Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Category: Weekly Reflection (Page 1 of 17)

18 March – 5th Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Gospel Jn 12:20-33

Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies

To those who are acquainted with the sayings of Jesus, the imagery used in today’s Gospel reading is a familiar one, yet often this familiarity can blind us to the astonishing nature of the person of Jesus and the words which he speaks.

Here we witness one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith. It is death that leads to life. How can this be?

In the life of the Church, the Christian is given to him or herself anew. Through baptism, the ‘old man’, as St Paul says dies, and the ‘new man’ is born. We remain ourselves, but in a sense become something much more – we become more ourselves than we were.

There is something deeply troubling in this, as it requires that I give over all that myself have been given. This is the ongoing struggle that characterises Christian existence, but it is also the ongoing joy – to know that I have been made anew, that I can, with the help of the Lord, begin again.

What Christ exemplifies in his death on the cross he in turn asks of us: that we not hold back in our giving – even to the point of death. The teaching of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught as much when they said that man is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, and that he cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of self. [GS, 24]

This Lenten season is an opportunity to practice this dying to self. To give over perhaps little luxuries or preferences, or perhaps big ones. To die to the ‘old man’ within, and receive the gift of new life offered to us.If we die with him we will experience his resurrection. [2Tim 2:11]

‘This is the most fascinating element of the Christian announcement.’

Point to Ponder

‘In the life of the Church, Being, God, the Word made flesh, Christ communicates to man the gift of a more profound participation in the origin of everything. In this way, man remains man but becomes something more. Man within the Church, is offered a “supernatural” participation in Being. This is the most fascinating element of the Christian announcement.’

– Luigi Giussani, ‘Why the Church?’, p. 180

11 March – 4th Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Gospel Jn 3:14-21

For God so Loved the world…

Perhaps one of the most well known Gospel passages is taken from today’s story, where Jesus says to Nicodemus that, ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.’ (Jn 3:16).

So often we hear people preach about this, focusing on the second part of this saying that, in order to be saved, one need only to believe in Him who the Father has sent. True enough. Acknowledging, of course, that this belief finds itself manifest in a life conformed to Christ. (cf. James 2:14-26)

But there is more to this statement than merely that element of salvation through belief. Something perhaps more fundamental – the truth that God’s love for the world precedes everything.

God’s love for the world, for all of us, precipitates his coming amongst us in the person of Jesus Christ and the offer of salvation that ensues. His love, unreserved as it is, necessarily must be open to the tremendous suffering that all true love entails, by virtue of the fallen state of our world and of our nature.

Kentucky farmer and novelist Wendell Berry reflects on this passage in the voice of one of his most beloved characters, Jayber Crow, which I will cite at length here:

‘If God loved the world even before the event at Bethlehem, that meant He loved it as it was, with all its faults. That would be Hell itself, in part. He would be like a father with a wayward child, whom He can’t help and can’t forget. But it would be even worse than that, for He would also know the wayward child and the course of its waywardness and its suffering. That His love contains all the world does not show that the world does not matter, or that He and we do not suffer it unto death; it shows that the world is Hell only in part. But His love can contain it only by compassion and mercy, which, if not Hell entirely, would be at least a crucifixion.”

Point to Ponder

According to the words spoken to Nicodemus, God gives his Son to “the world” to free man from evil, which bears within itself the definitive and absolute perspective on suffering. At the same time, the very word “gives” (“gave”) indicates that this liberation must be achieved by the only-begotten Son through his own suffering. And in this, love is manifested, the infinite love both of that only-begotten Son and of the Father who for this reason “gives” his Son. This is love for man, love for the “world”: it is salvific love.

John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, 14.

4 March – 3rd Sunday of Lent (Year B)

 Gospel Jn 2:13-25

So he made a whip out of cords

Today’s Gospel presents us with a confronting depiction of Jesus, one which stands at odds with what the kitsch image of the perennial ‘nice guy’, or ‘Buddy-Christ’ that so often pervades our culture. This story of Jesus cleansing the temple is strange, leaving us feeling rather uneasy. Isn’t Jesus supposed to be the peacemaker?

Perhaps this uneasiness is intended by the Gospel writer.

In the Gospels Jesus is supremely patient and tolerant of all sorts of people and mannerisms, however when it comes to issues concerning disrespect for God, for the truth, for ourselves, or for our fellow man (particularly the poor), Jesus exercises a ‘holy wrath’ that is far from peaceable.

Jesus is intolerable of those things which prevent us from our ultimate destiny – union with Him in heaven.

Just as Jesus had a deep and profound love for the Temple in his day, so too does he have a love for each one of us, each of which is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

When we act selfishly, or when we think or act out of pride or greed or lust, we defile the temple which is our very body. Our own wrongdoing becomes the cords of the whip that scourge us.

If we allow Him, Jesus can work through these sufferings to cleanse the temple of our body. And it is this cleansing which makes us more capable of reflecting him to those around us.

Let us not then fear this cleansing, as painful as it may be, but let us look to Jesus and trust in his unfailing love for each and every one of us


Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God,

have mercy on me, a sinner.

25 February – 2nd Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Gospel Mk 9:2-10

“It is wonderful for us to be here!

Perhaps it is difficult for us to imagine, but for Peter and James and John, this was an incredible, life altering experience that was absolutely real.

In imagining myself as an outside observer to this scene I am taken with Peter’s somewhat pedestrian response to the almost unfathomable sight which unfolds. Jesus is transfigured, his clothes become brilliantly white and he appears with the two greatest figures of the Old Testament, and Peter pipes up to say how great it is to be there while all this is happening.

I can though, understand how much he would have liked such an experience to last forever, but this little foretaste of the eschaton is not to last – and it is here where we find the wisdom of the Church in placing this reading before us in the second week of Lent.

The journey ahead for the Apostles was a tough one, as is it for us. In the coming few weeks and months they will witness the arrest and execution of their friend, and this mysterious experience atop the mountain is something from which they will gain strength through such traumatic times.

As we journey through Lent, let us be sustained in the knowledge and the hope which comes from knowing that Jesus is the Beloved Son of the Father.

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

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

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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