Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: April 2018

29 April – Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Gospel Jn 15:1-8

“For cut off from me, you can do nothing.”

Sometimes the sayings of Jesus are (understandably) a bit overdone. We’ve heard them so often, perhaps in the unfortunate circumstance of some kind of trite Hallmark card type scenario that they lose their meaning.

Before us in today’s Gospel we have the quaint image of the vine and the branches, an image with which we here in Western Australia are not at all unfamiliar with, blessed as we are with world-class wine regions at our doorstep.

What is initially a fairly plain and simple image, conveying an equally simple message, can carry deeper significance upon reflection.

Jesus invites his followers to ‘remain in him’ to remain connected to and rooted in him. It makes sense when we speak of the botanical reality of vines and the branches which provide them sustenance, but such language is surely odd if Jesus is merely a man.

In the midst of our busy lives we can often push our prayer off to the side. Perhaps it punctuates our day or our week, but beyond that, it is not something that continues to inform our existence. What Jesus is calling us to is something more fundamental – a life lived from a reality grounded in him. This is something that affects not only a world-view, but our entire logic of being.

The great temptation of our age is to think that ‘I’ need to sort things out myself, that ‘I’ can be totally independent and self-sustaining. Jesus’ words ring out here, we are fundamentally, or constitutively relational. Not only that, but cut off from the source of life and love we can do nothing. As the Spanish priest and theologian writes ‘nothing can live off nothingness. Nobody can stand, have a constructive relationship with reality, without something that makes life worth living, without a hypothesis of meaning. (Disarming Beauty, p. 50). It is that ongoing encounter with Jesus that gives life meaning. He offers himself to us in all humility, for us to engage with and to verify. Is life with him better, more real?

Apart from him, can I experience joy?

Point to Ponder

The grace contained in the Sacraments of Easter is an enormous potential for the renewal of our personal existence, of family life, of social relations. However everything passes through the human heart: if I let myself be touched by the grace of the Risen Christ, if I let him change me in that aspect of mine which is not good, which can hurt me and others, I allow the victory of Christ to be affirmed in my life, to broaden its beneficial action. This is the power of grace! Without grace we can do nothing. Without grace we can do nothing! And with the grace of Baptism and of Eucharistic Communion I can become an instrument of God’s mercy, of that beautiful mercy of God. To express in life the sacrament we have received: dear brothers and sisters, this is our daily duty, but I would also say our daily joy! The joy of feeling we are instruments of Christ’s grace, like branches of the vine that is Christ himself, brought to life by the sap of his Spirit! – Pope Francis, Regina Ceali Address, 1 April 2013

22 April – Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Gospel John 10:11-18

“They too will listen to my voice…”

Throughout the Gospels Jesus uses a variety of images to describe the love that he and his heavenly Father have for us, and the relationship that they seek to have with each and every one of us. Here in this figure of the Good Shepherd we find an image that continues to resound in our hearts and minds.

The shepherd would have been a familiar sight to those to whom Jesus first addressed these words – indeed there were probably many among them who had firsthand experience doing that very job. For us however, the role and duties of the shepherd are far from our day to day experience, and yet the image is still one that strikes us.

In speaking of his role as shepherd, Jesus tells his followers that those of his flock will know his voice when they hear it.

This seems strange to us today. How can we, who live 2000 some years after the time of Christ hear and know his voice?

The first step is to take some time out – to stop and to listen. Not only reflect on God’s Word as it comes to us in Scripture and in Liturgy, but to allow our very self to recognise its own lack, its need. Without allowing for the question which is our own existence to come to the fore, how can we adequately receive the answer which is Christ? We need to open ourselves and not try to impose our own wishes on to what the Lord may be telling us.

Am I listening? Really listening?

So often we do not allow ourselves to hear the still, gentle voice of the Lord. We do not allow ourselves to encounter our own selves, our own ‘I’. We avoid silence, we flee contemplation, we busy ourselves with all manner of distractions.

Pope Francis points out that “It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon.”

Point to Ponder

 

Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.

Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, p. 207.

15 April – Third Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Gospel Luke 24:35-48

“They were still talking about all this…”

We only celebrated Easter Sunday 3 weeks ago and yet, with our busy schedules that can seem like ancient history. Easter however, is more than this isolated event. For the fifty days which span from Easter to Pentecost, we are still in the Easter season. More than this though, the reality of the resurrection, which we celebrate at Easter is something that should colour every aspect of our lives.

It is not just in this Easter season, but every day that we, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, are taken with this fact – this reality: Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.

There is nothing more fascinating than this claim – that this man: a man whom the Apostles had lived and travelled with for three years, whom they saw arrested, beaten and publicly executed, physically rose from the dead.

The disciples in today’s reading were still talking about all this when something unique happened – Jesus himself stood among them.

Importantly, Jesus chooses to demonstrate his physical, bodily resurrection in two primary ways, both of which convey special meaning.

First, he shows his wounds, asking his disciples to touch them and see for themselves. Second, he asks to be fed.

