Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: June 2017

2 July – Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 10:37-42

‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me.’

 And here we have heard probably just about enough.

Who does he think he is? Jesus, who has asked what seems like a hell of a lot from his followers, including such clangers as ‘be perfect…’  is now asking for us to prioritise him over those who we rightly think should be those whom we love the most.

What on earth is he getting at here?

When he tells us that ‘anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me’, we are rightly shocked. This shakes us to our very core. How is this possible?

The radical calling of the Gospel is so easy to gloss over in favour of a soft, mushy sentimentality that in the end asks very little of us – promises us less. Hearing passages like this shake us out of the complacency that we so often fall into, and places before us demands that we would naturally think impossible.

How could I love anyone more than my nearest and dearest? And, even if that is possible, why would I?

St Pope John Paul II wrote that, ‘[f]ollowing Christ is not an outward imitation… it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross.’

As a spiritual reality love is not something that is finite. The more love is shared, the greater it is. And by loving God, who is in Love itself, our love is purified and magnified. As a result of loving Christ first, my love for my father and my mother, my son or my daughter, wife or husband, is both purified, and magnified.

This love is first given to us, so the correct creaturely posture is one of receptivity. Then, and only then, can we be empowered to love as we should.

Let us pray for this receptive heart.

Point to Ponder

“Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:5-8). Christ dwells by faith in the heart of the believer (cf. Eph 3:17), and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord.”

Saint Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 21

24 June – Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

“Do not be afraid…”

Throughout history, Christianity has been characterised as the religion of fearful, feeble-minded weaklings. This is particularly evident in our own day, where the criticisms of Nietzsche have become embedded into the modern social imaginary.

Nietzsche’s hatred for Christianity is, in my reading, more of a disappointment in the witness that so many of us Christians do not act as though what we profess to be true, really is so.

So often we lack the courage to really act out of that place of encounter with the Risen Christ. In the face of this constant failure, we have before us two options. The first is Nietzschean – to forcefully assert our power and create our own morals, or, to heed the words of Christ in this Gospel.

Here we encounter Jesus instructing his closest followers to not be afraid in the face of what seem to be some incredibly fearful circumstances.

The words here seem to prefigure the fates that await these men. With the exception of Judas who betrayed Jesus, and of John, the beloved disciple, each of these men, and countless Christians in their wake, men women and children have given their lives for the sake of their faith.

This act of martyrdom is perhaps the most potent moment of Christian witness. It is not a testimony to a kind of stoic stick-to-itiveness exhibited by this rag-tag group of believers. It is instead the attitude exemplified by the Good Thief, who upon seeing the result of our sin (the crucified LORD) courageously steps forward and pleads, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Point to Ponder

 Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in man”. He alone knows it.

So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.

– Pope St John Paul II, Inauguration Homily, 22 October 1978

11 June – Sunday of the Most Holy Trinity (Year A), 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son”

The Gospel before us is a familiar one. It is almost too familiar such that its meaning is all too easily lost.

I am tempted to focus on the part of the reading that speaks of the promise of salvation to those who believe. We can take great confidence from these words, as they reassure us of the reality of eternal life., but there is perhaps a danger here, in that we can read this and think that eternal life is something easily granted – all it requires is believing in Him.

When we press deeper into this though, and couple this reading with a reflection on our own experience, we can see that the first part of this saying opens up to some profound truths about the reality of this love which motivated God to give his only Son.

God’s love for the world, fallen as it is, precedes and in fact precipitates his coming in the person of Jesus. When we consider also his knowledge of the reality of evil, of sin, suffering, and injustice, the fact of the Incarnation awakens us to the depth of the love that God has for us.

This love is a reality that it is much more than a mushy feeling – but it entails an order and a logic that includes vulnerability and inevitably suffering, even unto death, death on the Cross. The greater the love, the greater the suffering.

Herein lies one of the great paradoxes of human existence: We have this infinite desire to be loved, and to love, and yet we are so fearful of the suffering that true love entails. This means that we are often caught up in an interminable restlessness that sees us looking for an elusive risk-free love, that in reality does not exist.

The words of Jesus here portray something of the drama of love, in its most pure and cosmic form. The love with which God loves the world motivates his self-gift in the person of Jesus is one which enters into and experiences the depths of human suffering, only to rise again victorious in the Resurrection.

Point to Ponder

“All my life I had heard preachers quoting John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” They would preach on the second part of the verse, to show the easiness of being saved (“Only believe”). Where I hung now was the first part. If God loved the world even before the event at Bethlehem, that meant He loved it as it was, with all its faults. That would be Hell itself, in part. He would be like a father with a wayward child, whom he can’t help and he can’t forget. But it would be even worse than that, for he would also know the wayward child and the course of its waywardness and its suffering. That His love contains all the world does not show that the world does not matter, or that He and we do not suffer until death; it shows that the world is Hell only in part. But His love can contain it only by compassion and mercy, which, if not Hell entirely, would be at least a crucifixion.”

Wendell Berry, ‘Jayber Crow’


Graduation from the JPII Institute


After having worked on this Masters degree since mid-2011, I was particularly glad to have been asked to offer some parting words on behalf of the graduates. The graduation really was a joyous occasion, and the ceremony was the most meaningful that I have to date experienced (I had my degree conferred upon me by a Bishop, in the name of the Triune God, which is pretty darn special). The joy of the occasion was met also with a tinge of sadness, not only in the fact that I will no longer be a student at the Institute that has taught me so much, but also, in the knowledge that the Institute will soon be closed.

