Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Author: Tom Gourlay (Page 2 of 8)

27 March – Easter Sunday, of the Resurrection

Gospel Jn 20:1-9
“[A]nd he saw and believed …”
These words strike me with a particular strength. ‘He saw and believed.’
The disciples had followed Jesus for three years, and upon his arrest only John had stuck around to witness the horrific events of his execution and death. News had obviously circulated and the disciples, whether they had physically witnessed it or not, no doubt knew and understood the fate of their friend.
Overcome with grief, Peter and John ran to the gravesite upon hearing Mary Mag′dalene’s news of the open tomb. John reached the tomb earlier but waited for Peter to enter first.
What they saw was enough – without seeing or conversing with the resurrected Jesus (something that they would do in the not too distant future), they ‘saw and believed.’
So often for us today, sight is required for belief in almost everything. For the most part we require an experience of something if we are to profess our belief in it – particularly if said assertion is extraordinary, as in the case of the resurrection. In such a circumstance, how are we to come to belief? Where is my evidence for belief in the resurrection?
If the resurrection had not happened things would be different. There would be no reason at all for our hope. Death would be the end.

Our evidence then is not just the verbal or written testimony of those men and women who witnessed the risen Lord – but it is the witness of the lives of those around us which have been radically transformed by the hope which accompanies this resurrection. As we enter into these last few days of the Lenten season we rightly reflect on the suffering and death of Our Lord, but let us not give in to despair. This is not the end, for he has overcome death.

Point to Ponder
“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” Pope St John Paul II

20 March 2016 – Palm Sunday

‘I tell you, if these keep silence the stones will cry out.’
‘The stones will cry out.’ What an incredible claim!?
As we near the end of this Lenten season and approach Easter, the central claims of Christianity come starkly into view.
At the origin of the Christian claim stands this figure. Jesus.
On one hand he is seemingly unremarkable. The son of a carpenter, living a somewhat obscure existence, wholly unremarkable in the backwaters of first century Palestine until, that is, he reaches the age of around 30, when he begins a three year period of intense activity; preaching, teaching, healing, performing miracles, and the like. More than this though, it seems that in the stories recounted in the Gospels, it is his mere presence which elicits the greatest response – either of loving acceptance or utter derision and rejection.
Jesus was a polarising figure, and he continues to be today. His very existence makes a claim on us, and requires of us an answer.
The events of today’s Gospel remind us of this harsh reality – one cannot remain indifferent toward Jesus. Even the stones will cry out his praises should we all remain silent.

Christians of all ages, beginning with his Disciples and carrying on down throughout the centuries have found in the person of Jesus, something that resonates deeply within their hearts. It is this personal encounter, which for many of us happens through his Body on earth, the Church, which fundamentally changes us, opening up new horizons and making our supreme calling clear.

Point to Ponder
‘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.’
– Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1

13 March 2016 – Fifth Sunday of Lent

Gospel Jn 8:1-11
‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’

The stories of Jesus in the Gospels can sometimes be confusing. On one hand we have stories like this, which seem to depict Jesus as ultimately tolerant, and perhaps even what some might consider weak on sin. On the other hand there are stories such as the cleansing of the temple, which seem to paint a picture of Jesus who is altogether intolerant and impatient with sinners. What are we to make of this?
It seems that, in this story, Jesus trying to provide some useful correction, not just to the woman caught in adultery, but to all assembled – and perhaps most particularly – to those accusing her, those seeking to meet out the punishment prescribed in the law.
Jesus does not however, feel the need to harp on about the various transgressions of the law. He can see into the hearts of all. Instead, he holds up to each person their something of a mirror – inviting them to look inwardly at the state of their own soul.
Jesus’ invitation for anyone who is without sin to throw the first stone is cutting – it does not reflect on any acceptance of the sin of the woman, but instead forces everyone to take stock of their own position before God.
There is an old Christian saying that goes, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ which is basically an invitation to put ourselves in the shoes of others. We do not know what our life would be like without the wonderful gifts that God has bestowed on us, through our family, friends or other circumstances.
Our task is not to judge others but to help them, and to work on ourselves, to take hold of the gifts which we have been given and to ‘go, and sin no more.’

