Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: July 2017

30 July – Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 13:44-52

“He goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.”

Jesus is good at telling a story. Here the story might seem a little inane, but let’s dig a little deeper.

There’s a particular theme of risk running through these parables, which might seem somewhat reckless. Imagine finding something of such tremendous value. Surely it would be the smart thing to put all our efforts into obtaining that one valuable thing, but would I actually be willing to take that risk?

Selling everything I own, including all those things to which I have become attached would be a daunting task, even if it is a sure thing.

It is risk though, which is the defining reality of our lives. There is tremendous risk in making oneself vulnerable, but it is vulnerability which allows us to experience love – to love and to be loved. This is what gives our lives meaning, and without which we cannot be fully human.

In telling this story, Jesus taps into the basic human desire is for the infinite – he uses the image of earthly riches to point to something much more, and he indicates the necessity of risk involved in obtaining that which our hearts seek.

When Jesus speaks these parables, he issues an invitation, one which is free of all coercion, but which presents itself to me with force. It imposes itself upon me, such that I cannot remain unchanged. While I am free to respond in any way which I chose, but I am not free to remain unchallenged by the invitation.

How will I respond?

Can I step forward and boldly risk all to obtain that which has been offered to me?

What do I need to do to verify the truth of what has been proposed and respond appropriately?

What is holding me back?

Point to Ponder

“Life is hunger, thirst, and passion for an ultimate object, which looms over the horizon, and yet always lies beyond it. When this is recognized, man becomes a tireless searcher.”

― Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense

23 July – Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 13:24-30

“While everybody was asleep his enemy came”

I think the technical term for sowing weeds into someone’s crop is, ‘dog-act’.

Here’s a bloke, doing his thing, sewing good seed, which would have cost him time and money, and hoping for a good harvest. Then his enemy rocks up, under the cover of night, and scatters darnel (weeds) among the wheat. It is perhaps the definition of a ‘dog act.’

Jesus tells this parable with a view to educating his listeners, to invite them again into the mystery of the Kingdom of God. But, what is he getting at here?

The parables, as we have said, are not simple formulaic or propositional truth. Jesus does not construct logical syllogisms about himself, the Father, the Trinity, or the coming Kingdom. Instead, he tells these parables and performs miracles that invite us to contemplate something mysterious.

Upon learning of crime committed against him, the good farmer takes a course of action that is instructive. Seeing the weeds growing up around the wheat, the servants probably like most of us, suggest swift and decisive action – let’s weed it out now, they say. But the landowner displays something of a more contemplative approach. He acts slowly, trusting that the wheat sown is good wheat, and will not succumb to the threats of the darnel. His reaction is a considered one, not knee-jerk. He does not retaliate against his enemy, nor does he react in a way that would damage the good wheat that he sowed. Instead, he waits, and trusts.

The good seed, the subjects of the Kingdom of God, will need to grow amongst the bad, but his loving, watchful eye looks over all, and he knows the depths of the heart.

Point to Ponder

“The Lord is help, defence and salvation; as a shield he protects the person who entrusts himself to him and enables him to lift his head in the gesture of triumph and victory. Man is no longer alone, his foes are not invincible as they had seemed, for the Lord hears the cry of the oppressed and answers from the place of his presence, from his holy hill.”

Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Wednesday, 7 September 2011.

Boredom: Plague of the Profoundly Uninterested

Earlier this year I spent some time reading a fascinating book by R.J. Snell entitled, Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire. While reading I was caught reflecting on a lot of the work I had done last year, looking at the work of David L. Schindler, and his metaphysical critique of liberalism. ACedia

For Schindler, liberalism is much more than a political philosophy, it carries with it an entire metaphysic which infects everything, including the ontological vision of all who come into contact with it. Liberalism for Schindler reduces things to the sum of their parts and how they function. It imposes on all a fundamentally mechanistic ontology.

Schindler’s work in this area bears a close resemblance to the work of his colleague at the John Paul II Institute, Michael Hanby, who develops this same line of thinking referring instead to a technological, rather than mechanistic ontology. In fact, as I read Snell’s book, which seems to me to be both an elaboration on, and clever introduction to this kind of thinking, I was caught wishing that I had had access to prior to engaging with thinkers like Schindler and Hanby.

Hanby develops a critique of liberal modernity with a slight variation on Schindler’s mechanistic ontologic, instead pointing to the fusion of techne and logos which the heart of the liberal order. For him, the fundamental danger of technological/technocratic society is that within such a liberal/technological order there can be no such thing as an interesting (inter – inside; esse – being) question. Things in themselves do not have insides. Within liberal order one simply cannot think the whole. And so, in a world where nothing is interesting, the most common experience is necessarily boredom.

All this is beautifully developed and explained in Snell’s book, (which I heartily recommend) and very potently argued in Hanby’s Communio article The Culture of Death, the Ontology of Boredom, and the Resistance of Joy, (Communio 31, Summer 2004).