These two actions of Christ demonstrate his full, bodily resurrection. More than that, they point to the way which we can experience the risen Lord here and now – in touching the wounds of those who suffer, and in feeding those in need.

In this we have the opportunity to encounter the risen Lord – whose resurrection is not simply something that happened in the past, but an ongoing event.

We should pray that we would be more like those disciples, so consumed with wonder at the Risen Lord that we would still be talking about this, and that we would not be afraid to touch the wounds of those who suffer, and feed those who go hungry.

Let us pray that we do not allow the great mystery of the truth of the resurrection to leave us unaffected.

Point to Ponder

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. This is the Christian message indicating the visible, historical face of the Church, which is the people of God from the social point of view and the Body of Christ from the profound, ontological point of view. This is the way in which the Church emerges in history as a phenomenon. It is a community conscious of its exceptional origin, an integral part of life, inherent in the flesh and blood of life.

Luigi Giussani, Why the Church? p. 203.

Faith is always faith in the Unseen

This blessed Easter season always gives me pause, as we contemplate the deepest and most profound mysteries of our faith.

I was struck by a short posting by the Albacete Forum, which I now re-post here.

“We would be wrong to think that those who believe without seeing have greater faith than those who have seen. Faith is always faith in the Unseen; otherwise it would not be faith! Those who believed in Our Lord did not believe because they saw Him; after all, Mary Magdalen saw Him and at first she did not recognize Him! The disciples on their way to Emmaus saw Him, and they did not recognize Him at first either. It is not enough to see the Risen Lord in order to believe in Him. Something more is required: first, Our Lord has to reveal Himself, that is to say, He has to offer us the opportunity to recognize Him, better, He has to offer us the gift or grace of recognition. And second, we must have the interior dispositions that will allow us to accept this gift, and those interior dispositions are themselves a gift from God! The “advantage” of those who have not seen Him and believed must refer to something else; it cannot be a matter of greater faith… 

A revealing encounter with Our Lord Jesus Christ takes place through the mediation of something external to us, something which is the fruit of the faith of those who have faith. Those who come to believe in Him this way are “blessed,” or “fortunate,” more so than those who first saw Him, precisely because those who come later have at their disposal the testimony of the former ones. They have at their disposal the Tradition of believers, the Tradition of the Church, embodied in Sacred Scripture.”

– Lorenzo Albacete, Easter homily, April, 1993.

8 April – Divine Mercy Sunday (Year B)

Gospel Jn 20:19-31

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ …”

The story of the Resurrection is one which is at the heart of the Christian message – and for many it is a real roadblock on the way to faith.

Thomas, perhaps often like us, is struggling with the idea of the resurrection, not having physically witnessed it himself. So often we read this questioning in a negative light, and we forget the great admonition of St Paul to ‘test everything, hold on to what is good’ [1Th 5:21].

For Thomas the seeming absurdity of the claims being made by the other Apostles of Christ’s resurrection had to be verified and Jesus was absolutely unafraid to provide Thomas with the opportunity to do just that.

It is particularly fitting that Jesus proved his resurrection to Thomas through the evidence of his wounds.

It is right here, in these wounds that we encounter Jesus. Commenting on this passage, Pope Francis wrote the “path to our encounter with Jesus-God are his wounds. There is no other.”

We might complain today that, unlike Thomas, we do not have the opportunity to physically feel these wounds which are imprinted on the flesh of Christ. How can I verify this claim of the resurrection today?

“We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to our body – the body – the soul too, but – I stress – the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he’s in jail because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today…

Let us ask St. Thomas for the grace to have the courage to enter into the wounds of Jesus with tenderness and thus we will certainly have the grace to worship the living God.”

Point to Ponder

“We would be wrong to think that those who believe without seeing have greater faith than those who have seen. Faith is always faith in the Unseen; otherwise it would not be faith! Those who believed in Our Lord did not believe because they saw Him; after all, Mary Magdalen saw Him and at first she did not recognize Him! The disciples on their way to Emmaus saw Him, and they did not recognize Him at first either. It is not enough to see the Risen Lord in order to believe in Him. Something more is required: first, Our Lord has to reveal Himself, that is to say, He has to offer us the opportunity to recognize Him, better, He has to offer us the gift or grace of recognition. And second, we must have the interior dispositions that will allow us to accept this gift, and those interior dispositions are themselves a gift from God! The “advantage” of those who have not seen Him and believed must refer to something else; it cannot be a matter of greater faith… 

A revealing encounter with Our Lord Jesus Christ takes place through the mediation of something external to us, something which is the fruit of the faith of those who have faith. Those who come to believe in Him this way are “blessed,” or “fortunate,” more so than those who first saw Him, precisely because those who come later have at their disposal the testimony of the former ones. They have at their disposal the Tradition of believers, the Tradition of the Church, embodied in Sacred Scripture.”

Lorenzo Albacete, Easter homily, April, 1993.

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