Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Author: Tom Gourlay (Page 1 of 8)

24 June – Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

‘Follow me’
We read in today’s Gospel something that is fundamental to the Christian life. More than any other precept or direction that Jesus gives, this one carries ultimate weight, “follow me.”
Our understanding of the Christian faith is so often one dominated by a moralism that is rightly seen as oppressive and slavish. For many this is repugnant and turns them off the faith, but for others, the reduction of the faith to a series of things that I can do to be justified is merely a convenient way to feel like I am in control. Against this, the words of today’s Gospel ring out clearly, and the essence of the Gospel calling is clearly articulated – to encounter and to follow Christ. (see also DCE, 1)
Following: This is the fundamental Christian activity. But this following is not a blind, mechanistic copying.
Fr Luigi Giussani points out that ‘following is not an unintelligent, unconscious attitude… it must be a heartfelt effort to identify with the motives of what is proposed to us.’ He continues, ‘Following does not mean being carried along by the tide; rather it is a personal decision, a continuous act of personal freedom… If you limit yourself to passive obedience it is not true obedience, Obedience requires the compliance of our entire self, with all our faculties.’ (JTE, 114)
When we read this, we should find it confronting. Jesus is asking us not for mere outward compliance, but for us to conform the entirety of our lives to him. He is asking me, you, all of us, to be saints. Not saints in an uber-pious, non-human, disembodied way, but a real, down to earth way, lived in and through the daily encounter with Christ, in the Sacraments, through his Church, and in the poor.
This is what it means to follow Christ, and this is what we ask of his Holy Spirit in our prayer.
Point to Ponder
“Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:5-8). Christ dwells by faith in the heart of the believer (cf. Eph 3:17), and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord.”
        Saint Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 21

19 June – Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 9:18-24
“Who do you say I am?”
American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, is often quoted as saying “Nothing is worse than the answer to a question no one is asking.”  
When we read today’s Gospel we engage with an exchange that hinges on a question – a question which when asked is like a bell that cannot be un-rung.
This is the question. The question. One that continues to confront every Christian today, and with the same force as it had nearly two thousand years ago, when Christ first addressed it to the disciples.
We might however wonder if this question is still being asked. It would seem, at least at face value, that the majority of people are content without asking this question, or are happily distracted from the idea that it needs to be asked.
If we are honest with ourselves however, it would seem that living in each of us there is a hope; a hope that there is more, than an answer does exist, and that that answer is indeed wonderful.
We suppress the existence of the question because we have lost hope that there is an answer, and yet, the very idea that an answer does exist thrills us, it sits on the boundary of our existence and opens up our otherwise fixed horizons. Can it be true?
Fr Luigi Giussani points out, that ‘[o]nly the hypothesis of God, only the affirmation of the mystery as a reality existing beyond our capacity to fathom entirely, only this hypothesis corresponds to the human person’s original structure.’ (57)

This question imposes itself on us today, and everyday – “Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks us, and he patiently awaits a response

Point to Ponder
“Only the hypothesis of God, only the affirmation of the mystery as a reality existing beyond our capacity to fathom entirely, only this hypothesis corresponds to the human person’s original structure. If it is human nature to indomitably search for an answer, if the structure of a human being is, then, this irresistible and inexhaustible question, plea—then one suppresses the question if one does not admit to the existence of an answer. But this answer cannot be anything but unfathomable. Only the existence of the mystery suits the structure of the human person, which is mendicity, insatiable begging, and what corresponds to him is neither he himself nor something he gives to himself, measures, or possesses.”
         Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense (McGill-Queens University Press, 1997), 57

