognise that what intrigues us about the person cannot be learnt by hearsay or by second-hand reflection by another. This is especially important when we encounter the person of Jesus in prayer. He needs to meet us as a real person, we are called day by day to set aside time for us to be with him and to discover the ways in which he is present to us. This calls us to make a priority for this reflective time which we are called to consider as central to our Christian life. This is not just about finding the “right” method of prayer but rather a heart to heart meeting of what we consider central to who we are. We need to discover what satisfies and sustains us in a relationship which is pivotal to who we are called to become. By discovering this place of self-knowledge we encounter God who motivates us and sustains us. 

This is where we need to discover the language in which God most easily communicates with us. What moves us into action and helps us to understand the universal call to respond to the Good News. By pondering on how we are in daily life and reflecting on what brings us life we move closer to God’s purpose and mission. This is not just engaged with as isolated individuals but as a communion which enables us to be drawn into solidarity of faith. It builds on a tradition which is ever ancient and ever new. The life-giving spirit which in every age challenges us to be faithful to the Word that dwells within us. Each day we are called to become more the person God has loved into being by reflecting that love in our prayer, study and action. In this way, our life becomes centred on God who seeks to draw us closer. This mystery is not just a one-way street but rather a pilgrimage where we discover who we are. As we walk by the way we discover the person who walks close by our side and helps us to notice who we truly are.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection 20th Sunday of the Year

Marathon not a sprint

There are many how-to books that we can buy in the bookshops or borrow from the library. They seek to give examples of how the author has adopted a certain method which they wish to apply to how we should live, how this will be successful for another. The temptation to swallow another person’s life whole is alluring especially when a person appears on talk shows and appears on radio slots which promote what they have to sell. Yet like all advice, it has to be tested in the marketplace and pondered in our prayer. While we can turn to the wisdom of others we need to see what moves us to become who we truly are. We have to discover what sets our lives on fire with faith, hope and love. This cannot just be kindled by another’s insight but only through our own willingness to engage with the relationship which will lead us closer to God and the mission entrusted to us. The goal of our life is not so much a task to be completed but a relationship which is to be sustained. It is in this relationship that we discover our own unique calling which will help others to discover who they are called to be.

In our own age, there is an increasing recognition that the call to live a life which is faithful to God and to others is becoming more complex. This is not just about living private lives which see our faith as being only about our own self-improvement. Our faith calls us to give witness that at the heart of all life God creates us for a good purpose. This is why we seek to create a culture of life which sustains people from conception to birth into eternal life. In a culture which increasingly seeks to treat human life as a commodity rather than a gift, we can lose a sense of hospitality which welcomes life. When we start to see life as disposable or consumable then our sense of values change. We measure people by their usefulness and convenience rather than by their fundamental dignity and worth. By realising that Christ calls us to an incarnate way of living we see that each person is both body and spirit. This changes how we live and what we stand for in caring for others. This is especially important when we seek to protect the lives of the most vulnerable. Our culture and our society are shaped by how we give a voice to those who have no voice of their own.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection 19th Sunday of the Year

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 11th August

Listen! I have been reflecting over the last month on how our relationship with God is fundamental not only to our prayer but the way we live. I think some of the difficulties that we find in our prayer are that we concentrate on whether we are achieving a closeness which permeates all our interactions. There is often a trusting solely in our own efforts or in seeking a silver bullet which will make sense of who we are seeking to enter into a relationship with. Often these can have echoes of the first question asked by the disciples where they approach Jesus and ask where do you live and he says come and see. This is where our searching for God becomes an activity that we undertake amidst many other activities. We acknowledge its importance but somehow we are the person who chooses when and where we will pray and what will be at the forefront of our lives. Yet as we enter deeper into prayer we recognise interplay between what we consider important and what God considers is important. While we can be engaged in many things which help us to know about God at the heart of our prayer God wishes to know us. The gentle art of letting down our defences and taking off our masks to be truly known can cause us fear and anxiety wondering if we are truly known will we ever be the same. Yet in reaching out to us God helps us to discover it is from this place of being truly known as our true self that we can discover the call which is unique to each person. God calls us to be ourselves and in knowing ourselves we discover what it is that we can devote our lives to. Ultimately this is at the heart of the pilgrimage journey that we take. We are called to be companioned along the way where we discover the God who walks with us. Rather than searching outside ourselves for this relationship, he draws us deeper into the place that God already calls home. We are not called to be aliens in a foreign land but rather fellow travellers who accompany each other on the way. As Jesus concludes when Thomas asks him what he is called to do Jesus points to himself and says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” By searching each day for where God is always present we can see that God’s grace is not beyond our reach or outside the realm in which we live. He walks with us, talks with us and breaks bread with us. May your hearts burn within you as you listen to His voice.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection 18th Sunday of the Year

How do I get to the other side

I am often reminded of the conversation between two people on opposite sides of the road. One calls out to the other, “How do I get to the other side?” The person responds, “You are on the other side!” Sometimes this can be our experience of prayer, that somehow if we cross over into a different realm we will be more present to God and God will be more present to us. Yet the truth is more dynamic when we hear Jesus say, the Kingdom of God is within you. This is the most surprising and stunning revelations that we find it hard to wrap our minds around it. We tend to have a false understanding that God is far distant from our experience much like Better Midler’s song, “From a distance, God is watching us!” Yet this is not the truth of the incarnation. God breaches the gap to draw us closer.
The pilgrimage of life, therefore, is not one of travelling from one place to another but discovering how God is present in our day to day lives. Our prayer seeks to help us rest in that place where God has always been. God seeks us out not to just know about but to be known by that life-giving Spirit which wells up inside us and calls us to be our true selves. Trust yourself to God in prayer today!

