Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: November 2016

27 November – First Sunday of Advent

Gospel Mt 24:37-44

Stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming…

During this season of Advent, the Church continues to put before us readings that seem somewhat ominous in tone. Something in the words of Jesus here seems to rub us up the wrong way. These words are actually somewhat startling.

Stay awake! Jesus reminds his disciples, and through them, he reminds us that we should not be too content with things as they are. That, in fact, things will come to an end.

How easy it is though, to be lulled into an overly secure sense of boredom. We are so preoccupied with our daily tasks, and so used to a scientific or mechanistic understanding of how things operate, that we fail to be aware of our surrounds – we fail to receive the gift of creation as given.

In this space, the words of Jesus, admonishing us to ‘stay awake,’ are important. They remind us of how easily we fall into habitual modes of thought and behaviour, and fail to appreciate what is around us, and where we are going.

This reminds me of some other words of Jesus, who tells us of our responsibility to be ‘child-like.’ The child is gifted with an incredible sense of awe at their surrounds. Everything is exciting, everything is interesting!

The sense of alertness we must cultivate in our waiting for the culmination of history is the kind of interestedness that the child has. The trap of monotony immanentises our vision, and we can no longer see our ultimate end. Staying awake and alert is not a matter of prepping for a Hollywood-esque ‘End of Days,’ but a matter of cultivating the mind and the heart to recognise the in-breaking of the Kingdom in our every day, and to welcome Him when he comes in Glory.

Point to Ponder

 “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


Understanding Being in Relation

Submitted without comment…

[I]f we as Christians accept the ontological force of the Incarnation, then we must consider [that]… things have their being only in relation to Jesus Christ and to all else in Jesus Christ, then of course they can have health and wholeness of being only in relation. They can be properly understood, from the beginning and finally, only in relation.[1]

[1] David L. Schindler,  “Faith and the Logic of Intelligence: Secularization and the Academy.” In Catholicism and Secularization in America, edited by David L. Schindler, 170-93. Huntington, Indiana: Communio Books, Our Sunday Visitor, 1990., 176.

13 November – Our Lord JESUS CHRIST, KING of the UNIVERSE

Gospel Luke 23:35-43

‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’

The claim that Jesus is God, that He is King of the Universe are often looked upon by modern ‘enlightened’ minds as the quaint beliefs of the feeble minded.

While the believer today may feel a certain pressure to offer empirical or philosophical proofs that God exists and that Jesus is God, such an endeavour to formulate and offer said proofs more often than not fall incredibly short of convincing anyone.

The fact of his crucifixion, and the scorn hurled at him from those who did the deed seems to point to a certain powerlessness on the part of Jesus.

Taking up this question in his book on Jesus, Benedict XVI asks, capturing the sentiment of modern man who often struggles to believe: “Why, indeed, did you not forcefully resist your enemies who brought You to the cross? […] Why did You not show them with incontrovertible power that you are the Living One, the Lord of life and death? Why did You reveal yourself only to a small flock of disciples, upon whose testimony we must now rely? The question applies not only to the Resurrection, but to the whole manner of God’s revelation in the world. Why only to Abraham and not to the mighty of the world? Why only to Israel and not irrefutably to all the peoples of the earth?” (p. 276).

Despite our frustrations, it seems that this is the paradoxical style of God.

‘Is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love. And if we really think about it, is it not what seems so small that is truly great?’ (ibid, pp. 276-277).

The year of Mercy, which is now at its end, was of tremendous pedagogical value inasmuch as it brought us into this method of God – we see that the gentle way, the quiet invitation, has greater power to open hearts than the forceful proof of God’s omnipotence. It is in his weakness on the Cross that Jesus demonstrates the true power of His love.

Point to Ponder


Many nations’ rulers you profess

And in a public worship bless;

May Teachers, Judges, you revere,

In Arts and Laws may this appear.


Let every royal standard shine

In homage to your power divine;

Beneath your gentle rule subdue

The homes of all, their countries, too.


All glory be, O Lord, to you,

All earhthly powers you subdue;

With Father and the Spirit be

All glory yours eternally


(Te saeculroum in principem, from First Vespers on the on the Feast of Christ the King)

Love as the Ground of Being


One author with whom I have become somewhat acquainted with in recent years is the Kentucky farmer, Wendell Berry. Since this serendipitous discovery, his work has been a continual source of encouragement, as well as inspiration. I have managed to read through a number of his ‘Port William’ novels, which I would wholeheartedly recommend (beginning with Jayber Crow).

His essays and poetry are for the most part, as yet, unexplored by me – though what I have read has been excellent.

What strikes me as so particular about Berry is not his penchant for nostalgia, (which I think is overstated by his critics – I think he is a very realistic thinker) but his integral vision of reality – from the mundane prosaic things of where our food comes from, through to the inner-relationality of persons with each other and with God.

This vision of reality, (onto-logic) which so grounds Berry’s thought is perhaps nowhere better expressed than this pithy quote, taken from an essay I happened upon recently.