4 March 2016 – Fourth Sunday of Lent

My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours.
This parable, spoken by Jesus is one of the most famous of all his sayings and stories. Pope Francis is his recent book-length interview referred to the parable of the Prodigal Son as the Gospel in miniature.
His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this parable, with the title ‘the parable of the two sons’, as for him, the parable is as much about the wandering or prodigal son as it is about the son who stays at home, and it is upon this son that I’d like to draw out some reflections today.
Upon the return of his wayward brother the older son closes himself off. He refuses to participate in the celebrations that are accompanying his return. He, it seems, is not operating out of a logic of love freely given and received. No. Instead his logic is economically minded, in the sense that he sees the love of the father as something of a reward for good behaviour or services rendered.
The father’s response to him is significant. He points out how impoverished this view really is, telling his son that, ‘you are with me always and all I have is yours.’ The son had not seen that he had already inherited all that he had wanted and more, and instead held an erroneous view of his father, one which prevented him from establishing any real relationship of love with him.
Often we find ourselves in the shoes of the lost or prodigal son, and this story is one which gives great comfort and solace. The story however becomes much more challenging when we find ourselves in the shoes of the son who had seemingly done no wrong. In these instances we must remember that ‘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.’ [BXI, DCE n.1]

We cannot reduce the Gospel to ethic or philosophical propositions, but live from that point of encounter.

28 February 2016 – Third Sunday of Lent

‘But unless you repent you will all perish as they did’
There is something a little unnerving in this brief passage put before us in today’s reading.
This time of lent is a graced time, one where we are encouraged to intensify our regular spiritual practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is also a penitential season, a time for self-examination in light of the love of God, a love which took on human flesh in the person of Jesus, and which manifest itself in the sacrifice that Jesus undertook for us on the Cross.
This self-examination is not supposed to be an act of fearful self-deprecation, inspired by a particularly harsh reading of texts such as what is before us today, but instead we are to take a realistic look at who we are, in light of our creation as Imago Dei (the image of God) and, perhaps more specifically in light of the person of Jesus who fully reveals us to ourselves (see Gaudium et Spes n. 22).
The opportunity to repent, as seen in today’s reading instead should be looked at as a mercy. Like the fig tree that failed to produce fruit in due season, the opportunity to repent is an opportunity to be re-planted in Christ, from where we draw the strength to bear fruit that will last.
The act of repentance asked of us here is one that opens us up to experience the love and mercy of God.
Let us pray for the grace of a repentant heart this Lenten season, so that we can experience more fully the love and mercy of God the Father.

Point to Ponder
“Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite. Also infinite therefore and inexhaustible is the Father’s readiness to receive the prodigal children who return to His home. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son. No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ.”
(St Pope John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 13)

21 February 2016 – Second Sunday of Lent

 Gospel Lk9:28-36 
“It is wonderful for us to be here”
When one pictures the kind of fantastical event as described here, it can seem that Peter’s reaction is a little simple or even childish. Set aside from the other disciples, he along with John and James are brought up the mountain to pray with Jesus where they witness something truly out of this world.
James and John are not recorded as having said or done anything in response to what they had witnessed, and perhaps we can assume that they were so moved that they felt it best to respect the solemnity of the moment with silence.
Peter, on the other hand bombastically fumbles forward, as he often does, speaking before he’s had time to think. Seemingly overwhelmed with excitement he says to Jesus stating, what must have been absolutely obvious, how great it is that he’s there to see all this unfolding. Then he embarrassingly suggests that they set up camp here and spend the rest of their lives enjoying these good times.
Peter obviously does not know the difficult times that lie ahead – not just for Jesus, but for him and all the rest of the disciples, this ‘mountaintop experience’ or time of consolation is perhaps gifted to them by Jesus as a means by which they can get through the tough times, or times of desolation.