12 June – Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Who is this man…?

This is a question that continues to lurk at the heart of all those who come into contact with Jesus, or indeed who hear of him through another.
The Gospels contain a myriad of stories about Jesus, some fantastic, some seemingly mundane. He always manages to capture the attention of those around him, always he is a surprising presence. Somehow He manages to exceed all of our expectations in the most curious of ways.
Before him none can remain unmoved, and often his words and his presence spark an internal conflict within those who are there. His words, mysterious as they are awaken within his listeners the desire to hear more – despite at times their inability understand. In this I think of Andrew and John, in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. They didn’t know him, never saw him before. ‘They follow behind Him timidly and stay there all afternoon to see him speak, because they didn’t really even understand what He said. It was so evident that that man said true things, even if they didn’t understand them, that after they left, they repeated to others what He had said as if they were their thoughts’ (Giussani, 53).
In today’s Gospel the Pharisees find the truth of Jesus, a truth unmistakably bound up in mercy, so confronting that they are scandalised. While they may not fully comprehend the meaning of the words that he speaks, their truth resounds in their hearts and they are convicted from within. It is right here that the freedom of each of us in engaged, and a choice is forced upon us – will we react like the woman who feels the strength of these words, and, moved to contrition, reaches out to receive them; or will we like the Pharisees reject them as asking too much of us?
‘Are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?’ (JPII, 8 Oct. 1980)

5 June – Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

“Opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside”

    One of the most fascinating elements of the whole Jesus story is that it continues to find perpetuate. Generation after generation, the experience of Jesus continues to inspire interest.
    In his own time, as we read in the Gospel today, Jesus’ actions, the words he spoke, and his mere presence became a significant talking point for all manner of people everywhere. His was a figure that demanded a response – he could not be ignored.
    Mysteriously, Jesus continues to present himself to us today. His is a presence that manifests itself most significantly in the lives of believers who have encountered him really and truly, not only through the verbal testimony of others, but through the actions of lives conformed to him – the living and visible presence of Jesus’ body, the Church.
    The event of the Incarnation, of God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus, happened concretely, at a point in time, when the angel appeared to Mary. Nevertheless, the Incarnation continues to happen in another sense today. As I open up as Mary did, to receive the Divine life within me, and bring it to bear on the life that I live. It is here that I become a conduit for others to encounter the person of Jesus. It is here that Christian faith becomes an event, an event that takes flesh in the world today. It is not simply a wonderful, pious idea or a moral code of ethics, but an encounter with a person, who becomes incarnate, (takes on flesh) in words and actions of love.

    The Christian faith then rises and falls on the openness of frail individuals, who live in that encounter with Jesus, and share it in word and deed with those around them.

Words to Ponder
“Christ. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life who reaches the person in his daily existence. The discovery of this way usually takes place through the mediation of other human beings. Identified through the gift of faith by the encounter with the Redeemer, believers are called to become an echo of the event of Christ, to become themselves an “event”.”
– John Paul II

29 May – the Most Holy BODY and BLOOD of CHRIST

“Jesus made the crowds welcome…”
People flocked to Jesus.
He was a figure who was ultimately intriguing and was for many of his contemporaries, as he is for us today a source of fascination. No doubt the miracles he worked, like that recounted in today’s Gospel reading, or the great many miracles of healing that he performed, were big drawcards, but beyond this, there are many accounts which tell of the magnificent attraction of  Jesus’ words and his mere presence.
When we think, though, of Jesus and his message, we are often perplexed at how someone can say such weighty things, and get away with it.
But the opening lines of today’s Gospel are in this case very telling for us. He made the crowds welcome’, before going on to talk to them about the kingdom of God.
So often our experience of the Catholic or more broadly Christian faith is one of rules and regulations, of neatly packaged propositions or nuggets of truth which believers are forced to swallow. When we think, though, about the person of Jesus, as the way, the truth, and the life, we see a man who was not intent of forcing philosophical concepts onto the people, nor was he fixated on the following of rules.
What he came to offer was a freedom hitherto unknown in the world: a freedom from sin and death. This freedom comes about though through some pretty difficult modes, often requiring self-surrender and self-gift. It is here where Jesus’ gentle and welcoming nature is most affective – opening the hearts of those who were there such that the message he spoke could land on the fertile soil of their hearts.

For us today, who have been commissioned by Jesus [Mt 28:16-20] to teach others about and invite them into the Kingdom of God, we should take a leaf out of his book. To be firstly welcoming of those who are searching. And then, we must not fail to share with them the great gift of which we are recipients.

On the reception of guests
(taken from the Rule of St Benedict)
‘Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, 
for He is going to say, 
“I came as a guest, and you received Me” (Matt. 25:35).
And to all let due honor be shown,
especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims…
In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims
the greatest care and solicitude should be shown,
because it is especially in them that Christ is received;
for as far as the rich are concerned,
the very fear which they inspire
wins respect for them.’

