Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: September 2016

2 October – Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:5-10

“Increase our faith.”

Here is a prayer that we so often pray – or perhaps struggle to pray. ‘Increase my faith, I do not feel like I have enough. Sometimes I don’t feel like I have any!’

Faith in our secular age is something that is constantly thrown into question. So often we fall into believing the lie that faith stands in defiance of reason, and that even if God exists, he is irrelevant.

We live in a world that has closed itself off from the transcendent and the miraculous. Yet despite the ongoing business of our day we remain haunted by the question of God’s presence. Even if we are intent on spending time with God daily in prayer we are met with the constant struggle to believe – and if we are unbelievers we are constantly tortured by the question ‘what if it is true?’ The attitude of our age is perhaps best characterised by noted author and atheist Julian Barnes who wrote ‘I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.’

Perhaps however, we have become prey to a faulty conception of faith. It is a very modern understanding to think of faith merely as a list of simple propositions to which I must give intellectual assent before I continue on my way. This however is far from what true faith is.

Yes, faith is a gift that we must hold and nurture (CCC. 162), but it ‘is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or moralism. Christianity is instead an encounter, a love story; it is an event.’ (Ratzinger)

Even the apostles struggled, it seems, in living from this place of encounter – and they were with Him!

The apostles it seems, ask the wrong question. Faith is not a quantitative thing that they can acquire more of – it is qualitative, and it is strengthened when we open ourselves to live from that place of encounter with Christ, through daily prayer (despite the struggles), through attentive reading of the Word of God, through acts of charity and service to our neighbours.

Points to Ponder

“God revealed himself, not only in order that all men should know him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the unity of the Godhead, but also in order that through the Son—the Word of God made flesh—they might, in the Holy Spirit, have access to the Father, and become sharers in the divine nature, that is in the Godhead itself.” – Karol Wojtyła, Sources of Renewal: Study on the Implementation of the Second Vatican Council. Translated by P. S. Falla. (London: William Collins Sons & Co), 1981, 53.


“Faith is born of an encounter with the living God, who calls us, and reveals his love, a love which precedes us, and upon which we can lean for security, and for building our lives.” – Francis, Lumen Fidei, n. 4

25 September – Twenty-SixthSunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 16:19-31

“If someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.”

The parable in today’s passage reads like solid bit of hell-fire and brimstone scaremongering. Before we simply settle on this interpretation, let’s at least try to penetrate a little deeper.

The rich man in the story, who lives a life of luxury, dressed in purple and fine linen, feasting sumptuously day in, day out suffers from a blindness, which is only cured upon his death.

The blindness of the rich man is not a physiological condition but is in fact, something that he has adopted or learned. This is a blindness that he has taken on perhaps willingly, but perhaps it wasn’t something which he consciously embraced, instead being something he was gradually acclimatised, or habituated into, over the passage of time.

In this case we can see how the good fortune which he enjoyed in his earthly life, the riches, the purple linen and the fancy dinners gradually blinded him to the needs of those around him – as in the case of poor old Lazarus – but also to his own needs.

In our own context it becomes scarily possible to identify with this rich bloke, who is seemingly able to meet his every need and want with little assistance from anyone. Not having to struggle to meet our earthly needs of food, shelter, and clothing, we can, if we are not careful succumb to the same blindness which afflicted the rich man in today’s parable.

It really is difficult though, for us to discern our own blindspots – and it is here that we might think that need someone, like Lazarus, to return from the dead to ‘give us a warning. The wisdom of Abraham in the story though is clear – perhaps we need to weigh our own deeds with what has already been revealed to us.

Let us pray for our sight to be restored.

Point to Ponder

“Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.”

G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

18 September – Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 16:1-13

“The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness.”

I am confused.

I am sure I read something about honesty and the immorality of stealing a little earlier in this particular book.

It almost seems that Jesus is praising lying and thieving here on the part of the dishonest steward. That can’t be the case, can it?

The Prodigal Son, which immediately precedes this one, gives us a glimpse into a deeper meaning here – the key player in this story is not the steward, but the master.

As in the parable of the prodigal son, it is the Father and his mercy who are the key. In this story we see this dishonest steward, first untrustworthy in small things, prove himself to be untrustworthy in the bigger things. The result sees the mercy of the master enlarged beyond what anyone would think reasonable.

This is unsettling for sure. In fact, this sheds light on the fact that God’s mercy continues to break open our limited conceptions.

Jesus is not praising dishonesty, nor is he advocating that one can do evil with the intention that good can come from it (cf. Rom 3:8). Instead, his emphasis is on the seemingly inexplicable depth of mercy that overflows from the heart of the Father.

