Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: May 2017

28 May – Sunday of the Ascension of Our Lord (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 28:16-20

“When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated.”

After having been with Jesus for three years or so as he carried out his public ministry, after witnessing his arrest and gruesome execution, and then having experienced him resurrected, the Disciples, bound for Galilee saw Jesus, alive and in the flesh, and, while most fell down before him (presumably in worship and adoration) we read that ‘some hesitated.’

This is extraordinary inasmuch as it gives a real emphasis to the reality of the events it reports. The disciples were real guys who, despite all that they had witnessed were even now somewhat reluctant. At least a couple hesitate in bowing down before the Lord Jesus.

Witnessing the bloody death of Jesus, and both the reports of, and actual appearances of the resurrected Lord, these disciples were perhaps supernaturally fatigued. They had seen the depths of human depravity, and the glories of the Risen Lord, and now they hesitate. One can almost feel the weary confusion” “What am I to make of all this?”

Then Jesus speaks. He gives them authority, and bids them to go out and proclaim the Good News of his death and resurrection, and to baptise all in the name of the Triune God. Then he assures them of his ongoing presence, until the end of time.

Jesus puts the responsibility of his saving mission into the hands of this rag-tag group of blokes, some of whom we are told, hesitate.

This should, in fact, be an incredible encouragement for us who strive, and so often fail to live in an awareness of the reality of the ongoing presence of the Lord. Jesus, aware of our own hesitancy as he was of some of his original disciples still commissions us to be the bearers of his salvation to the world around us.

Let us pray that we would remain aware of the presence of the Risen Christ and His Holy Spirit amongst us.

Food for thought

‘The Christian message announces the permanence of the fact of Christ, as a continuous happening – not something that happened once – but as something that still happens.’

  • Luigi Giussani, Why the Church?, 203

21 May – Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Gospel Jn 14:23-29

‘He will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever’

Jesus’ words here have a certain mysticism about them. “I am in the Father, you are in me…”, “I will always be with you, I am going away.” It all seems a little difficult to get my head around.

There is a temptation to dismiss it all as nonsense – Like Thomas, who is known as the ‘Doubter,’ I want to see the Risen Lord with my own eyes. I want to touch his wounds myself to see that they are real.

Here though, Jesus promises an Advocate. One who will always be with us, who will guide and protect. This is, on face value, not what I want.

This Advocate that Jesus speaks of is not the physical/empirical proof I feel that I need.

While we understand here that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, we are in a situation where we do not simply want a guiding spirit, but something irrefutable that will prove to us, according to our own standard, the existence of, and the love of God.

The mystery of God is such that, by necessity, it must exceed our own desires, expectations, and measurements. While on one level I might desperately want to have irrefutable evidence of God’s existence and His love, I also know that such irrefutable (read empirical) evidence would be inadequate.

The presence of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is an opportunity for trust, an opportunity for faith. ‘Trust [faith] engenders a knowledge that is mediated, a knowledge that comes through mediation, through a witness’ (Giussani, p. 3).

Faith is a kind of knowledge, mediated through a witness. In this instance our witness is the generations of believers who have preceded us and with whom we are united.

Point to Ponder

“…We must not forget that in our cultural context, very many people, while not claiming to have the gift of faith, are nevertheless sincerely searching for the ultimate meaning and definitive truth of their lives and of the world. This search is an authentic “preamble” to the faith, because it guides people onto the path that leads to the mystery of God. Human reason, in fact, bears within itself a demand for “what is perennially valid and lasting.” – Benedict XVI, 10

14 May – Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Gospel John 14:1-12

‘Have I been with you all this time… and you still do not know me?’

It is so easy to forget these fundamental things.

Jesus has developed such a large following, and the twelve, including Thomas and Philip, were especially close to him. We often think that they would have been ‘in the know’ the entire time, and yet, it seems that even right up until his death, they continued to misunderstand him – or perhaps they continued to fall back into modes of being that failed to account for the reality before them.

All that they had experienced, as astonishing as it was at the time, seemed to wear off all too quickly. Their ongoing encounter with the LORD, as incredible as it was, would quickly became mundane. Jesus, despite the extraordinary things that would happen in and through him, is so easily thought of for them as really just one of the lads.

This is often our own experience. Even though we may have experienced significant encounters with the living God, through the gaze of a loved one, through the kindness of a stranger, through a graced moment of an experience of beauty in the created world, or through exposure to a profound work of art; even though we are able to encounter God everyday through the Body of Christ on earth, the Church, we are all too easily lulled into a sense of the mundane. Our astonishment wanes, and we think to ourselves, ‘if only I could have been there to see Jesus perform these miracles, to experience Him first hand, this would be a memory that forever changed me, this would be the impetus to forever amend my life and follow him closely always.’

If the example of Philip and of Thomas in today’s reading is to teach us anything, it is that we are often fickle creatures, who struggle to really remember – not simply by calling to mind the things that have happened in the past, but by living out the promises which have been made to us.

Humanity’s encounter with the living God in the person of Jesus, while occurring in a particular way, at a particular time and in a particular place is, and remains ongoing.

Our struggle is to continuously live in the memory that all of existence remains forever changed because of the fact of the Incarnation.

7 May – Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Gospel John 10:1-10

I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.

Sometimes it doesn’t really feel like this is the case. The Christian faith is so often as a straightjacket than a way of life characterised by fullness and freedom. Jesus’ statement here about having life and having it to the full follows what is a fairly stern admonition to abide by his way of doing things. It reads something like a ‘do it my way or else…’ type of reading, with the bit about ‘life to the full’ just thrown in so things don’t sound too harsh.

It seems though, that the fullness of life of which Jesus speaks, is a fullness that is, in a very particular sense, beyond what we can conceive of – it far exceeds our own expectations and hopes.

We often think that a full life is characterised by a freedom that is characterised by doing whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like doing it. When we live like this though we know that, in the end, we remain unsatisfied. We only really feel free when our desires are fully satisfied. Our desires are endless and our desire to love and to be loved is infinite. This is what St Augustine referred to as the restless heart, which cannot rest until it rests in the infinite love of God (Confessions 1.1).

Fr Luigi Giussani wrote that ‘If freedom is the experience of satisfaction, of completeness, then this completeness, this satisfaction, in its total acceptance, comes about in relationship with the Mystery, with the infinite’ (p. 66). Here it all begins to make sense. Jesus, explaining why he has come says, ‘I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.’ He came to complete our freedom – to offer us completeness through a relationship with him.

This circumvents and corrects a moralistic reading of the Christian faith and places it squarely back into the realm of relationship – a relationship which gives life. As Pope Benedict wrote,‘[b]eing Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’ (DCE,1)

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