Like Peter we often find ourselves nostalgic for the good times, and in our own childish way can find ourselves wishing that nothing will ever change. Yet perhaps we can recognise that these good times, or times of consolation are gifted to us, to help maintain us on the right path when times get tough or things become uncertain.

14 February 2016 – First Sunday of Lent

Gospel Lk 4:1-13
Man does not live on bread alone.
On the first Sunday of Lent, the Church puts before us this account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.
At its most basic level, the story of Jesus’ 40 day period of fasting and prayer is for us a source of strength as we undertake our Lenten journey. With all its difficulties and penances, we are comforted by the fact that that He who is without sin is still very much like us in his capacity to experience real temptation.
At a deeper level however, we can see something perhaps more profound in the story. In the first volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI devoted his second chapter to what is a truly insightful reflection on today’s reading.
In his reflection on the first temptation, the then-Pope pointed out how at its root, this temptation is not so much about Jesus satisfying his own hunger, but that of elevating the second commandment, to love one’s neighbour, over the first, to love God.
Often we experience the temptation to reduce the Gospel to meeting the physical and social needs of those around us. When this happens our charitable works become nothing more than mere philanthropy, which often leaves out the personal dimension in our call to care for the poor. While our attempts to feed the hungry are indeed well intentioned, Jesus’ response to this temptation, that “man does not live by bread alone” causes us to ask the question ‘what then, does he “live” by?’
According to Benedict, “At the heart of all temptations … is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives” (p. 28)
We stand in need of a constant reminder that God is the answer to the deepest longings of the human heart, and that the ongoing temptation to satisfy these longings without God will always end in greater suffering.

Point to Ponder
“Is he real, reality itself, or isn’t he? Is he good, or do we have to invent the good ourselves? The God question is the fundamental question, and sets us down right at the crossroads of human existence”
(Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, vol.1, p.29)

27 December 2015 – Feast of the Holy Family (Day 3 of Christmas)

Gospel Lk 2:41-52
His mother treasured all these things in her heart
One event which would have been incredible formative for Mary was the Annunciation, where the angel appeared before her and announced the good news that Jesus, the Son of God, would take on human flesh within her womb.
  Undoubtedly this event would have coloured all her efforts in raising and caring for the child Jesus.
  The event recounted in the Gospel today, the only story we have in the Scriptures of Jesus’ adolescence, would have been all the more worrisome for her considering the weight of responsibility she would have felt, knowing that this child was the Son of God.
  The absolute horror that Mary and Joseph her husbandmust have felt upon learning that their son was not with the caravan would have been unbearable. The sudden realisation that your child, the Son of God, is no longer with you would come as a tremendous shock. The sick feeling which must have arisen in the pit of their stomachs must have been overwhelming.
  Yet, despite the heartache that they must have endured, and most likely even the anger that they must have felt at having been left to worry over his whereabouts, this event was for both Mary and Joseph, as it is for us, a joyful mystery.
  This is an event which is joyful, not only for the fact of being reunited with Him, but also for the fact that, he has revealed to them plainly and for the first time his Divine Sonship.

  As we ponder this great mystery, still within this Christmas season, we look to Mary, the Mother of God and our mother as a model. Her receptivity of the Word of God, is manifest not only in her physical motherhood of Jesus, but spiritually as ‘she treasures all these things in her heart.’ She who in responding with such total self-surrender to the Word, is like the “good soil” of which Jesus speaks. “These are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Lk8:15). She is what Pope Francis called the ‘perfect Icon of faith’ (Lumen Fidei, 58).

Prayerful Words
May it come about in us, O Spirit of God, as it did in Mary–the mystery of the Word was made flesh in her. It became part of her flesh and one with her expressions. Thus, may the memory of Christ become flesh of our flesh, part of all our actions, counsel for every thought and flame for every affection, and move in us with all our moves, from morning to evening, as we eat and drink, and in all our living and in our dying.
Luigi Giussani, On the Holy Rosary

20 December 2015 – 4th Sunday of Adent

Gospel Lk 1:39-44
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!