Below are the words I was invited to speak as valedictorian at the reception after the ceremony.

It is a great honour to be asked to say some brief words on behalf of the graduating class of 2017. This is the penultimate (or perhaps third to last) graduation ceremony before the Institute is closed. There is a great sadness surrounding the events which have seen the decision made to close this fine institution.

While this is, in fact, my third University graduation ceremony, I can honestly say that it is the one that has to date meant the most to me. To measure an institution such as this solely on the basis of the sheer number of graduates seems to be folly. The closure of this institute is a tremendous blow to the Church, and to our efforts to evangelise in Australia in the twenty-first century.

Those of us who can now proudly call ourselves graduates know of the great privilege it has been to have been able to study here in this centre of academic excellence, founded by one of the Greatest Saints of the twentieth century. The formation that we have received in and through our studies is now the source of responsibility that we all now bear, to ensure that what we have learned is able to be lived out and effectively communicated to others. Those to whom much is given, much is expected, (Lk 12:48).

Reflecting on my time here under the tutelage of some very fine scholars and excellent teachers, I am reminded of a wonderful essay by Hans Urs von Balthasar entitled, ‘Theology and Sanctity.’ If there is one thing that I have learned here, it is that the life of the mind must be dynamically integrated with the life of the soul. I feel this has been witnessed in the lives of our teachers here, perhaps more than it has been explicitly taught. What we have sought after in our studies here has been more than mere cognitive intimacy with ‘the LORD’. The studies which we have been so blessed to undertake at the Institute have provided us with much more than an intellectual understanding of the Church’s rich Tradition, they have taught us that theological thinking cannot be separated from a life of prayer and self-gift. I have witnessed this in my teachers, in the staff, and in the students of the Institute. I’d like to specifically mention here the late, and much loved Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, who many of us were privileged to study under, or work alongside. His is an ongoing example of an integrated life of prayer, a wholehearted striving for sanctity, and an incredible academic rigor that I believe to be idiosyncratic of the staff and faculty here.

My studies here have been perhaps different to many others, travelling intermittently as I have from Perth to Melbourne each time there has been an intensive unit of study offered. As a result, there are many who are active members of the student body whom I unfortunately do not know all that well. What I have found though, is that having been a student at the Institute makes one a member of what seems to be a vibrant community of faith and of learning.

This is something that I have experienced, not only in my home town of Perth where there are a number of alumni and people that I would call ‘friends’ of the Institute, but wherever I am fortunate enough to meet a fellow student or graduate of the Institute. Students, graduates, and friends of the institute in my experience, seem to share, amongst other things, a profound understanding of the implications of the universal call to holiness. Taking solace in the words of St John Paul II, this call to holiness is seen, not as a burden or something which one should be afraid of, but is instead seen as the ultimate adventure. Their lives are marked by an ongoing encounter with an event, a person, which gives their lives a new horizon and decisive direction, (DCE, 1).

I am sure that I can speak for everyone who is graduating here, when I say that the achievements which are symbolised by this graduation ceremony are not merely the achievements of us as individuals, but of the families and of the communities to which we belong. We have learned here that no man is an island, that we are constitutively related to one another – but in the process of this learning we have experienced this fundamental relationality in deep and profound ways. To my family, my beautiful wife Elizabeth, our little Anastasia, my parents Ray and Lori, who have made the journey with us to be here for this occasion, I thank you for all your love and support over the years.

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4 June – Pentecost Sunday (Year A)

“he breathed on them…”

Jesus breathed on them. Eww. Who does that?

It’s an interesting scene to imagine. Jesus had spent roughly three years with this group of people, wandering the countryside and towns of Judea, preaching, teaching, healing all sorts of people. He had taught some pretty odd things, and yet his presence had commanded that they be taken with absolute seriousness.

They had seen him arrested, tortured, and crucified, then, in the midst of their grief he had risen from the dead, and had begun to appear to this rag-tag group of people who had left everything to follow him three years earlier.

Now, he appears in the room where they had gathered. The room was locked, and yet here he is, standing among them. This is all a bit overwhelming, but they had seen a fair bit of this over the last few weeks – Jesus, their mate who died a public a gory death has appeared to them a number of times of late, each time doing some pretty incredible things. He greets them, and says ‘Peace be with you’, and then he breathes on them. My natural reaction is one of disgust: Who goes around breathing on people?

When he breathes on them he says ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’ This is something profound.

We often think of the spirit as some supra-physical reality, but here we see that its communication is deeply incarnational, not unlike some of Jesus’s other miraculous actions (ie. making a mud pie out of dirt and spit and smooshing it into a blind bloke’s eyes, see Jn 9:1-12).

His breath, the very physicality of it should remind us that the faith is an earthy, fleshy reality. It is not an escape from this world, but a mission to sanctify it.

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Come Holy Spirit,

fill the hearts of your faithful

and kindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.

And You shall renew the face of the earth.



Veni Sancte Spiritus Veni per Mariam

Come Holy Spirit, Come through Mary

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