Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: January 2018

21 January – 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Gospel Mk 1:14-20

“Follow Me.”

The reading for today recounts an event that occurs very early in Jesus’ public ministry. John the Baptist has just been arrested for speaking some rather unpalatable truths to the reigning King Herod.

Perhaps it was Jesus’ courage to preach about repentance amidst such dangerous circumstances or maybe it was just his own personal charisma. Whatever it was, the force of the man Jesus had an attraction.

The simple words “follow me” directed to these two sets of brothers was enough to have them down tools and immediately follow after him. What on earth could prompt that kind of response?

The person of Jesus awakens a desire in the human heart that is in-built. St Augustine refered to this as a restlessness that drives the human person, and which remains unsatisfied until it rests in Him who created us (i.e. God). This is the great paradox of human existence, that the natural, finite human person has an infinite desire that can only be fulfilled supernaturally.

The presence of Christ, God-made-man, is a completely gratuitous gift from God that Father that takes us by surprise, as it did with the brother in today’s Gospel. He enters into human history and encounters us in the depths of our need, in our joys, and also in our misery, sorrow and even sinfulness. He encounters us and calls us to follow him.

It is exactly this encounter that is the essence of Christianity – in the words of Pope Benedict XVI ‘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 two sets of brothers in today’s Gospel did not make their decision to follow him lightly, nor did they simply weigh up all the evidence empirically – they trusted their innermost desires and followed Him who alone can give their life meaning. Are we in tune with the deepest desires of our heart?

Words of Wisdom

‘God entered the history of humanity and, as a man, became an actor in that history, one of the thousands of millions of human beings but at the same time Unique! Through the Incarnation God gave human life the dimension that he intended man to have from his first beginning; he has granted that dimension definitively-in the way that is peculiar to him alone, in keeping with his eternal love and mercy, with the full freedom of God-and he has granted it also with the bounty that enables us, in considering the original sin and the whole history of the sins of humanity, and in considering the errors of the human intellect, will and heart, to repeat with amazement the words of the Sacred Liturgy: “O happy fault… which gained us so great a Redeemer!”’

Pope St John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 1

14 January – 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Gospel Jn 1:35-42

It was about the tenth hour…

It’s difficult to imagine a more human, a more earthy, a more mundane beginning to something that was to so profoundly alter the lives of these two men, let alone the history of the world.

It was about the tenth hour (about 3pm by our reckoning, as the people of his day counted the hours from sunrise).

That was the time when they saw Jesus passing by.

We can imagine John the Baptist standing up proclaiming ‘Look, there is the lamb of God’, and his followers, used to him saying some rather mysterious stuff, did not take much notice of him. John and Andrew though were perhaps new, and so they assumed that perhaps the Baptist was speaking more concretely, and seeing to whom he was pointing were immediately drawn to Christ passing by.

Jesus’ response to these men who followed him is staggering in its simplicity. He stops, and rather than simply giving them a method or a formula about how to live, he asks them simply “What do you want?” This question is one that continues to address us today. What is it that we want? What is it that we really want? What do we desire in the depths of our being?

When this was addressed to John and Andrew they had little to say – but it was obvious that they wanted to know more about this person who stood before them. “Where do you live?” they asked, to which the reply came simply, “come and see.”

Here we have, in a very real sense, the beginning of Christianity. ‘Not’, as Benedict XVI says, ‘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). This encounter is not one that forces upon us a worldview, but an invitation to follow the deepest of the desires of the human heart.

This event is so real, so concrete, so impactful on his life that the beloved disciple John remembered the exact hour when it occurred when he sat down to write his Gospel.

His inclusion of this detail is a testament to the reality of the encounter ‘which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’

Point to Ponder

Everything in our life, today as in the time of Jesus, begins with an encounter. An encounter with this Man, the carpenter from Nazareth, a man like all men and at the same time different. Let us consider the Gospel of John, there where it tells of the disciples’ first encounter with Jesus (cf. 1:35-42). Andrew, John, Simon: they feel themselves being looked at to their very core, intimately known, and this generates surprise in them, an astonishment which immediately makes them feel bonded to Him…

Speaking about the encounter brings to mind “The calling of St. Matthew,” the Caravaggio in the Church of St. Louis of the French, which I used to spend much time in front of every time I came to Rome. None of them who were there, including Matthew, greedy for money, could believe the message in that finger pointing at him, the message in those eyes that looked at him with mercy and chose him for the sequela. He felt this astonishment of the encounter.

The privileged place of encounter is the caress of Jesus’ mercy.

Pope Francis

Audience with Communion and Liberation for the 10th anniversary of the death of Fr. Giussani and the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Movement. Rome, Saint Peter’s Square, March 7, 2015

8 January – The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord – First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Gospel Mk 1:7-11

The new horizon of love

This is the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel, who unlike both Luke and Matthew, leaves out the stories of the Nativity which we have spent the last few weeks meditating on.

Instead, Mark begins with the Baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordan and this particular episode is just the first of a number of mysterious and confounding acts undertaken by Jesus over the course of His public ministry.

Why did Jesus seek to have himself baptised?

John’s baptism was a baptism of conversion and repentance, and yet we can be sure that Jesus, in his own person, was in no need of either of those things.

What we learn in this humble act of receiving baptism is that through Jesus, God comes down to meet me where I am. He has no aversion at all at the prospect of entering into the depths of our failings and mistakes, our selfishness and sinfulness.

Jesus’s baptism was, in essence, a prefiguring of the death he was to experience on the cross just three short years later – taking on the punishment due to all human sinfulness of all time.

We are called to emulate Jesus, not in the great miracles that he performed, but in his lowly acts of service and humility. In receiving this baptism he was accepting my guilt.

Point to Ponder

At the Jordan Jesus reveals himself with an extraordinary humility, reminiscent of the poverty and simplicity of the Child laid in the manger, and anticipates the sentiments with which, at the end of his days on earth, he will come to the point of washing the feet of the disciples and suffering the terrible humiliation of the Cross. The Son of God, the One who is without sin, puts himself among sinners, demonstrates God’s closeness to the process of the human being’s conversion. Jesus takes upon his shoulders the burden of sin of the whole of humanity, he begins his mission by putting himself in our place, in the place of sinners, in the perspective of the Cross.

Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, Sunday, 10 January 2010

Receiving the Gift: A Way of Life Open to Reality

This essay was previously presented at the National Billings Ovulation Method Teachers’ Weekend. The full text of this paper can be found at Homiletic and Pastoral Review, here.

A baby in utero at about 14 weeks. And, the Blessed Mother visits her relative, Elizabeth.

Receiving the Gift: A Way of Life Open to Reality

If the Christmas Season is about anything, it’s about the salvific nature of the human body, human flesh, the human condition as united to God’s divinely perfect nature in Christ. It is about saying “yes,” fiat, when God breaks into our lives, and it is about bearing new life when the Lord of all life draws near. Unfortunately, contemporary ways of thinking tend to reduce reality, including our own bodies, to merely mechanical things. I am my thoughts, or my mind. My body is not me, but instead something that I possess. It is as if all the material things around me, including my body, is merely dumb stuff which I can technologically manipulate at will to achieve the ends which I see fit. This is played out, for example in contemporary gender theory, which sees people as free to determine their gender, regardless of their biological sex. I am biologically a man, but in my mind, I choose to be, and therefore am a woman. Not only then do I chose to act or behave in ways which I see as being feminine, but I may even begin to take drugs or undergo some kind of surgery to bring about phenotypical or physically observable changes to my body…. Continue reading…

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