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

Fr John’s Reflection – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 25th October

The Golden Rule

 If there is one thing which unites all of humanity it is what is considered the Golden Rule: To do good to the other that you would do for yourself. It is at the heart of our welfare system and seeks to ensure that each person is respected as a person made in the image and likeness of God. Yet the reality of how we actually live that rule can cause tensions to arise not only in its application but also in how we see the other person as equally deserving of God’s grace. Much of this is contained in the declaration of human rights which seeks to preserve what is vital to human life. We seek to share the world’s goods and preserve the environment not just as a gift for ourselves only but for generations yet to come. This is where the difficulty of living this rule arises because it calls us to notice that its application depends on where we are standing.

I believe this is where the rule to love God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind allows noticing what is important for us in life. The order of discovering what is placed on our heart orientates us towards what we consider vital for our lives and what we think about and apply our minds to. It is from this point of view that we start to notice what it is that we love and how we love ourselves into being. At the heart of the matter is the need to ensure that our hearts and our actions are in accord with each other. When this happens we naturally seek the good of ourselves as influencing the good of others. We no longer live for ourselves alone. We see the value not only in what we do but in the contribution it can make to the common good.

So at the heart of prayer, reflection and action we need to consider what is the next obvious step that we can make for the good of ourselves and the good of others. In living this out we make small but profound changes to the way we live in the world. No longer do our lives centre solely on what we need but on what God desires for the good of all. Our lives make a difference in helping others to live well.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 18th October

The Piper plays the tune

 Each of us from time to time would be concerned about our financial wellbeing. We are called to be people who do not live beyond our means but also become accountable for how we spend our money. This is one of the difficulties in many settings at the domestic level, in our local parish community, in the policy of the government and in the way we act as good stewards of the things entrusted to our care. In some cases it can seem that money dictates what we can and cannot do in life. Yet in reality, it is only a tool which can help us to recognise our priorities and what we truly need. 

In modern life, we are often “sold” an image of ourselves or of the perfect life. We can rely very heavily not just on what is in favour but also what seems to add value to the person we are. This can at times seem elusive and ethereal. Just as we buy something because of its looks or its utility we find that it never works like we see on tv. We seem to fall for the dream of the perfect body, the perfect home, the perfect family and ultimately the perfect life. The danger that we encounter is that these dreams seem fleeting and can be disrupted or interrupted by events beyond our control. These times reshape our thinking and call us to consider what is truly important.

At the heart of the Gospel is not that we abandon our daily activities or our responsibilities to our communities but that we see them in the right perspective. We are created in the image and likeness of God to cooperate with that creative vision of building the kingdom. This is not just an external structure or a home run into heaven but rather a disposition of the heart which informs, forms and transforms our way of being present to our world. It sees the centre of our life shaped in God’s creative vision for humanity which promises faith, hope and charity as the KPI’s of our lives. These are difficult to measure but essential for lives. They shape who we wish to become and where we spend our time and money. In this, we daily seek to encounter God in our prayer so that we can encounter each person as a graced moment. There is a capability to see that God is present in each encounter enabling us to grow in faith, hope and love.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 11th October

Not just any invitation

 There is usually great excitement when we receive an invitation to a wedding especially if it is someone we know well. The anticipation building up to the day is not only about buying the right gift or wearing the right clothes but rather the sense that we will witness the commitment of a couple who love each other. There is a recognition that the commitment they make is not only for their good but for the good of the whole community and future generations. They promise fidelity to each other and a responsibility to care for others. The sense of the commitment between a man and a woman is the mutuality between all of humanity which becomes evident not just for the good of the couple but so that God’s love may be manifest in the world.

The wedding scene in the Gospel for this weekend takes an interesting twist on this familiar story. In fact, it is those who are invited who not only refuse to attend but actually take it out on the messenger. In this, the King is being portrayed as so angry that he not only dispatches those who treated his messengers so badly but insists on bringing in anybody to celebrate the feast that has been prepared. There is the insistence that what is offered is not only for the chosen few who believe they have no need to attend. Yet we can still wonder about the person without a wedding garment. I think that while good and bad people are press-ganged into the celebration there needs to be a response on the part of the person to a change of life. There is a need to be receptive to what is on offer.

In these COVID times when we become used to limited numbers able to attend Mass on Sunday and the need to be a social distance from each other, this Gospel stands as a stark reminder of a God who seeks us out before we seek God. There is a recognition of that while we may see a distance between us and God. Where the everyday events can seem to take priority over our lives God seeks to bring a deeper meaning to who we are called to be. The central message is that our life is not just something to be done but a reality to be celebrated. At the heart of this message is a belief that God will always seek us out whether we are ready or not. The question is that when we are invited to enter into that life-giving relationship how will we respond?

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 4th October

Becoming pastors not managers

 Pope Francis in speaking to priests reminded them that they were called to be pastors not managers of the parishes in which they lived. The difference that he was pointing to was that in one case we focus on managing people and resources entrusted to us in the other we look at how God is present in the place where we live in caring for people and what most allows them to build the kingdom. The emphasis seems to be at the heart of these weekends readings on whether we own the product of our labour or whether we see it is as a gift given to us to be used wisely. I feel that this is the tension that we are called to exercise in our daily life: how do we notice the practical needs of those around us but also our attitude to responding to those needs.

I believe there is something within all of us which wants to be recognised and rewarded for a job well done. This is the natural place of thanksgiving and gratitude which lies at the heart of human living. Good things are entrusted to us for the common good. Yet there is also that subtle voice which says this is mine and not another’s work. We can become careful about what we share that someone may steal our good name or our good work as their own. We build fences to keep our ideas and our efforts secure. This does not diminish the reality that a person deserves a just reward for a just day’s work. Yet it is the suspicion which can cause us to possess the gift entrusted to us and see it as our own.

We are called to be people who find meaning in our work. Yet our work is not the sole judge of our character, important as it is for our own welfare and the welfare of others. What is more important is that we are called to be people who are in communion with each other. This communion reflects a deeper reflection that we are called to be in communion with God. It is present in many of our fair work acts, in our care for work, health and safety, in the safety net for those without productive work. Yet at the heart of the matter is how we notice the good of the other. In seeking their good as well as our own we are able to produce good fruit. This allows people to discover that the fruit is both material and spiritual in sustaining life and giving glory to God. Our work is not an end in itself but an expression of God’s bountiful love, that in labouring for others we cooperate with God’s creative plan.

Fr. John Armstrong