‘I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.’[1]


[1] Wendell Berry, The Art of the Common-Place: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. N. Wirzba (Berkley: Counterpoint, 2002).

13 November – Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 21:5-19

When will this happen?’

For all its messages of love and acceptance, the Gospel also contains some fairly difficult sayings, most of which are found on the lips of Jesus Himself. Today’s reading is no different.

Jesus’ words concerning the end times is stern, self-assured, and to the point: ‘everything will be destroyed.’ His disciples and the others listening urge a response – they, like us, want to know ‘when’ – when will these things happen? Those following recent electoral happenings in the U.S. might be tempted to think that these are the times that Jesus is speaking about…

Rather than providing contingency plans for those who suffer the final persecution, and witness the Second Coming, Jesus instead admonishes his listeners to remain faithful at all times.

We are not asked to stock up on canned goods and head for the hills, but are asked to pray, and to remain faithful to our immediate task, despite the fact that the frailties of human sinfulness (our own and those of our loved ones) will see us let down from time to time.

Jesus is careful not to denigrate our earthly experience, but he does not mince words reminding us where our home is – or what earthly beauty and joy of this world points to.

Warnings of the end times, dire and mysterious as they are, are always framed within a logic of being (an onto-logic) which is rooted God’s unfathomable generosity and love. We then, must seek to open ourselves to that love, and to participate in it. As such we can then join in with those first Christian communities in the Palestinian area who used to pray Maranà, thà! which means literally, “Our Lord, come!” – this was a joyous and hope-filled prayer that we need to continue to pray today.

Point to Ponder

“Once you have made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes and crusades matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours – and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours.”

– CS Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”, Letter VII

6 November – Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 20:27-38

Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living

The episode recounted in today’s Gospel contains some interesting insights about the sacrament of marriage, as an efficacious sign of a greater ‘eschatological marriage’ (see Rev 19:7-9). What strikes me though, are Jesus’ words at the conclusion of the excerpt: ‘Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’

So often, we think of the events of the Gospel and the presence of the Incarnate God as the stuff of memory. Piously, we try to live in the memory of Christ who was with us, or at least with his disciples. But this is not really enough for me – I need to know that he is present to me today, right now. Not just as a memory, but as someone really here.

One of my favourite prayers ‘The Angelus’ recounts the event of the Incarnation, with the lines “and the Word was Made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.” – but a writer who I often cite, Luigi Giussani encourages people to pray a slightly altered version of this prayer, using the words ‘and dwells amongst us” The emphasis here, on the continued presence of Jesus with us, which I think makes a significant difference.

As Jesus tells us in today’s reading, God is not a God of the dead, but a God of the living. He lives today and is ‘more intimate to me than I am to myself’ (Confessions II, 6, 11).

The life of Christian discipleship is a life lived out of a continuous encounter, with the God who dwells with us, whom we encounter in prayer, in the Church, in the Sacraments, in those around us, and in the wonderful creation with which he has gifted to us.

Point to Ponder

 ‘[T]he companionship born of Christ has erupted in history: it is the Church, His body, the mode of His presence today, a day-by-day familiarity, a commitment in the mystery of his presence within the sign that is the Church. This is how a rational evidence, fully reasonable, can be born, which makes us repeat with certainty what He, unique in the history of humanity, said of himself: I am the way, the truth, and the life.’

– Luigi Giussani, ‘Christ: God’s Companionship with Man’, p. 102

30 October – Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 19:1-10

“He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was…”

Zacchaeus was not a particularly well-liked man. That perhaps is putting it lightly.

And we know that Jesus tended to seek out those who were like him, publicly known to be ‘sinners,’ low-lifes, and the like.

Something that strikes me in this story though is Zacchaeus’s own drive to see ‘what kind of man Jesus was.’ No doubt he’d heard stories of this wandering preacher, healer and miracle worker. He’d know that he had a propensity to seek out the outcasts, and perhaps he was there with a faint hope that he’d be welcomed by him.

When reading this story though, it seems that poor old Zacchaeus lost hope in any really encounter with the man. Instead, he climbed a tree, just to catch a glimpse of him, to see if the stories he had heard were even close to being real.

True to form, this is where Jesus exceeds all expectations – seeking him out, he invites himself over to Zacchaeus’ house to share a meal with him. And by opening himself to this encounter Zacchaeus is changed. Reflecting on this encounter, Italian priest Luigi Giussani writes, ‘Quite simply, he [Zacchaeus] had been penetrated and captured by a gaze that recognized and loved him for what he was. The ability to take hold of the heart of a man is the greatest, most persuasive miracle of all.’  (p. 53)

This is what mercy looks like – a real encounter with the depth of the person, that recognises one’s real identity – that recognises that I am made for so much more (see GS n.22), and that it is in fact possible, with the grace of God, to live this way.

Words of Wisdom

“This is what our hearts really want: a God who is intimate while remaining really God.”

– Lorenzo Albacete, ‘God at the Ritz’


Christ gives us back a humanity capable of justice, of joy, of welcome – a true humanity; and he does this by coming to our house.

Giussani, Luigi. ‘Why the Church?’, p. 188

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