Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: June 2018

1 July 2018 – Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Gospel Mark 5:21-24,35-43

Jesus went with him and a large crowd followed him

There is something particularly beautiful about the fact that, despite the incomprehensible cosmic powers of God, that he comes to us through this mode of humble encounter.

Fr Luigi Giussani wrote that the word “encounter” implies, first, something unexpected and surprising. Second, it implies something real, that really touches us, is of interest to our lives. Understood in that way, every encounter is unique and its determining circumstances will never again be repeated because each encounter is a particular example of that “voice that calls each one by name.” Every encounter is a great opportunity offered to our freedom by God’s mystery.’ (JTE, 91)

We see that, throughout history, God reveals himself by way of a series of encounters. This was true in the Old Testament, but even more so, and perhaps even more unexpectedly in the New Testament.

In today’s Gospel we read of the healing of the daughter of Jairus, one of the synagogue officials. The event which unfolds is no doubt miraculous, and worth meditating upon. For Jairus though this encounter with Jesus comes as an opportunity offered to his freedom. He has the freedom to walk away, and shrug off any feeling of intrigue or desire stirred by Jesus, or to follow that stirring in his heart. He presses on and, following the deepest desires of his heart, throws himself at the feet of Jesus, begging him to do something for his daughter. This is perhaps the greatest exercise of freedom that Jairus could display.

Recognising his profound need, and the unfathomable power that was before him under the guise of this otherwise ordinary man, Jarius acts.

This is something fundamental to the Christian life – to recognise not only our need, but the capacity of God to meet that need, not in any meagre way, but beyond what we could even imagine.

Point to Ponder

‘Jesus came to provide the ultimate answer to the yearning for life and for the infinite which his Heavenly Father had poured into our hearts when he created us.’

Pope St John Paul II, World Youth Day 1992

24 June 2018 – 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B) – the Birthday of John the Baptist

Gospel Luke 1:57-66,80

“His Name is John” John the Baptist is a startling figure. He sits in an odd place, between the Old and New Testaments. The last of the Old Testament Prophets, who is given the grace to testify in person to the One who was to come, Jesus.

From the beginning, his life is marked by a great sense of mystery, as is testified to in today’s Gospel reading. As tradition holds it, John was sanctified in the womb by the presence of Jesus at the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to his Mother Elizabeth.

Statements like this are often dismissed by more ‘enlightened’ folks, who feel that such assertions are overly pious and consequently make John into something much more sanitised than he is.

Rather than debunk the tradition though, this approach betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of sanctity or holiness in those enlightened ones who propose it.

Pope Francis recently issued a document on the Call to Holiness, where he exhorted the faithful to move past a simplistic notion of holiness and to look for opportunities to rely on, seek out, and be the face of Christ in our everyday experiences and encounters. Holiness will look very different in the lives of different people. For some, it might look a lot like a saccharine pious contemplative, like St Therese of Lisieux (obviously a gross misrepresentation) but for others it will look rough and ready, abrasive and brash, like St John the Baptist. There is no cookie cutter look or feel to holiness.

When we contemplate the life of St John the Baptist, aware of his holiness from the moment of his birth, we should not be put off thinking, ‘that’s too holy for me’, but instead read the stories which recount those significant episodes in his life and see one other way in which holiness can be exhibited.


Point to Ponder

Before his astonished kinsmen, Zechariah confirms that this is the name of his son, writing it on a tablet. God himself, through his angel, had given that name, which in Hebrew means “God is benevolent”. God is benevolent to human beings: he wants them to live; he wants them to be saved. God is benevolent to his people: he wants to make of them a blessing for all the nations of the earth. God is benevolent to humanity: he guides its pilgrim way towards the land where peace and justice reign. All this is contained in that name: John!

–           St Pope John Paul II, 24 June 2001

17 June 2018 – 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

‘He spoke to them in parables…’

People flocked to Jesus.

They saw something in him which was utterly unique and unexpected, and yet paradoxically, something which seemed to correspond to the deepest desire of their hearts.

The followed after him and hung on every word he said, yearning to come to know more about him, and what gave his life such meaning. People wanted him to educate them in how they could come to perceive reality in the way in which he saw it.

Thankfully, Jesus is a great teacher. The parable was a key part of his pedagogical technique. Parables speak to us on a number of levels, and they always force us to do some intellectual work. When Jesus uses these parables, he gives his listeners an opportunity to see the fundamentally constitutive relationship that exists between faith and life. This is an important point. Italian priest and theologian Fr Luigi Giussani once wrote, ‘only a faith arising from life experience and confirmed by it (and, therefore, relevant to life’s needs) could be sufficiently strong to survive in a world where everything pointed in the opposite direction.’

If we allow the faith to become just one facet of our lives, or just that one thing we do on a Sunday, we separate life from faith, which fundamentally impoverishes both life and the faith.

St Augustine wrote that ‘A mustard seed looks small. Nothing is less noteworthy to the sight, but nothing is stronger to the taste. What does that signify but the very great fervour and inner strength of faith in the Church?’ (Sermon 246.3). Let us always look for how the faith permeates our whole life, the whole of reality. Am I awake to perceive it?


Point to Ponder

“As a result of the education I received at home, my seminary training, and my reflections later in life, I came to believe deeply that only a faith arising from life experience and confirmed by it (and, therefore, relevant to life’s needs) could be sufficiently strong to survive in a world where everything pointed in the opposite direction, so much so that even theology for a long time had given in to a faith separated from life. Showing the relevance of faith to life’s needs, and therefore – and this ‘therefore’ is important –showing that faith is rational, implies a specific concept of rationality. When we say that faith exalts rationality, we mean that faith corresponds to some fundamental, original need that all men and women feel in their hearts.”

Luigi Giussani, The Risk of Education, pp. 11-12.

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