Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: August 2016

28 August – Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 14:1,7-14

“Do not take your seat in the place of honour”

It is something paradoxical, and perhaps even confounding, but humility actually enables us to enjoy things.

This rather preposterous claim stands at odds with much of the received wisdom of our day. So often we esteem the strong and the powerful, those who assert their will on others, and we are told that we need to do the same, to assert ourselves and our wants before others. Indeed, our culture seems to operate in such a way that the vice of selfishness and self-promotion is rewarded, while those who seek meekness and humility are left exploited and ill-treated.

In the Gospel before us today Jesus encourages all to adopt the spirit and practice of humility, not merely on the off-chance that someone will elevate us to a higher place, but so we will be readily positioned to acknowledge everything as the gift that it is.

Humility is a light that helps us to discover the greatness of our own identity, as a personal being, created by God and called to communion with Him. It enables us to accept our dependence on him with complete freedom.

In contrast with this, the proud person does not acknowledge the gift of his or her being, and instead is forced into a position where they must continually assert their very being before others.

Jesus’ admonition to ‘be humble’ is a ‘hot tip’, it is insider knowledge as to how to be eternally happy.

21 August – Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 13:22-30

“Sir, will there be only a few saved?”

Questions surrounding the nature of salvation have plagued the Church from the very beginning. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is confronted with this very question, ‘will many be saved?’

His answer can be a bit confronting. The common conception of Jesus as the perennial ‘nice-guy’ does not really correlate well with his answer.

While the Church always prays and hopes for all to be saved, and trusts in the universal salvific will of God, there is always the cognisance of the radical freedom which God bestows upon those whom he loves, together with the fact that God is at once both perfectly just, and perfectly merciful.

Pope Benedict XVI described this paradoxical understanding as such:

‘God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value.’ [Spe Salvi, 44]

We know that our salvation has been won for us, but that we need to cooperate with this grace, to ‘work it out… with fear and trembling.’

The journey of sanctification is worked out in the drama of the minutiae of every day.

How do I show love in each situation?

Point to Ponder

“He who made you without your consent does not justify you without your consent. He made you without your knowledge, but He does not justify you without you willing it.”

– Augustine’s Sermon 169, 13 as listed on p. 29 of The Faith of the Early Fathers)

Sanctity and the Intellectual Life

“Sanctity should provide the inner form of the intellectual life, in a way that affects both the methods and the content of the modern academic curriculum”David L. Schindler

I have thought for a long time that our Catholic/Christian educational institutions should be radically different from their secular counterparts. If the belief that God created everything ex nihilo, out of nothing, and that all things live and move and have their being in the person of Jesus Christ, that ‘all things were created through him and for him’ [Col 1:16]; if this is actually true, then this should radically impact on how we understand reality as such, and then how we conduct research, teach and learn.

The words quoted above, which come from David L. Schindler, articulate for me a project which I hope to give life to through this blog, which will be something of a companion to the work I am currently doing at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne. My intention is to use this blog to test some of the thinking which may, in fact, find its way into the thesis I am currently writing. As such, the reflections which form the bulk of this blog find their inspiration primarily in the work of the American philosopher and theologian David L. Schindler. As well as Schindler however, I mention also such thinkers as Christopher Dawson, Fr Luigi Giussani, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Stratford Caldecott, and John Milbank as well as the great saints of education, Mary MacKillop, Don Bosco, Marcellin Champagnat, Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, and John Henry Newman. These and others have been a tremendous source of inspiration in my thinking in this area and will feature from time to time in what I post. It would be remiss of me not to mention two other tremendous figures who have influenced my thinking in this regard – Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II, and Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.

As I progress in my own study, I hope to share with you through this blog much of my thinking – I would value any input you might have along the way.

14 August – Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 12:49-53

“Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth?”

The reading before us is a challenging one. The most common portrayal of Jesus in our day is that of an affable, do-gooder, the buddy-Christ, the kind of Jesus that would never offend and never upset anyone. But is this an authentic picture of how Jesus was/is?

If he was so pleasant as to never get on anyone’s nerves, then why on earth did they crucify him?!

In the episode recounted in today’s Gospel, we see a man who is polarising. His mere presence poses a significant question – a question the answer to which continues to be a source of discord.

He wants to shake us out of a faux peace, a numbness that we so easily lull ourselves into, and present us with a stark picture of reality – A reality that is marked by love.

It is here where we find ourselves thrown off balance. The love that is the ground of reality is not a soppy, romantic, voluntaristic love, but a love that imposes an order on the cosmos, which asks something of us.

Jesus does not want us to remain ‘at peace’ here, as this is not our home – we are made for so much more.

The discomfort and discord that Jesus wishes us to experience is directed to an end. He is seeking to shake us out of our numbed existence and to embrace reality in full. He wants for us to live in the fullness of trust and love, to live life intensely.

