Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: June 2016

Balthasar on the mother’s smile

“After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child’s smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child, and as the child awakens to love, it also awakens to knowledge: the initially empty-sense impressions gather meaningfully around the core of the Thou. Knowledge (with its whole complex of intuition and concept) comes into play, because the play of love has already begun beforehand, initiated by the mother, the transcendent. God interprets himself to man as love in the same way: he radiates love, which kindles the light of love in the heart of man, and it is precisely this light that allows man to perceive this, the absolute Love: “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).”

– Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone Is Credible, chapter 5, “Love Must Be Perceived.”

Mother's Smile

My daughter Anastasia and her beautiful mother, my wife Elizabeth

24 June – Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

‘Follow me’
We read in today’s Gospel something that is fundamental to the Christian life. More than any other precept or direction that Jesus gives, this one carries ultimate weight, “follow me.”
Our understanding of the Christian faith is so often one dominated by a moralism that is rightly seen as oppressive and slavish. For many this is repugnant and turns them off the faith, but for others, the reduction of the faith to a series of things that I can do to be justified is merely a convenient way to feel like I am in control. Against this, the words of today’s Gospel ring out clearly, and the essence of the Gospel calling is clearly articulated – to encounter and to follow Christ. (see also DCE, 1)
Following: This is the fundamental Christian activity. But this following is not a blind, mechanistic copying.
Fr Luigi Giussani points out that ‘following is not an unintelligent, unconscious attitude… it must be a heartfelt effort to identify with the motives of what is proposed to us.’ He continues, ‘Following does not mean being carried along by the tide; rather it is a personal decision, a continuous act of personal freedom… If you limit yourself to passive obedience it is not true obedience, Obedience requires the compliance of our entire self, with all our faculties.’ (JTE, 114)
When we read this, we should find it confronting. Jesus is asking us not for mere outward compliance, but for us to conform the entirety of our lives to him. He is asking me, you, all of us, to be saints. Not saints in an uber-pious, non-human, disembodied way, but a real, down to earth way, lived in and through the daily encounter with Christ, in the Sacraments, through his Church, and in the poor.
This is what it means to follow Christ, and this is what we ask of his Holy Spirit in our prayer.
Point to Ponder
“Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:5-8). Christ dwells by faith in the heart of the believer (cf. Eph 3:17), and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord.”
        Saint Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 21

19 June – Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 9:18-24
“Who do you say I am?”
American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, is often quoted as saying “Nothing is worse than the answer to a question no one is asking.”  
When we read today’s Gospel we engage with an exchange that hinges on a question – a question which when asked is like a bell that cannot be un-rung.
This is the question. The question. One that continues to confront every Christian today, and with the same force as it had nearly two thousand years ago, when Christ first addressed it to the disciples.
We might however wonder if this question is still being asked. It would seem, at least at face value, that the majority of people are content without asking this question, or are happily distracted from the idea that it needs to be asked.
If we are honest with ourselves however, it would seem that living in each of us there is a hope; a hope that there is more, than an answer does exist, and that that answer is indeed wonderful.
We suppress the existence of the question because we have lost hope that there is an answer, and yet, the very idea that an answer does exist thrills us, it sits on the boundary of our existence and opens up our otherwise fixed horizons. Can it be true?
Fr Luigi Giussani points out, that ‘[o]nly the hypothesis of God, only the affirmation of the mystery as a reality existing beyond our capacity to fathom entirely, only this hypothesis corresponds to the human person’s original structure.’ (57)

This question imposes itself on us today, and everyday – “Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks us, and he patiently awaits a response

Point to Ponder
“Only the hypothesis of God, only the affirmation of the mystery as a reality existing beyond our capacity to fathom entirely, only this hypothesis corresponds to the human person’s original structure. If it is human nature to indomitably search for an answer, if the structure of a human being is, then, this irresistible and inexhaustible question, plea—then one suppresses the question if one does not admit to the existence of an answer. But this answer cannot be anything but unfathomable. Only the existence of the mystery suits the structure of the human person, which is mendicity, insatiable begging, and what corresponds to him is neither he himself nor something he gives to himself, measures, or possesses.”
         Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense (McGill-Queens University Press, 1997), 57

12 June – Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Who is this man…?

This is a question that continues to lurk at the heart of all those who come into contact with Jesus, or indeed who hear of him through another.
The Gospels contain a myriad of stories about Jesus, some fantastic, some seemingly mundane. He always manages to capture the attention of those around him, always he is a surprising presence. Somehow He manages to exceed all of our expectations in the most curious of ways.
Before him none can remain unmoved, and often his words and his presence spark an internal conflict within those who are there. His words, mysterious as they are awaken within his listeners the desire to hear more – despite at times their inability understand. In this I think of Andrew and John, in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. They didn’t know him, never saw him before. ‘They follow behind Him timidly and stay there all afternoon to see him speak, because they didn’t really even understand what He said. It was so evident that that man said true things, even if they didn’t understand them, that after they left, they repeated to others what He had said as if they were their thoughts’ (Giussani, 53).
In today’s Gospel the Pharisees find the truth of Jesus, a truth unmistakably bound up in mercy, so confronting that they are scandalised. While they may not fully comprehend the meaning of the words that he speaks, their truth resounds in their hearts and they are convicted from within. It is right here that the freedom of each of us in engaged, and a choice is forced upon us – will we react like the woman who feels the strength of these words, and, moved to contrition, reaches out to receive them; or will we like the Pharisees reject them as asking too much of us?
‘Are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?’ (JPII, 8 Oct. 1980)

5 June – Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

“Opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside”

    One of the most fascinating elements of the whole Jesus story is that it continues to find perpetuate. Generation after generation, the experience of Jesus continues to inspire interest.
    In his own time, as we read in the Gospel today, Jesus’ actions, the words he spoke, and his mere presence became a significant talking point for all manner of people everywhere. His was a figure that demanded a response – he could not be ignored.
    Mysteriously, Jesus continues to present himself to us today. His is a presence that manifests itself most significantly in the lives of believers who have encountered him really and truly, not only through the verbal testimony of others, but through the actions of lives conformed to him – the living and visible presence of Jesus’ body, the Church.
    The event of the Incarnation, of God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus, happened concretely, at a point in time, when the angel appeared to Mary. Nevertheless, the Incarnation continues to happen in another sense today. As I open up as Mary did, to receive the Divine life within me, and bring it to bear on the life that I live. It is here that I become a conduit for others to encounter the person of Jesus. It is here that Christian faith becomes an event, an event that takes flesh in the world today. It is not simply a wonderful, pious idea or a moral code of ethics, but an encounter with a person, who becomes incarnate, (takes on flesh) in words and actions of love.

    The Christian faith then rises and falls on the openness of frail individuals, who live in that encounter with Jesus, and share it in word and deed with those around them.

Words to Ponder
“Christ. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life who reaches the person in his daily existence. The discovery of this way usually takes place through the mediation of other human beings. Identified through the gift of faith by the encounter with the Redeemer, believers are called to become an echo of the event of Christ, to become themselves an “event”.”
– John Paul II

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