Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Author: Tom (Page 2 of 12)

18 February – 1st Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Gospel Mk 1:12-15

“Repent, and believe the Good News.”

As we begin our Lenten journey the Church reminds us of this episode immediately after Jesus’ baptism by John. Jesus was driven out into the desert and Mark, master of pith that he is, seemingly has very little to say about it.

He went out, stayed there for forty days, was tempted by Satan, was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.

We do not hear about the gruelling nature of his forty-day venture into the wilderness, which no doubt would have been incredibly difficult physically, mentally, and spiritually. Nor do we hear of the nature of the temptations which he suffered.

We do know however, that upon returning to from his forty days in the wilderness, Jesus was incredibly bold in taking up from where John the Baptist had left off in preaching repentance.

Like Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, this forty-day period of lent is a tough one for those of us who choose to enter into it. We are often tried physically and spiritually, just as Jesus was.

For us, as for Jesus, this time of trial which paradoxically has the potential to really bolster our resolve, give us a fresh perspective and to strengthen our own capacity for self-mastery.

More than this though, it is an opportunity for us to think of ourselves less and grow in our relationship with the God, creator of all.

This is the good news that he invited us to believe in.

Point to Ponder

“Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself”

Saint Peter Chrysologus Sermo 43: PL 52, 320. 322

Book Review: Liturgy and Personality – Dietrich von Hildebrand

Below is a review I wrote for Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book Liturgy and Personality, which was recently retranslated and published by the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project. The review can be found in full at the Downside Review.

 

Liturgy and Personality. By Dietrich von Hildebrand. Steubenville, OH: Hildebrand Press, 2016. Pp. 160. US$17.99. ISBN 9781939773005.

First published in 1932 at the height of the Liturgical Movement, this new translation of philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand’s (1889–1977) classic Liturgy and Personality from the newly founded Hildebrand Press, with a new foreword by Bishop Robert Barron, offers contemporary readers an opportunity to encounter a profoundly contemplative and yet rigorous treatment of the liturgy’s transformative potential.
One time student of famed phenomenological originator Edmund Husserl, Dietrich
von Hildebrand’s conversion to the Catholic faith in 1914 resulted in a multitude of
works on the spiritual life from the unique perspective of phenomenological personalism. Liturgy and Personality is one of his earlier works in Christian spirituality but demonstrates mature thinking concerning the formative role of liturgy in the lives of believers, avoiding the polemics which often accompanied his later works as he sought to clarify various liturgical excesses which followed the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965)… continue reading

11 Feb – 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Gospel Mk 1:40-45

“Feeling sorry for him”

Time and again, Jesus is presented to us in the Gospels as an exceptional presence. He does miraculous deeds, and says the most remarkable things. Yet, through it all, his is a presence is amazingly human.

Here we see an astonishingly human encounter – Jesus, moved with pity for the man suffering with leprosy stretches out his hand and touches him. We know of the religious and cultural taboos that Jesus would have broken in this touch, but there is something here that tells us that this is not a merely symbolic gesture.

This is a gesture that is the result of a fully human heart moved by compassion for the other. It is a gesture that effects not only physical healing, but communion.

Italian priest Luigi Giussani wrote that this ‘human reality is God’s means of self-communication.’ God meets us in this human nature which He has gifted to us. And, Giussani continues, ‘what reaches us via the human factor is more than human. It is divine.’

The paradoxical nature of such a statement is perhaps something worth reflecting upon, but the truth of such a claim is witnessed in this story.

Jesus, fully human – the fullness of the human person – is God’s self-revelation to humanity. He reaches out to our human reality; He meets us in our hurt, in our joys, in our need, and in so doing brings to us the Divine; that infinite communion of love which we (often unknowingly) seek.

And this happens in the compassionate encounter with the other.

Point to Ponder

‘[H]uman reality is God’s means of self-communication, what reaches us via the human factor is more than human. It is divine.’

