Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Category: Weekly Reflection (Page 1 of 18)

19 August – Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Gospel Jn 6:51-58

“For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”

Reading the early chapters of John’s Gospel, we witness the growing popularity of Jesus. The people, including his disciples, were enthusiastic when he performed miracles, but teachings like that unfolding in chapter 6 begin to put people’s noses out of joint. Whereas after his multiplication of the loaves and fishes they wanted to carry him away and make him a king, now, in the midst of what is a deeply troubling teaching they begin to raise objections and his teaching invokes serious dissent causing many to cease following him.

This is perhaps an exemplar of the experience of believers today, who enjoy a certain amount of popularity when they engage in social justice activities, but experience a great deal of rejection, even persecution when they share elements of the faith that are personally challenging.

Pope Benedict, commenting on this passage wrote that, ‘In explaining the image of the bread, [Jesus] affirms that he has been sent to offer his own life and he who wants to follow him must join him in a deep and personal way, participating in his sacrifice of love.’ (BXVI)

This is where the teachings of Jesus are too much for a lot of us. We are happy to know that he can work miracles, and we are excited at the prospect of enacting justice on his behalf, but these teachings are an uncomfortable fact of our faith and can be difficult to accept and even seen as a source of embarrassment.

Let us pray for perseverance in the faith. That we would be wholly given over to the fullness of the faith as it is gifted to us.

Point to Ponder

Dear friends, let us once again be filled with wonder by Christ’s words. He, a grain of wheat scattered in the furrows of history, is the first fruits of the new humanity, freed from the corruption of sin and death. And let us rediscover the beauty of the Sacrament of the Eucharist which expresses all God’s humility and holiness. His making himself small, God makes himself small, a fragment of the universe to reconcile all in his love. May the Virgin Mary, who gave the world the Bread of Life, teach us to live in ever deeper union with him.

Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Message, 19 August 2012

12 August – Nineteenth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Gospel Jn 6:41-51

“This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
This is truly astounding. It is, perhaps, too much.
Jesus, a man known to those with whom he spoke, was saying the most preposterous things.
How is it that he could claim to have come down from heaven? Surely not! They knew Joseph and Mary, his parents.
These words spoken by Jesus have a mystical and mysterious quality. Not only is he ‘come down from heaven’, but he is ‘living bread’? His flesh is this bread?
What on earth can he mean?
Chapter six of John’s Gospel, from where this reading is taken, is among the most perplexing and unpopular teachings that Jesus gave.
Not only does he claim to be bread, he claims that this bread is far greater than the bread that God had given to Moses and the Israelites as they wandered through the desert because those who eat this bread will not die.
We might be inclined to think that the people of Jesus’ day were more inclined to believe in miracles than we are today in our own scientifically disenchanted era. Yet we are perhaps not so different from those who first witnessed this miracle. Despite the fact that the people in this story had just witnessed his feeding of the 5000 even they are still trapped in unbelief, failing to full recognise and give intellectual assent to what it is that he is saying.
We will read in the coming weeks Jesus’ continued teaching on this matter and the reaction that the majority of people had to him, but for now, let us reflect on our own openness to these words of Jesus.
Jesus elicits our freedom. He gives all the opportunities for those first hearing this message to receive it, and he gives us that same opportunity.
What does it mean for Jesus to say that his flesh is the bread come down from heaven, given for the life of the world? Is he crazy? Is he a liar? Or is he telling the truth?

Let us pray…
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. [Mk 9:24]

5 August – Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Gospel Jn 6:24-35

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry”
Today’s reading begins a series of readings from John’s Gospel that build upon last week’s story of the feeding of the 5000. Here Jesus makes some incredible claims – claims that are worth scrutinising for, if they are true, they change everything.
Jesus points to a significant truth, namely that the human appetite is infinite, despite our attempts to satiate it with all manner of things.
In the fourth century St Augustine of Hippo would emphasise this reality in the opening pages of his autobiography ‘The Confessions’, where he writes “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Describing the reality that the human person is fuelled by an eternal desire that cannot be quenched by natural means. Man is created for eternal union with the Triune God, and nothing but this union will suffice.
Jesus provides the means for this union will be achieved – and it is a way which causes scandal for those who first heard his words. Indeed, it continues to cause scandal to this day.
Jesus clearly makes the claim, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
He is the very thing that we yearn for, that we hunger and thirst for. It is he, and he alone who can satiate our deepest desires. He is that bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
For us today, the most difficult thing to do is to follow our desires all the way down – to really foster that desire within us, and cultivate it in faith and hope that it can indeed be fulfilled.