Book Review: The Mystery and Sacrament of Love – Cardinal Marc Ouellet

Below is a review which I recently wrote for Homiletic and Pastoral Review on Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s work, Mystery and Sacrament of Love: A Theology of Marriage and the Family for the New Evangelization. There is much in this book which would do good to those currently engaged in discussions around how many live the sacrament of marriage in our world today, particularly in light of the two Synods on Marriage and Family, and the resultant Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.



Mystery and Sacrament of Love: A Theology of Marriage and the Family for the New Evangelization, by Cardinal Marc Ouellet. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015 (ISBN 978-0-802-87334-7), xiv + 346 pp., $35.00. Review by Thomas V. Gourlay.

Reputedly a significant potential candidate in the most recent papal conclave, and leading light of the Communio circle of scholars world-wide, Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s publication, Mystery and Sacrament of Love—an English translation of a work previously available in both French and Italian—is a prayerful, pastoral, and theologically rigorous Sacramental theology that is much-needed in our time.

With the synods dealing with marriage and the family now behind us, and with the (in)famous Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetita, still the subject of intense discussion, Ouellet’s work, which predates the synods and the exhortation, offers a mode of pastoral engagement with the real issues that plague marriage and the family in our contemporary world. His efforts here are informed by a deeply spiritual, and academically rigorous, theological reflection.

Readers familiar with Ouellet’s previous work will… [continue reading…]

16 July – Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 13:1-23

“[H]e told them many things in parables.”

A good portion of Jesus’ teaching was done through parable, that literary device that seeks to make known or shed light upon something deeply mysterious.

Here a scenario is relayed to us that sees Jesus being inundated by large crowds. People from all around sought him out such that, in this instance, he had to board a boat, and push off shore so that his teaching could be heard by all who had gathered.

Interestingly though, he does not lecture the people on a distinct set of truths which must be believed in order that they would receive eternal life. Instead, he offers them a story that points to, and invites his listeners to engage with something mysterious.

The truth is that what is revealed by God in Christ is not simply a set of doctrines about God, but God himself, in the person of Jesus. This person, Jesus, God incarnate (in human flesh), cannot be reduced to a mere set of facts, or doctrinal propositions.

More than his teachings then, it was the person of Jesus himself that aroused so much interest. And when Jesus taught, he sought to invite his listeners into the mystery of his own life and love – into the life and love of the Trinity itself. He does not simply unfold a set of cold propositional dogmas which must simply be assented to. This is why Pope Benedict XVI began the first significant teaching document of his pontificate by proclaiming that “Being 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).

The parables of Christ invite us to engage with the Mystery. They steer us away from cold moralistic or hyper-intellectualised propositional formulations and remind us of the person who has entered human history and astounded us with an answer to our deepest longings.


Words of Wisdom

God cannot be reduced to an object. He is a subject who makes himself known and perceived in an interpersonal relationship. Right faith orients itself to open itself to the light which comes from God, so that reason, guided by love of the truth, can come to a deeper knowledge of God. The great medieval theologians and teachers rightly held that theology, as a science of faith, is a participation in God’s own knowledge of himself. It is not just our discourse about God, but first and foremost, the acceptance and the pursuit of a deeper understanding of the word which God speaks to us, the word which God speaks about himself, for he is an eternal dialogue of communion, and he allows us to enter into this dialogue.

Francis, Lumen Fidei: The Light of Faith, 2013, n.36

9 July – Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 11:25-30

I will give you rest

This is nice. This I can handle.

I get to the end of the working week particularly and a message like this is a nice one to hear. But then I read the following sentence and I am back to being somewhat on edge. ‘Take my burden on you…’ ‘Shoulder my yoke…’ Is it just me, or is Jesus trying to load me up with other responsibilities as well as the ones that already keep me occupied?

In my experience, there seems to be two Jesus’s that populate our imagination. One, I like to call ‘Hallmark Jesus’, or ‘Buddy Christ’, the Jesus who is your mate, who never challenges us and is always with us, offering Oprah Winfrey-esque advice about staying positive etc. The other Jesus of popular imagination is the one that emphasises the image of Jesus turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple, and sees Jesus as overly concerned with finicky issues of private morality.

In fact, neither of these Jesus’s are adequate to the full portrayal that we have of Jesus in the Scriptures. There we have a Jesus who is caring and compassionate; who seeks after those who are outcasts, and dines with public sinners. But this Jesus is a polarising figure, not afraid to buck trends, break cultural taboos, and challenge those who feel that they are the holy ones. He offers a challenging word to everyone, calling all toward an ideal that, humanly speaking, is impossible. ‘Be perfect’, he says (Cf. Mt 5:8). Well, thanks very much mate!

But this is the great adventure to which we are called. The struggle for perfection, or sanctity, is not some impossible ask – Jesus actually offers us all the help we need. It requires our openness, and our willingness to accept his help. His yoke is easy, and his burden light.

Point to Ponder

‘[I]t would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity… [T]his ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few “uncommon heroes” of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual.

John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31

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