Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: March 2018

18 March – 5th Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Gospel Jn 12:20-33

Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies

To those who are acquainted with the sayings of Jesus, the imagery used in today’s Gospel reading is a familiar one, yet often this familiarity can blind us to the astonishing nature of the person of Jesus and the words which he speaks.

Here we witness one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith. It is death that leads to life. How can this be?

In the life of the Church, the Christian is given to him or herself anew. Through baptism, the ‘old man’, as St Paul says dies, and the ‘new man’ is born. We remain ourselves, but in a sense become something much more – we become more ourselves than we were.

There is something deeply troubling in this, as it requires that I give over all that myself have been given. This is the ongoing struggle that characterises Christian existence, but it is also the ongoing joy – to know that I have been made anew, that I can, with the help of the Lord, begin again.

What Christ exemplifies in his death on the cross he in turn asks of us: that we not hold back in our giving – even to the point of death. The teaching of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught as much when they said that man is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, and that he cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of self. [GS, 24]

This Lenten season is an opportunity to practice this dying to self. To give over perhaps little luxuries or preferences, or perhaps big ones. To die to the ‘old man’ within, and receive the gift of new life offered to us.If we die with him we will experience his resurrection. [2Tim 2:11]

‘This is the most fascinating element of the Christian announcement.’

Point to Ponder

‘In the life of the Church, Being, God, the Word made flesh, Christ communicates to man the gift of a more profound participation in the origin of everything. In this way, man remains man but becomes something more. Man within the Church, is offered a “supernatural” participation in Being. This is the most fascinating element of the Christian announcement.’

– Luigi Giussani, ‘Why the Church?’, p. 180

11 March – 4th Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Gospel Jn 3:14-21

For God so Loved the world…

Perhaps one of the most well known Gospel passages is taken from today’s story, where Jesus says to Nicodemus that, ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.’ (Jn 3:16).

So often we hear people preach about this, focusing on the second part of this saying that, in order to be saved, one need only to believe in Him who the Father has sent. True enough. Acknowledging, of course, that this belief finds itself manifest in a life conformed to Christ. (cf. James 2:14-26)

But there is more to this statement than merely that element of salvation through belief. Something perhaps more fundamental – the truth that God’s love for the world precedes everything.

God’s love for the world, for all of us, precipitates his coming amongst us in the person of Jesus Christ and the offer of salvation that ensues. His love, unreserved as it is, necessarily must be open to the tremendous suffering that all true love entails, by virtue of the fallen state of our world and of our nature.

Kentucky farmer and novelist Wendell Berry reflects on this passage in the voice of one of his most beloved characters, Jayber Crow, which I will cite at length here:

‘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 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 it unto 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.”

Point to Ponder

According to the words spoken to Nicodemus, God gives his Son to “the world” to free man from evil, which bears within itself the definitive and absolute perspective on suffering. At the same time, the very word “gives” (“gave”) indicates that this liberation must be achieved by the only-begotten Son through his own suffering. And in this, love is manifested, the infinite love both of that only-begotten Son and of the Father who for this reason “gives” his Son. This is love for man, love for the “world”: it is salvific love.

John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, 14.

Book Review: Catholic Theology – by Tracey Rowland.

Below is a review I wrote of a recently published book entitled Catholic Theology by Tracey Rowland.

The review can be found in full at the Heythrop Journal

Catholic Theology. By Tracey Rowland. Pp. 256, London, T&T Clark, 2017, $20.89. ISBN 978-0567034380. Review by Thomas V. Gourlay

The latest offering from Australian theologian Tracey Rowland is sure to cause somewhat of a stir in theology faculty lounges. Her recent and somewhat boldly titled Catholic Theology is published as part of Bloomsbury’s Doing Theology series and pulls no punches, as she offers readers her take on the landscape of Catholic theology leading up to and since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

Continue reading…

Book Review: Torn Asunder: Children, the Myth of the Good Divorce, and the Recovery of Origins – Margaret Harper McCarthy, ed.

Below is a review I wrote of a recently published volume entitled Torn Asunder: Children, the Myth of the Good Divorce, and the Recovery of Origins, edited by Margaret Harper McCarthy.

The review can be found in full at the Homiletic and Pastoral Review

Torn Asunder: Children, the Myth of the Good Divorce, and the Recovery of Origins. By Margaret Harper McCarthy, ed., Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017 (ISBN 978-0-8028-7205-0), viii + 316 pp., $34.00. Reviewed by Thomas V. Gourlay.

In listening to Catholic and Christian commentators engage in public debate about the nature and purposes of marriage in the contemporary context, one could easily be fooled into thinking that the only feature that distinguishes a Catholic/Christian view of marriage from popular revisionist views, is the insistence that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman. Such a collection of thoughts such as this, though, points to another fundamental and stark difference between the currently popular view of marriage, and the Catholic, and more broadly Christian, understanding of the institution, namely, its indissolubility…. continue reading

4 March – 3rd Sunday of Lent (Year B)

 Gospel Jn 2:13-25

So he made a whip out of cords

Today’s Gospel presents us with a confronting depiction of Jesus, one which stands at odds with what the kitsch image of the perennial ‘nice guy’, or ‘Buddy-Christ’ that so often pervades our culture. This story of Jesus cleansing the temple is strange, leaving us feeling rather uneasy. Isn’t Jesus supposed to be the peacemaker?

Perhaps this uneasiness is intended by the Gospel writer.

In the Gospels Jesus is supremely patient and tolerant of all sorts of people and mannerisms, however when it comes to issues concerning disrespect for God, for the truth, for ourselves, or for our fellow man (particularly the poor), Jesus exercises a ‘holy wrath’ that is far from peaceable.

Jesus is intolerable of those things which prevent us from our ultimate destiny – union with Him in heaven.

Just as Jesus had a deep and profound love for the Temple in his day, so too does he have a love for each one of us, each of which is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

When we act selfishly, or when we think or act out of pride or greed or lust, we defile the temple which is our very body. Our own wrongdoing becomes the cords of the whip that scourge us.

If we allow Him, Jesus can work through these sufferings to cleanse the temple of our body. And it is this cleansing which makes us more capable of reflecting him to those around us.

Let us not then fear this cleansing, as painful as it may be, but let us look to Jesus and trust in his unfailing love for each and every one of us


Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God,

have mercy on me, a sinner.

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