engaging reality

Three months ago when these FFF lockdown reflections concluded we were hopeful that the COVID crisis would pass quickly. Yet in the weeks since we have seen the viral growth of this infection affecting health, livelihood and taking lives in every part of the world. Even communities where the virus seems to be contained there is anxiety and the financial impact is everywhere evident.

You might like to join with me in considering our return to Level 3 lockdown in Auckland and level 2 throughout the country as an opportunity to deepen our personal relationship with Jesus: nothing too strenuous or demanding, just a daily desire to live with a renewed and deepened awareness of our dependance on God. I know that FFF followers in other parts of the world where lockdown is more strict will also welcome this invitation.

I’m suggesting a retreat-in-daily-life over the next week or so with a return to daily FFF reflections.

A few years ago I informed parishioners as Mass concluded one Sunday that I was spending the days ahead leading a retreat. In the chat after Mass I realised that few people really understood what I would be doing for the week. Some days earlier news bulletins were full of reports of government MP’s on retreat at a luxury hotel and a few parishioners joked that maybe I had joined them. Some others understood the word only in a military sense: the army retreating from the battle, and they wondered if I thought parish life was a bit of a battle.

In the Christian sense a retreat is not a stepping back from reality escaping routines and commitments. Instead disciples on retreat are seeking to engage more deeply with reality by retreating from those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities” (that’s a quotation from Pope Francis – full text below) and engaging with the ultimate reality who is Jesus Christ present and active with us.

In this personal and vital relationship with the divine everything in life falls into healthy perspective and we find that we can breathe more deeply and live more fully.

If you don’t believe me, try it!

RETREAT in the midst of  everyday commitments and routines:

  • On waking, before getting out of bed, take a minute to be aware of your breathing and know that this breath is proof that Jesus is giving you life today. You might find it helpful to find your pulse and to know that this is undeniable evidence that you are not your own creation. You are not giving yourself life.
  • Set five minutes when you are up and about, perhaps over a coffee, to become aware of Jesus present with you. Let your mind go through the day ahead calling to mind the moments and the encounters you are looking forward to, and those you would rather skip.
  • Make a decision to be alert to the presence of Jesus with you in every encounter and every person of the day ahead.
  • When you get a chance in the middle of the day, take another five minutes asking Jesus to reveal to you the moments when he has been especially active in your morning. You might be surprised at what Jesus reveals to you.
  • Late afternoon or during the evening, recall the moments during the day when you have known Jesus present with you. In this relationship you are never alone.
  • You might remember prayers you learnt by heart when you were younger. Which of these was your favourite? If you don’t remember it well enough find a copy on line and re-learn and pray it. Over the years many of us have discarded prayers that once served us well.
  • As a preparation for sleep you might find the brief audio reflection helpful. PRAY TO SLEEP at this link.

Some quotations from Pope Francis’ reflection at the St. Peter’s Square Prayer Vigil, 27 March 2020.  Complete text at this link and full video at this link.

“The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetise us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.


“Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.


How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.


An Invitation:

  • Is there a word or phrase anywhere above that speaks to you? Use this as a starter for your prayer as you sit in silence at home, at work or school, or while waiting at the red light.


20 Responses to "engaging reality"
  1. Dear John,
    I was so thrilled to see your name in my inbox and equally delighted to see that you are starting a further FFF daily retreat emails.
    I am struggling with the present situation in our church during this period of Pandemic and really welcome these daily thoughts that you are now offering once more. Thank you

  2. Dear (Fr.) John, Thank you for your suggestion (recommendation) of a “Retreat-in-Daily-Life”.. how excellent is your leadership..! Yes, I am definitely a “starter” for this. Blessings on the House of O’Connor! In peace with prayer, Sincerely yours, Anthony

  3. Hi Father, I am going to print off this email and use it for myself and in my work with those struggling with many different issues. Thanks heaps and God willing you keep well in Auckland where the Covid numbers are growing daily. Take care.

  4. What a joy to receive your email today and to discover a Retreat-In-Daily-Life is being offered to us. May you be richly blessed for this wonderful gift.

  5. Thank you for spurring us on again. A friendly reminder. We have had a retreat in daily life each year joining with Knox church and All Saints and our parishioners from Holy Name here in Dunedin. Very beneficial. Also the Loyola 3 Minute daily retreats can be grounding as well.

  6. Father John Welcome back to our daily lives at these pressing times, You daily reflection are a silver lining to these dark days of lockdown!
    God bless you in your work.

  7. Thanks Fr John for spurring us on again. Delighted to be joining in this retreat in daily life. I sent a rep,y to you last night just before 11pm but for some reason it didn’t go through. Each year here in Dunedin we have a week’s retreat involving parishioners from Holy Name, Knoc Church and All Saints. We have our daily prayer at home individually and then meet in groups of about 8 people for half – to one hour each day to share how God has touched us. The retreat begins and ends with the full gathering. Tis a great ecumenical exercise as well.
    Words: ‘common belonging’; one of my favourite prayer: Benedictus.

  8. Hi Father John
    It was fabulous to get your email this afternoon, always look forward to them thru the year.
    I would love to join you in Retreat in Daily Life. and to help us get thru this latesy Cronovirus . Thank you for thinking about us all out here in the world.

  9. Opening my emails,and
    Seeing “FFF” My Soul’ Burst
    Into Smiles’.Thankyou,
    Lord God, for Fr Oconnor’
    Giving food for our soul.
    May I ALWAYS’ be in
    Lockdown 4 “with our
    Heavenly Father.

  10. Thank you Father John.

    I was so pleased to see your email and I’m looking forward to this retreat and a deeper daily focus on Jesus.

  11. A beautiful reflection. I have always loved the Morning Offering prayer and remember well my mother teaching me this prayer and others. The MO is my favourite and always starts my day.

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