-Luigi Giussani, Why the Church, 163

4 February – 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

 Gospel Mk 1:29-39

“He took her by the hand and helped her up”

Jesus is now in Capernaum. He’s left behind his home in Nazareth and has begun his work as an itinerant preacher and miracle worker.

One of the things which is so evident in the Gospel stories we are reading is the focus on time and place. In this attention to detail we are constantly reminded that these events are not fictional stories occurring in fictitious places. The historical fact of this man’s existence is something that had an impact on the Gospel writers, and requires a response of us.

His actions, and more simply his very person, are a source of intrigue and astonishment to all who encounter him.

This particular Sabbath day Jesus returns from the Synagogue with his friends. We note that the first thing that they do is inform him of the illness which is afflicting Simon’s mother-in-law. They know that he has the power and the authority to act in this situation.

That evening, after sunset everyone else did the same, bringing to him all who needed healing, trusting that he would have the power, authority and the desire to heal – and he did.

This desire for healing and wholeness is awoken in the face of He who has come amongst us. In this encounter we are made aware our own lack and are moved toward him seeking the healing and wholeness only He can offer. Let us not hesitate in approaching him and imploring his healing and forgiveness.

Point to Ponder

‘It is “God, who is rich in mercy” whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father: it is His very Son who, in Himself, has manifested Him and made Him known to us.’ St Pope John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 1

“A particular history…”

A particular history is the keystone of the Christian conception of man, of his morality, in his relationship with God, with life, and with the world. Our hope is in Christ, in that Presence that, however distracted and forgetful we be, we can no longer (not completely, anyway) remove from the earth of our heart because of the tradition through which He has reached us.

– Luigi Giussani

I read the text of the Christmas poster when it was released and, I must confess, did not think much of it at the time.

Having been exposed to this text again via an email from a friend I have spent some more time reflecting on it. For me, this particularity that Giussani mentions is the great scandal or stumbling block of the Christian faith.

Why then, why there?

Why not here, and now?

Giussani draws our attention to this tradition through which He (Jesus) has reached us, the Church. Giussani shakes us from falling back into that common conception of the Church as merely an institution or structure of purely human making, because if that is true then we really have no need for it. The Church then is not life giving, but rather a museum, interesting perhaps, but not essential. In fact, it is a particular history that in many respects, one would want to distance oneself from.

If however we see or experience the Church for what it truly is, an unbroken communion of persons united in the living person of Christ, and the Communion of the Trinity, we see and experience it as a living and breathing body. As a memory, not only of something that happened long ago, but a memory of something that continues to happen in my life, and in the world, despite, as Giussani says, my distractedness and forgetfulness (of which there is much!). The living tradition exists as a real and tangible reminder of Him whom we follow. It is the ongoing presence of Him whom we follow.

This particularity is, as previously mentioned, scandalous in many respects but it is also Christianity’s greatest strength – it is it’s only point of truth. Without the concrete particularity of His coming amongst us as a clump of blood in the womb of the Virgin of Nazareth; as a helpless child born in a stable; as a walking, talking, tortured and crucified man; without all this Jesus is merely abstract, merely an idea. Without him passing by, on the shore where John was Baptising; without Him being singled out by the Baptist as the ‘Lamb of God’; without John and Andrew following after him, and Him asking them what it is that they want – without this encounter there is no living tradition, no Church, no ongoing presence of Him who Is.

So yes, He was really and truly present then and there, in a particular way, but He really is present to us now in and through the Communion of Believers, the Church.

Love that Suffers Freedom

The current president of the Fraternity of the new ecclesial movement founded by Don Luigi Giussani is a man by the name of Fr Julian Carron. I have been fortunate enough to have spent some time reading his works over the last year or so and have particularly benefited from his recent book Disarming Beauty, which I would wholeheartedly recommend.