29 July – Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Gospel Jn 6:1-15

“This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.”

Of all the miracle stories recorded in the Gospels, this story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes is one that really captures our imagination, and not just because it is recounted in all four Gospels.

The scene is set so simply and effectively.

The people are following Jesus as they had witnessed his many healings and heard his profound and challenging teaching. They are so intrigued by this man that they follow him beyond the point where they are able to even meet their own basic needs.

When he sees them coming he recognises their need immediately – they will be hungry before long, and lo, there is nowhere nearby where they could purchase what they need, nor is there enough money around that would be able to pay for it.

This is not merely a miracle where Jesus somehow gets everyone to simply share what they already have. No, this is something truly miraculous. The gift of a small boy of five barely loaves and two fish was miraculously made to be enough for five thousand men, not mentioning the women and the children.

This is something worth considering – Jesus did not simply wave a magic wand and have food appear out of nowhere. No, instead he used what he had, and that was given him by the small boy.

We should remember this when we come up against our own troubles. Rarely have we needed to feed 5000+ people, but we do have our own struggles which are oftentimes insurmountable to our own efforts alone. It is in these times that we need to mimic the small boy in today’s Gospel who gave all that he had, but did not rely on his efforts alone.

Point to Ponder

On perceiving the problem of feeding so many hungry people, [the boy] shared the little he had brought with him: five loaves and two fish (cf. Jn 6:9). The miracle was not worked from nothing, but from a first modest sharing of what a simple lad had brought with him. Jesus does not ask us for what we do not have. Rather, he makes us see that if each person offers the little he has the miracle can always be repeated: God is capable of multiplying our small acts of love and making us share in his gift

Benedict XVI, Angelus Message 29 July 2012

8 July 2018 – Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Gospel Mark Mk 6:1-6

He was amazed at their lack of faith.

In our moments of doubt or questioning we often find ourselves searching the scriptures, reading the stories of the disciples and those who had the opportunity to meet Jesus in the flesh with a sense of envy, thinking to ourselves, ‘if only that had been me, then I would not be plagued by such doubts!’

Yet, time and again, we read of encounters such as the one before us today, where people are confronted with the reality of the man Jesus, walking and talking, preaching and performing all manner of miracles, and yet, despite the evidence before their very eyes, the people still lacked faith.

It seems incredible to us that they could be like that. And indeed, even Jesus ‘was amazed at their lack of faith.’

Sadly however, how often do we fall into that same trap – distracted by our own plans, our minds are dead and buried to the realities before us. We are numb to the presence of Christ in our life, and so we are miss the opportunity to see Christ work the miracles in our lives that he wants to work.

How then do we ensure that we are awake to the reality before us? It may start with something simple, like putting away our phone, or whatever else that might be distracting us. It might be that we need to take more care to attend to our daily chores with a spirit of gratitude for all that we have, or that we begin to actively look for the features of Christ in those around us. This ‘living in the moment’ is not a kind of Oprah-Winfrey-esque feel-good activity, but a mode of constantly comparing our “I” to Him who gives reality meaning.

Only then, can we grow in faith, in familiarity with Christ, who will only come to us where we are, calling us forward to union with Him.

Point to Ponder

‘The danger facing the Western world … is that man today, precisely because of the immensity of his knowledge and power, surrenders before the question of truth. This means that, in the end, reason gives way before the pressure of other interests and the lure of efficiency, and is forced to recognize this as the ultimate criterion.’

Pope Benedict XVI, Address the Sapienza University of Rome, 17 January 2008.

