Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: February 2017

26 February – Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 6:24-34

So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself

On a superficial reading, these words seem to convey a wonderful sense of assurance and security. We have no need to worry about the things that we need – God will provide. Once we get past this initial reading, and look to how it might impact on the day to day realities of our lives, we find that such sentiments actually call for something rather radical. And it is here where we get to be a little uncomfortable with the demands of the Gospel.

What would it actually be like if we took this seriously? If we really surrendered ourselves to the providence of God?

While it may well be fair to say that Jesus is not asking us to be reckless or frivolous, there is a certain freedom to which He calls us here, that is mutually exclusive with a life of selfish accumulation and consumption, as well as self-centred concern. The freedom for which Christ has set us free is a freedom to be what he has created us to be – holy.

So often, we allow ourselves to get caught up in frenetic activity. Our daily ‘to-do’ lists extend to  phenomenal lengths, and we fall into a trap of thinking that we somehow need to earn our existence, or earn the love of God, or simply rely solely on ourselves.

Instead, we might perhaps think about the fundamental posture of the Christian as being one of receptivity. Not a receptivity that is passive or weak, but a courageous and active receptivity – a receptivity that is ontologically prior to any activity on our part.

In this we imitate Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose act of receptivity (fiat) was not passive or weak, but courageous and active.

Let us pray this week for the courage to receive the gift which God gives us.

17 February – Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 5:38-48

“Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus speaks these words in the context of his great Sermon on the Mount, as recorded by St Matthew in his Gospel. We’ve heard the Beatitudes, as well as some other significant teachings and saying of Jesus which extend the old Law of the ten commandments beyond mere external compliance, towards something more inward, to the internal disposition of our hearts. This, of course, does not negate external compliance, but it does significantly ‘raise the bar’, so to speak.

Importantly however, this new moral law, if it can be so-called, is not something that is established as a kind of test, or competition of feats of moral strength. What Jesus is offering us is a glimpse of a life that is truly transformed.

We read here that Jesus asks us to ‘be perfect’, and here it is so tempting to either scoff and laugh it off, or to throw our hands up in exasperation and dismay, exclaiming that this is all just too hard. The great English writer of the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton once wrote that ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.’ (ch. 5).

What is perhaps saddest in this abandonment of the Christian ideal is that it often comes from an honest assessment of our own capabilities – and a lack of understanding of the supernatural help that is on offer.

Our natural desire is for an infinite or supernatural happiness, and we know that with our own natural powers we simply cannot achieve it, hence the temptation to despair. But Jesus is not asking us to seek after the impossible. Instead, what he offers us is a gift, something that we should try to open ourselves to receive.

St John Paul II, reflecting on these words asked, “Are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?” (Oct 8, 1980). This is the great adventure of the call to holiness. It calls us far beyond what is naturally possible, into a life transformed in Christ.

Point to Ponder

The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God’s gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received. They are warned by the Apostle to live “as becomes saints”, and to put on “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience” and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness. – Lumen Gentium, 40

 

12 February – Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 5:17-37

“If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven”

Jesus offers us some rather terrifying words in the Gospel today. He extends the reach of the basic moral code to which we all try to adhere to something more radical than we are perhaps comfortable with.

In fact, for Jesus, it is not enough for his followers not to kill, or to commit adultery, but he tells us that to harbour anger or lust in our hearts is just as bad. This is indeed a difficult teaching.

Commenting on this passage, now Saint John Paul II asked poignantly, “Are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?” (Oct 8, 1980). These are our two options: despair or faithfulness/sanctity. On our own, without the power of God’s Holy Spirit these words are too much for us to bear – I simply cannot live up to this standard. I am too weak. But we are not left alone – the Christian faith is not some sort out hyper-stoicism that sets mammoth or superhuman moral standards and leaves us to work it out. No. Quite to the contrary, this exceptionally high level of morality in fact operates as the result of an encounter. The moral life, according to the Christian faith, is the direct result of an encounter with a person – it operates as a response of love. And it is through this living encounter though the Body of Christ, the Church, and the Sacraments that believers are empowered to overcome sin and hurt and live lives of heroic virtue – virtue that ‘goes deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees.’

‘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’ (VS, 103) these teachings are not impossible, or merely counsels for the particularly pious. The call to holiness is for us all, it is universal (LG ch. 5).

 

Point to Ponder

Only in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption do we discover the “concrete” possibilities of man. “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”

John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 103

 

5 February – Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 5:13-16

“Jesus said to his disciples”

It is almost cliché – so often we listen to or read the Gospel’s and each episode begins with these words, ‘Jesus said to his disciples…’.

Rightly, we will often focus on the words or actions which follow, but for now, let’s dwell on these words themselves. The Gospels are not merely collections of Jesus’ sayings and stories of the things he did – they are accounts that testify to a presence that impacted the reality of the lives of their authors.

These simple words communicate something which is, in fact, quite profound. These stories, sayings or words of advice are not simply abstract points of wisdom that have no history, but as the words of a man, who lived, and walked and talked.

This is perhaps one of the most profound elements of the Catholic-Christian faith, that God, the Second Person of the Trinity takes on flesh in the person of Jesus, and enters into human history in a particular time and a particular place. These words then, take on a meaning that is far more significant than random words of encouragement or advice that, often unattributed, adorn fridge magnets and inspirational posters.

This detail is in fact all important – Jesus said these words to his disciples, and he says them to us also.

Jesus speaks.

His words are not simply thought-ending clichés. His are words which give life. They are words which are spoken by one who seeks us out, who offers us an opportunity to respond.

They call us forward out of mediocrity, to become the salt of the earth, to become a light in the darkness. Let us all pray for the courage to accept this call.

Point to Ponder

‘Christian spirituality is not an escape from the flesh; it is an embrace of the humility of the flesh. St. Thomas Aquinas said the sacramental way of salvation is good because it forces us to accept the flesh, to find Christ with our flesh, rather than blame the flesh for our sins.’

Lorenzo Albacete, The Humility of the Flesh

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