22 May – Trinity Sunday

“He will lead you to the complete truth”
There can be little more reassuring a line than these words of Jesus in John’s Gospel.
The disciples had been with Jesus for some time, and yet he remained for them a mystery.
Here he is, truth incarnate – a truth at once so simple and yet so complex that despite their personal knowledge of the man and his physical presence with them, he remained beyond the reach of their understanding.
I am struck, particularly in this year of mercy, of how God so understands fallen human nature in all its foibles and shortcomings. It seems that the whole of salvation history reads as a divine pedagogy of sorts, where God reveals himself gradually over time – beginning with Abraham, through Moses and the Prophets, before finally and fully revealing his very self in the person of Jesus. And yet, despite the event of this full, unreserved revelation, in his infinite mercy God ensures the ongoing reception of this truth in and through the person of his Holy Spirit.
While new revelations of God are no longer needed, the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in the world and in the Church prevent what has already been revealed in the Scripture and through the Tradition does not remain a dead letter, but remains active and dynamic in the life of the Church.

We pray to, in, and through the Holy Spirit, and trust in his continuing presence amongst us. We ask for him to continue to animate our lives so that the Christian faith does not become for us a museum piece, but instead remains a living presence, an event, an encounter which gives life a ‘new horizon and a decisive direction’, which reveals us to our very self and makes our supreme calling clear.

Prayer for the day
Taken from the Office of Readings for Trinity Sunday
God our Father,
    you revealed the great mystery of your godhead to men
    when you sent into the world
    the Word who is Truth
    and the Spirit who makes us holy.
Help us to believe in you and worship you,
    as the true faith teaches:
    three Persons, eternal in glory,
    one God, infinite in majesty.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
    one God, for ever and ever.

15 May – Pentecost Sunday

“He will give you another Advocate…”
The feast of Pentecost comes fifty days after the feast of the resurrection, and marks the close of the Easter season.
In the Christian tradition it can seem that we are constantly in the process of celebrating or remembering some significant event from long ago. This way of marking time is not however unique to the Catholic Christian tradition – it is something that is broadly human. We gather to mark special days on the calendar, be they birthdays, anniversaries of weddings, deaths, or other memorable events.
This natural phenomenon of collective remembering causes us to pause not just to remember something in the past, but also something continuing, something that is happening today.
If, for example, we are celebrating our birthday, we think not just about the fact of our birth, but of all that has happened since, and all that potentially lies before us. We celebrate the gifts of the year that has past, and the gift of the present.
On this particular day of Pentecost we recall a special gift, bestowed upon us, the Church, by Jesus himself –the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This Spirit, gifted to the Apostles by Jesus, is the same Spirit which animates us in the Church today. This Spirit, the Advocate, is the Spirit which hovered over the waters in the beginning; the same Spirit who inspired the authors of the Sacred Scriptures; the same Spirit who overshadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom she gave her fiat; the same Spirit who descended on Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost; and who now resides in the hearts of all the baptised.
This feast which we remember on Sunday is not simply a memory of an event long past, but an opportunity for us to step into the ongoing lived reality of the Spirit’s constant coming.

Veni Sancte Spiritus Veni per Mariam

Prayer to the Holy Spirit
Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth. 