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection The Feast of the Transfiguration

Feast of the Transfiguration – 6th August

How we listen to another indicates the way we will live our lives.

The Transfiguration puts the same words before us that we hear at the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist: “This is my beloved son, listen to him”. This is not just about hearing what he said or reading what has been written. It is allowing his life to touch our own.

We encounter Jesus by allowing his living word to engage us more deeply. To ponder how it becomes one with us and shapes how we think and act. This heartfelt response challenges us to not be afraid that God reaches out to us to enter into a living and life giving relationship.

We are called to listen to his voice in the way we live.

Fr. John Armstrong

“The intellectual quest is exquisite, like pearls and coral. But it is not the same as the spiritual quest. The spiritual quest is on another level altogether. Spiritual wine has a subtler taste. The intellect and the senses investigate cause and effect. The spiritual seeker surrenders to wonder.” (Rumi Wisdom; trans. Timothy Freke)

Fr John’s Reflection 17th Sunday of the Year

17th Sunday of the Year – 30th July

There is often a subtle distinction between choosing what is right and wrong and what is good and evil. The first deals with observable acts which can be seen to be right or wrong according to a moral code or enacted law. The second deals with the unseen motivation of the person which seeks to discover what is good or evil.

A person can do the right thing with evil intent, just as a person can do the wrong thing with good intent. This is what Solomon prays for as he seeks to take leadership of the people of Israel. It is not just about being knowledgeable but also about being wise. How do you apply the particular law for the particular purpose it was intended to govern?

There is probably a whole book that could be written and have been written about the principle of discernment. Essentially though, it is about the head and the heart acting in union for the good of the person and the good of the community. Jesus often taught this as well, it is not sufficient to know only the law but also to know the heart of the law giver.

We need to seek for that pearl of great price which draws us deeper into relationship with God and with the community we are called to be part of. This visible and invisible reality is what binds us together.

Discernment is not just about making good decisions but about making wise choices about who we will become. They bring a different quality and tenure to our lives. They help us to discover that the things we do flow out of who we seek to become and who we become shapes the things we do.

Fr. John Armstrong

“The intellectual quest is exquisite, like pearls and coral. But it is not the same as the spiritual quest. The spiritual quest is on another level altogether. Spiritual wine has a subtler taste. The intellect and the senses investigate cause and effect. The spiritual seeker surrenders to wonder.” (Rumi Wisdom; trans. Timothy Freke)

Fr John’s Reflection 16th Sunday of the Year

16th Sunday of the year – 23rd July

Brothers and sistersThe Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groaning.. And the one who searches hearts knows what the intention of the Spirit is, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will”                                                                                                          Romans 8.26-27

This passage of scripture particularly struck me when I was reading through the Gospel about the darnel and the wheat. In many cases we put in a great deal of effort into making sure that we accomplish something in our spiritual life. There is a sense that we need to get it right and line up everything in a row.

In this scenario we put a lot of responsibility on ourselves and seeking God on our own terms. However, there are times when at the end of the day we struggle to make sense of what is happening in the world. Those times when we seemed to solve all the problems of the world over a cup of coffee seemed to have disappeared into the mist of the day. We look at what has happened and what is happening and we seek to make sense of it all. We want God to discover us rather than it all being about ourselves.

This is why in the examen at the end of the day we need to be present to God if only for a few moments. I would propose that it can be done quite simply by seeking to discover to what God wants us to be present:

  •  For what are we thankful?
  • Where do we discover ourselves becoming most alive?
  • What deadened us or drained us of energy?
  • What should we seek to be present to tomorrow?

This is not about labouring over the day but rather seeing what floats to the surface and of what God wishes us to be most aware.. The sense of being present to God in this way incarnates our faith not just based on our own abilities and insights but on how God is drawing us deeper into a relationship of life and love.

Fr. John Armstrong

“The intellectual quest is exquisite, like pearls and coral. But it is not the same as the spiritual quest. The spiritual quest is on another level altogether. Spiritual wine has a subtler taste. The intellect and the senses investigate cause and effect. The spiritual seeker surrenders to wonder.” (Rumi Wisdom; trans. Timothy Freke)

Fr John’s Reflection 15th Sunday of the Year

15th Sunday of the Year – 16th July

How many homilies can you remember years after they are spoken? In a world deluged by words what takes hold of our hearts and engages us with life?

The Gospel of the good seed scattered in the ground reminds us of how liberal and generous God is with the reminder of how the saving word can be planted within us.

Often we know how easy it is for a word to be spoken and then too quickly it is taken from us.

 There can also be those ads which guarantee instant success without effort whether it is weight loss, financial gain or living the complete life. Here again we try it for a while but it is someone else’s word which seems to work for them and not for us.

Then there can be the times which while we treasure the word the pressures of life crowd in on us. There do not seem enough hours in the day to do all that we want. We seem to be swamped with too much information that the word gets choked.

Yet finally there are those words which abide with us and hold us. They are like breathing in fresh mountain air and drinking from clear crystal streams. They renew us, sustain us and rest deep within us. They help us live each day with a renewed spirit and a grateful heart. They play over and over in our minds and in our hearts and help us to see things differently. They come from a place in our prayer which engages our lives more deeply. They bring scripture to life in the people we meet and in the person I seek to come. They help us to discover the opportunities to give glory to God with our whole life.

Fr. John Armstrong

“The intellectual quest is exquisite, like pearls and coral. But it is not the same as the spiritual quest. The spiritual quest is on another level altogether. Spiritual wine has a subtler taste. The intellect and the senses investigate cause and effect. The spiritual seeker surrenders to wonder.” (Rumi Wisdom; trans. Timothy Freke)