Point to Ponder

Faith is recognizing that God made flesh is present in the world, in the history of the world.

Luigi Giussani, Is It Possible to Live This Way? p.54)


What are the concrete possibilities of man?

Theologian David L. Schindler, who I suppose features as the hero in the thesis I am currently composing, has some really challenging proposals for Catholics and Christians more broadly, as we engage in the new evangelisation in our modern-liberal culture.

My reading thus far sees Schindler is something of a confounding figure in contemporary Catholic theology. As editor of the English edition of the Commnio journal he is, in my humble opinion, certainly an influential thinker, and yet it seems that his own work does not find a huge audience of scholars outside of Communio circles who deeply engage with him. Outside of a number of engagements in the 1990s with certain scholars associated with the journal First Things, it seems that, within broader academia, Schindler’s voice, which I consider to be somewhat prophetic, has been deemed either uninteresting or unintelligible.

Schindler offers, in my reading at least, a radical critique of modern-liberal cutlure that asks a hell of a lot from Catholics and Christians who read him. In fact, what he asks is a fundamental re-think of how we engage with reality as a whole.
While his articles nowadays seem to be received simply with a stunned silence from those outside the Communio milieu, his critics in the 1990s offered little more than a series of variations of the question, ‘What then are we to do?’ being holy in the world
A good question I suppose, and one I am constantly asking as I wade through the pages of his essays.  Larry S. Chapp and Rodney Howsare, in an essay which they contributed to a festschrift for Schindler provide two of his favoured responses:

‘First, “Success is not a Gospel category”; and second, “Liberals give the impression that if Jesus had just been lucky enough to be born into a liberal society he could have avoided a rather ignominious end.”‘

Schindler is perhaps seen as little more than an idealist. His writing is rigourous and strong. He, in my reading at least, seems to work out the real-life implications of the Gospel and the admonition to ‘be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect.’ (cf. Mt 5:48)

In the end, Schindler’s bold claim is nothing short of the universal call to holiness.

The stunned silence he meets is perhaps similar to what John Paul II received from certain Church-men-and-women who thought he was being unrealistic.

The young people of the world, however, did not receive his call in this way. In fact, as the World Youth Day phenomenon continued to show, that kind of ‘idealism’ was not only within our grasp as something that could be realised, but was, in fact, something that all are called to.

Rather than be off-put by the call to holiness/perfection as something out of reach for common persons, the young people of the world, buoyed by natural youthful exuberance and the reality of grace presented to them by the now Saint John Paul II, recognised the call and received it joyously. When they cried ‘JPII WE LOVE YOU!‘, what they meant was, ‘Let it be done according to your word,’ 

This papal saint from Poland knew too that the weight of the Gospel, when viewed through the eyes of one burdened by guilt or sin, or simply the eyes of a jaded personality might seem too much. And so he asks, “Are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?” (Oct 8, 1980).

Or perhaps, as he writes in what is, in my opinion, his most astounding encyclical Veritatis Splendor 

It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question”. But what are the “concrete possibilities of man” ? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit (103)


6 August – Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 12:35-40

You too must stand ready…”

There is something ominous and intimidating about the language in today’s Gospel – ‘be ready, for the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night.’ It is easy to read this as something threatening – as some kind of a blunt instrument used to instil fear in believers and perhaps hopefully sceptics, with a view to keeping people ‘in line.’

I do not think though that this is necessarily the case. Jesus seems to be giving some specific instructions as to our behaviour and the state of our soul, but more than this, he is inviting us to a heightened awareness of how we are in relation to the people and the world around us.

We are creatures of habit, and most of what we do and say, not to mention our innermost reactions to external stimuli, well up within us without so much as a millisecond of conscious thought. What Jesus may well be inviting us to do here, is to examine these pre-conscious habits, these modes of acting and reacting that have become subconscious. To see how various habit-forming rituals have formed us and continue to shape us every day.

In a sense, he is inviting us to habituate ourselves into a manner of being that: firstly, is receptive of the love of God; and, secondly, seeks to become a conduit for that love to the people around us.

Read like this, Jesus’ admonition to his disciples to be ready is not about being within a stone’s throw of a Church, or never to spend any time in rest and recreation. Rather, Jesus is inviting us to look at our character, the kind of person we are, the kinds of habits we think and act out of, the kinds of things that we desire, the things that move us, the things we love.

Jesus wants to invite us to be habituated into his love. To live and act out of his love, as if out of a ‘second nature’ – this is Redemption. This is freedom. The freedom for which Christ has set us free.

Be ready. Do not allow yourself to take up again the yoke of slavery from which Christ has freed us by his death and resurrection.

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