Today’s Gospel reading is an interesting selection. While we are eagerly anticipating the coming of the Christ child at Christmas, the Church directs our attention to Mary’s charitable visit to her cousin Elizabeth.
Just prior to this reading we are presented with the story of the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel seeks Mary’s consent to be the God-bearer. Upon inquiring how this can be, considering her own state in life, Mary freely gives her consent in an act of dynamic creative receptivity – becoming for all of us a model for free receptive-creative love.
The other piece of news that Mary receives at the Annunciation is that her cousin Elizabeth, previously thought to have been unable to conceive, and now well beyond child-bearing years, has miraculously conceived a child.
Mary’s action here is to immediately take the Word abroad. She travels, pregnant as she is, to the hill country of Judea to be with her cousin in her need. In this too she is a model for us all. In receiving into her body and her soul the very life of the Divine God-Man, she does not selfishly hide him away – but instead takes him out to where he is needed.
This is perhaps a perfect example of what Pope Francis has called the ‘mission to the margins.’ Mary goes out to be with those in need, but her actions are not that of mere philanthropy. She can perfectly give what has she has perfectly received, the divine life of God Himself in human flesh. This is why Elizabeth rightly says of her ‘Blessed are you among women’ and why we rightly echo her greeting in the Hail Mary. She is blessed because she has perfectly received the love of God and borne him to the world.
As this Advent season draws to a close let us look to Mary as a model for how we are to bear Christ to the world. 

Point to Ponder
“Mary is totally dependent upon God and completely directed towards him, and at the side of her Son, she is the most perfect image of freedom and of the liberation of humanity and of the universe. It is to her as Mother and Model that the Church must look in order to understand in its completeness the meaning of her own mission.”
– Saint Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 37

13 December 2015 – 3rd Sunday of Adent

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people

Advent is a time when we wait.

   This is not supposed to be a boring wait, like for instance when we call a phone company to sort out an erroneous bill. The wait of Advent reminds us not only of the coming of Christmas, but of the final coming of Christ into this world, when he will come in majesty and power as ruler and merciful judge. This is a wait that is filled with joy and expectancy.

   The people in today’s Gospel are very much like ourselves. The feeling of joyful expectancy which had animated the crowd boiled over into an attempt to somehow declare John the Baptist as the long-awaited Messiah. In our own day however the season of Advent, a period of supposed joyful and expectant waiting is glossed over and we live as though it is Christmas already. The season of Advent has something of a prophetic character in this culture of ‘rapidification’, where the virtue of patient waiting is forgotten and the desire for immediate gratification is met with the force of untethered human will, and unprecedented technological power.

   This season of Advent serves as a reminder that patience is a virtue, and as a virtue it must be exercised and cultivated. More than this though, Advent teaches us that patient waiting is not simply a boring time of inactivity, but something that we must actively participate in. We ready ourselves for the coming joy of Christmas, by prayerful almsgiving to those in need, returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, building physical reminders, such as a nativity set, and leaving the crib empty until Christmas.

I pray that this season of Advent will be fruitful for you and for all of us.

Point to Ponder

Among the beautiful prayers of this time let me pinpoint that of the second Wednesday of Advent: “Almighty God, you call us to prepare the way for Christ the Lord, let us not tire of waiting for the consoling presence of the heavenly doctor through the weakness of our faith.” That we may not tire of waiting, that is, that we may not get tired of entreating. Entreating for what? For His presence to free us, making us more affectionate towards Him; and our life will be more whole, outstretched to the Father’s will, and therefore to forgiveness and mutual help.
Our weakness can become an excuse to give up entreating in the face of all our forgetfulness and all our mistakes: as if Christ were not always a present spring of a greater energy than our fragility. – Luigi Giussani, On the Occasion of Advent, 1991

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