Veni Sancte Spiritus Veni per Mariam
Come Holy Spirit, Come through Mary

8 May – The Ascension of Our Lord

“as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven …”
The story which we mark today is perhaps one of the most fantastic that we have in the Gospels. After his death and resurrection we’ve been regaled with tales of his numerous miraculous appearances to the disciples, and now we find him physically taken up into heaven, and seated at the right hand of God.
At the time, despite their many experiences with Jesus, it seems that they still had little understanding of him – indeed, they were still expecting him to establish an earthly Kingdom of Israel.
For the disciples this episode of his ascension must have been an amazing experience: one so real and so important to them that Luke records it twice, once here in this reading, and later in the Acts of the Apostles. One can scarcely imagine how deeply the events of the last three years of their lives would have impacted them. And now this – as he blesses them he is taken from them into heaven.
But what does all this mean for me today, in my life?
It seems that our own understanding of Jesus is fairly limited also – despite whatever study we may have done to grow in that area – the person of Jesus always ultimately remains a mystery, yet one we are so strongly drawn to because it is in him that we the whole of human experience lived out most fully. In the words of the Vatican II Council, he ‘reveals us to ourselves.’
So why am I asked to believe that he ascended, body and soul into heaven? His ascension, it seems, allows him to be closer with me, with all people of all times and places. He is no longer bound by time and space.
The Ascension, says Italian priest Fr Luigi Giussani,  is a mystery that ‘completes the mystery of the Resurrection, amplifies and enlarges it to all of reality, all times, all history, eternity.’ (In the Depths of Things).
It establishes Jesus’ Kingdom on the unmovable reality of heaven as King of the universe, and Lord of history.
Food for thought
‘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.’ (Luigi Giussani, Why the Church?, 203)

1 May – Sixth Sunday of Easter

Gospel Jn 15:9-17
“You did not choose me: no, I chose you”
The theme of today’s reading is one that we often reflect on – the love of God. We have recounted here before us a stunning message from Jesus to his disciples. He tells them clearly and beautifully of the love that he has for them. John, the author of this Gospel is clearly very affected by the reality of this love that he experienced directly from Christ – it is a recurring theme in his writings. Elsewhere he states explicitly that God doesn’t just have love – it is not simply one of his attributes, as though it is one among many. No, in point of fact, God actually is love. [1 Jn 4:8]
This can be a reality that is easily lost on us – in fact often the more we hear it, the less real it can seems. This image of love, detached from the reality of our lives becomes a trite, schmaltzy bit of warm-fuzzy nothingness.  But Jesus’ words here reveal the profound reality of what it means to love – words that are in fact deeply profound.
“A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” – Here is love: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
What this looks like in our lives may be different according to our current state in life: whether we are a parent, a friend, a husband or a wife, a boyfriend or a girlfriend, a son or a daughter. The call to love is not something that is just for some people. No, it is for each and every one of us. And it is in this act of loving, in this act of spending our lives in love and service of others that we find our true self.
The words of the Second Vatican Council, so often quoted by Pope St John Paul II echo this call; ”man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” [GS, 24]

Let us turn to Christ and ask that he will provide what is lacking in our love, and for the courage to spend our lives in love and service of him and those whom he loves.

Point to Ponder
Recognise that you have been chosen first. God has chosen me, as his beloved daughter or son.
We love only because he has loved us first.

10 April – Third Sunday of Easter

“I’m going fishing.”
Despite our familiarity with tragedy, it is hard to fathom how the disciples must have felt. Their friend and leader from whom they’d been inseparable for the last three years had been executed in the most public and horrendous of ways.
Despite news of his somehow being alive again, the confusion and fear that weighed on their hearts and minds must have been phenomenal. If a tragedy such as this could befall him who had been the most upright, though perplexing of persons, what was in store for them as his followers?
“Let’s go fishing”, suggests Simon Peter – a fisherman by trade, yet no doubt one who enjoyed the pastime. In his grief what he needs is familiarity, and some kind of activity to distract him perhaps.
When we actually sit down and read the Gospels it is often surprising, scandalous even, to find such banal or commonplace statements. We expect, and oftentimes get, elevated spiritual discourse, but just as often it seems, we are treated with mundane details of the ordinary and everyday, leading us at times to ask why such details are included. And yet, it is here, in the mystery of our everyday lives that the resurrected Christ comes to meet us.
We are often waiting for a big event to break upon us and open us up the spiritual realities that we hope exist somewhere out there, and often we find ourselves seeking out such experiences – we go on retreats, or find ourselves engaging in meditation or other ‘spiritual’ practices, hoping to connect with the mystery.
It is the inclusion in the Gospels of these rather mundane events that reminds us that it is right here, in the everyday, that Christ comes to meet us.
For Simon Peter and the others, this was a real, physical experience, but it can be for us as well. God cannot be contained to those spaces where we go to try and seek Him out, but can and will be found wherever we open ourselves to receive his love.

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