I have been reading and rereading sections from this book over the past few months and have been continually struck by one of the key themes offered in the book, that freedom is so essential to the human person. Carron proposes to the reader that the way to truth is through freedom, and that love must, in fact, suffer human freedom.

Carron’s words inspire much contemplation and prayer, but I have found that the truths which he hopes to introduce his readers to are perhaps more adequately communicated via the media of poetry and literature. His writing reminded me of the tale of Jayber Crow, so beautifully told by a favourite author of mine, Wendell Berry.

What follows is a quote from the novel, the internal monologue of the main protagonist as he experiences something of an epiphany. My hope is that if anyone reading this post has not yet read either of these books, Disarming Beauty, or Jayber Crow, that he or she would do so with immediacy.

Just as a good man would not coerce the love of his wife, God does not coerce the love of his human creatures, not for Himself or for the world or for one another. To allow that love to exist fully and freely, He must allow it not to exist at all. His love is suffering. It is our freedom and His sorrow. To love the world as much even as I could love it would be suffering also, for I would fail. And yet all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart.

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow, 254

The Nature of Nature: Concerning the Efficacy of Natural Law Reasoning

I was fortunate enough to have had a paper accepted for publication over at New Blackfriars Review, a journal published out of New Blackfriars priory in Oxford.

The paper is based on a comment I stumbled across in reading some Cardinal Ratzinger, and develops a critique of New Natural Law reasoning I found in the writings of Prof. Tracey Rowland.

The paper touches on something that I have been thinking about a lot of late, that being the nature of nature – which I hope to be able to develop further on at a later date.

Below you will find the abstract. The paper can be read in full here.

The Nature of Nature: Concerning the Efficacy of Natural Law Reasoning

ABSTRACT:

Recourse to natural law reasoning has long been a part of how Catholics and Christians engage in debates about issues of public and private morality with people and communities of people who do not share the Catholic/Christian faith. But with the rise of modernity, the scientific revolution, and the relative success of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, many Catholics have begun to question traditional natural law reasoning. Some, including theorists like Germain Grisez, and John Finnis have sought to modify traditional natural law reasoning and continue to employ it within debates concerning public and private ethics, while others, acknowledging the radically altered conception of nature that followed the scientific revolution have thought to look for alternative modes of engagement. The following paper will seek to develop an argument against proponents of this altered version of natural law theory, what has come to be called New Natural Law theory, on the basis of the altered understanding of nature in the contemporary West, and the New Natural Law propensity to sideline the question of nature itself. The paper will then go on to advocate for an alternative and more confessional mode of engagement in public debate.

Continue reading: here.

28 January – 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Gospel Mk 1:21-28

“He taught them with authority”
One interesting thing to note in our reflections on Mark’s Gospel over these last few weeks is that, up until now, we’ve heard very little of the actual content of Jesus’ teaching.
What we’ve witnessed very directly though, is that Jesus was a man who had an inherent magnetism. There was something about his very person that people gravitated towards. In today’s Gospel we read that he spoke not as one who gave a considered theological opinion like the scribes and other teachers, but as one who had authority.
While we might conjecture about the content of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, all that we are given in this reading is that his words had a tremendous impact on all who heard it.
The fact that these words go unreported is not to say that his words were unimportant for the evangelist – far from it – as we see in today’s Gospel, his words contain a potency nobody had ever seen. Indeed, with but a few words Jesus is able to deliver this unfortunate man who suffered demonic possession.
I think the evangelist here is trying to emphasise that Jesus was not into proclaiming a mere list of doctrines that his followers would simply need to ascent to, or a program of morals that they would need to abide by. Mark speaks of Jesus as at once wholly unexpected, and yet paradoxically, the fulfilment of the deepest desires of the human heart. He does not offer a mere doctrine to believe or a set of moral guidelines to follow, but instead, he offers those who encounter him something new – an opportunity to be more radically who they are; to live life with more intensity. To be more fully human.

Point to Ponder
‘The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.’
Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 22

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

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