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.

29 April – Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Gospel Jn 15:1-8

“For cut off from me, you can do nothing.”

Sometimes the sayings of Jesus are (understandably) a bit overdone. We’ve heard them so often, perhaps in the unfortunate circumstance of some kind of trite Hallmark card type scenario that they lose their meaning.

Before us in today’s Gospel we have the quaint image of the vine and the branches, an image with which we here in Western Australia are not at all unfamiliar with, blessed as we are with world-class wine regions at our doorstep.

What is initially a fairly plain and simple image, conveying an equally simple message, can carry deeper significance upon reflection.

Jesus invites his followers to ‘remain in him’ to remain connected to and rooted in him. It makes sense when we speak of the botanical reality of vines and the branches which provide them sustenance, but such language is surely odd if Jesus is merely a man.

In the midst of our busy lives we can often push our prayer off to the side. Perhaps it punctuates our day or our week, but beyond that, it is not something that continues to inform our existence. What Jesus is calling us to is something more fundamental – a life lived from a reality grounded in him. This is something that affects not only a world-view, but our entire logic of being.

The great temptation of our age is to think that ‘I’ need to sort things out myself, that ‘I’ can be totally independent and self-sustaining. Jesus’ words ring out here, we are fundamentally, or constitutively relational. Not only that, but cut off from the source of life and love we can do nothing. As the Spanish priest and theologian writes ‘nothing can live off nothingness. Nobody can stand, have a constructive relationship with reality, without something that makes life worth living, without a hypothesis of meaning. (Disarming Beauty, p. 50). It is that ongoing encounter with Jesus that gives life meaning. He offers himself to us in all humility, for us to engage with and to verify. Is life with him better, more real?

Apart from him, can I experience joy?

Point to Ponder

The grace contained in the Sacraments of Easter is an enormous potential for the renewal of our personal existence, of family life, of social relations. However everything passes through the human heart: if I let myself be touched by the grace of the Risen Christ, if I let him change me in that aspect of mine which is not good, which can hurt me and others, I allow the victory of Christ to be affirmed in my life, to broaden its beneficial action. This is the power of grace! Without grace we can do nothing. Without grace we can do nothing! And with the grace of Baptism and of Eucharistic Communion I can become an instrument of God’s mercy, of that beautiful mercy of God. To express in life the sacrament we have received: dear brothers and sisters, this is our daily duty, but I would also say our daily joy! The joy of feeling we are instruments of Christ’s grace, like branches of the vine that is Christ himself, brought to life by the sap of his Spirit! – Pope Francis, Regina Ceali Address, 1 April 2013

22 April – Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Gospel John 10:11-18

“They too will listen to my voice…”

Throughout the Gospels Jesus uses a variety of images to describe the love that he and his heavenly Father have for us, and the relationship that they seek to have with each and every one of us. Here in this figure of the Good Shepherd we find an image that continues to resound in our hearts and minds.

The shepherd would have been a familiar sight to those to whom Jesus first addressed these words – indeed there were probably many among them who had firsthand experience doing that very job. For us however, the role and duties of the shepherd are far from our day to day experience, and yet the image is still one that strikes us.

In speaking of his role as shepherd, Jesus tells his followers that those of his flock will know his voice when they hear it.

This seems strange to us today. How can we, who live 2000 some years after the time of Christ hear and know his voice?

The first step is to take some time out – to stop and to listen. Not only reflect on God’s Word as it comes to us in Scripture and in Liturgy, but to allow our very self to recognise its own lack, its need. Without allowing for the question which is our own existence to come to the fore, how can we adequately receive the answer which is Christ? We need to open ourselves and not try to impose our own wishes on to what the Lord may be telling us.

Am I listening? Really listening?

So often we do not allow ourselves to hear the still, gentle voice of the Lord. We do not allow ourselves to encounter our own selves, our own ‘I’. We avoid silence, we flee contemplation, we busy ourselves with all manner of distractions.

Pope Francis points out that “It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon.”

Point to Ponder

 

Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.

Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, p. 207.

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