At the conclusion of this passage, Jesus reminds us that nobody can serve two masters – and here is the interesting part – he leaves us with the freedom to make our choice. This is a radical risk on his part, and this is the risk of love more broadly. In choosing to love, as God would have us do, we inevitably open ourselves to the risk of hurt, hence the temptation to close ourselves off.

The example of the master in this parable, points us analogously to God the Father, who creates us and sustains us in his mercy, despite our occasional (or perhaps or more accurately continued) closure to his love.

He takes a massive gamble – making himself vulnerable, as He invites us to respond in love.

Seeking Subsidiarity

When Pope Francis promulgated his encyclical Laudato Si, I was just finishing reading, for the second time, Wendell Berry’s classic novel Jayber Crow (highly recommended). Perhaps it was the confluence of these two works at such a time made the impact more significant than they would have been alone, but the message hit with tremendous force.

I am only recently married, and we are fortunate enough to be living in a home that we own (well, at least our names are on the title – the bank owns most of what we have). We live in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, fortunate to be close to where I work, at the University. While I have always lived in the suburbs, the sense of nostalgia provoked by Berry’s fiction is stunning. His vivid imagery is convicting, and the sense of place stirs up a longing within me that I do not always recognise as my own.

Along with some friends, we have discussed, at length, the idea of living on acreage and being involved in some kind of subsistence or small crop farming etc. And, as appealing as it is, is not really within our grasp at present (or for the foreseeable future). Chickens, veggies, herbs, and some fruit trees will have to do for now – all we really need now is a bacon tree and we are set. This is our attempt to ‘grow where we’re planted…’ (don’t excuse the pun, embrace it).

The motivation to do just that came with a little inspiration drawn from a favourite author:

Participate in food production to the extent that you can.
If you have a yard or even just a porch box or a pot in a sunny window, grow something to eat in it. Make a little compost of your kitchen scraps and use it for fertilizer. Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again. You will be fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.

Wendell Berry – The Pleasure of Eating

9 September – Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 15:1-10

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say”

They sought him out.

Those who were outcasts in society, those who were used to being judged, publicly humiliated and otherwise ill-treated – they sought him out.

Aware of their own inability to live the ‘perfect life,’ and consequentially of their woundedness, these people see in Jesus that person who sees through their shortcomings to who they really are – and who affirms them: ‘It is good that you are.’

Those who encountered Jesus experienced being looked at in a new way – a way different to how others looked at them. This man did not equate them with their struggles, or their sinfulness – He did not allow them to be identified with their sin or as their sin.

Jesus, as we have seen in readings for these last few weeks, was no doubt a polarising person – he often had some harsh words. Somehow, though it was the most despised people who were drawn to him so strongly, and whom He welcomed so openly.

The parables taught here by Jesus, and that of the Prodigal Son which is so closely associated, give us a clue as to why these tax collectors and sinners were so attracted to him – Jesus is the very act of God in search of man.

Instead of condemning those struggling, those who suffer, His presence gives us – gives me – the reassurance that I am loved. That it is me who is sought after. It is then that I can, with confidence, turn to him – and receive the grace He offers to live well.

And He assures us that ‘there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.’


Words that give life

We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.

– St Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day 2002, Toronto

4 September – Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 14:25-33

“None of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.”

Has he just crossed the line? These last few weeks we’ve been reading some pretty tough sayings from Jesus. What is this guy on about?

When we read these words we are tempted to either dismiss them out of hand, or to explain them away as little more than a figure of speech. Surely I have a responsibility to my father, mother, sister, brother, wife, husband, child… Surely it is a good and wholesome thing to love and care for those with him I share life?

What Jesus puts before us today in the Gospel is tremendously challenging.

The radical nature of the Christian claim extends to the most intimate relationships in our lives. Jesus speaks with a firmness that is shocking inasmuch as it puts into stark relief the nature of Christian existence.

To love father, mother, wife and children above God is to make an idol (false God) out of an icon (something that is meant to direct us to God).

The good things of this world, the relationships that Jesus mentions for example, are created to be signs of God’s filial (and even nuptial) love for us. If however we worship them, rather than what they point to we are guilty of idolatry.

The directive here to ‘hate’ seems over the top, but Jesus is serious here – he wants us to be united with him for all eternity, and we must rid ourselves of anything that would prevent that from happening.

We can take solace though in the knowledge that love for God necessarily entails the unity of his followers.

Point to Ponder

“No sacrifice which a lover would make for his beloved is too great for us to make for our enemy.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

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