Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Category: Weekly Reflection (Page 1 of 17)

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.

15 April – Third Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Gospel Luke 24:35-48

“They were still talking about all this…”

We only celebrated Easter Sunday 3 weeks ago and yet, with our busy schedules that can seem like ancient history. Easter however, is more than this isolated event. For the fifty days which span from Easter to Pentecost, we are still in the Easter season. More than this though, the reality of the resurrection, which we celebrate at Easter is something that should colour every aspect of our lives.

It is not just in this Easter season, but every day that we, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, are taken with this fact – this reality: Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.

There is nothing more fascinating than this claim – that this man: a man whom the Apostles had lived and travelled with for three years, whom they saw arrested, beaten and publicly executed, physically rose from the dead.

The disciples in today’s reading were still talking about all this when something unique happened – Jesus himself stood among them.

Importantly, Jesus chooses to demonstrate his physical, bodily resurrection in two primary ways, both of which convey special meaning.

First, he shows his wounds, asking his disciples to touch them and see for themselves. Second, he asks to be fed.

These two actions of Christ demonstrate his full, bodily resurrection. More than that, they point to the way which we can experience the risen Lord here and now – in touching the wounds of those who suffer, and in feeding those in need.

In this we have the opportunity to encounter the risen Lord – whose resurrection is not simply something that happened in the past, but an ongoing event.

We should pray that we would be more like those disciples, so consumed with wonder at the Risen Lord that we would still be talking about this, and that we would not be afraid to touch the wounds of those who suffer, and feed those who go hungry.

Let us pray that we do not allow the great mystery of the truth of the resurrection to leave us unaffected.

Point to Ponder

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. This is the Christian message indicating the visible, historical face of the Church, which is the people of God from the social point of view and the Body of Christ from the profound, ontological point of view. This is the way in which the Church emerges in history as a phenomenon. It is a community conscious of its exceptional origin, an integral part of life, inherent in the flesh and blood of life.

Luigi Giussani, Why the Church? p. 203.

8 April – Divine Mercy Sunday (Year B)

Gospel Jn 20:19-31

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ …”

The story of the Resurrection is one which is at the heart of the Christian message – and for many it is a real roadblock on the way to faith.

Thomas, perhaps often like us, is struggling with the idea of the resurrection, not having physically witnessed it himself. So often we read this questioning in a negative light, and we forget the great admonition of St Paul to ‘test everything, hold on to what is good’ [1Th 5:21].

For Thomas the seeming absurdity of the claims being made by the other Apostles of Christ’s resurrection had to be verified and Jesus was absolutely unafraid to provide Thomas with the opportunity to do just that.

It is particularly fitting that Jesus proved his resurrection to Thomas through the evidence of his wounds.

It is right here, in these wounds that we encounter Jesus. Commenting on this passage, Pope Francis wrote the “path to our encounter with Jesus-God are his wounds. There is no other.”

We might complain today that, unlike Thomas, we do not have the opportunity to physically feel these wounds which are imprinted on the flesh of Christ. How can I verify this claim of the resurrection today?

“We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to our body – the body – the soul too, but – I stress – the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he’s in jail because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today…

Let us ask St. Thomas for the grace to have the courage to enter into the wounds of Jesus with tenderness and thus we will certainly have the grace to worship the living God.”

Point to Ponder

“We would be wrong to think that those who believe without seeing have greater faith than those who have seen. Faith is always faith in the Unseen; otherwise it would not be faith! Those who believed in Our Lord did not believe because they saw Him; after all, Mary Magdalen saw Him and at first she did not recognize Him! The disciples on their way to Emmaus saw Him, and they did not recognize Him at first either. It is not enough to see the Risen Lord in order to believe in Him. Something more is required: first, Our Lord has to reveal Himself, that is to say, He has to offer us the opportunity to recognize Him, better, He has to offer us the gift or grace of recognition. And second, we must have the interior dispositions that will allow us to accept this gift, and those interior dispositions are themselves a gift from God! The “advantage” of those who have not seen Him and believed must refer to something else; it cannot be a matter of greater faith… 

A revealing encounter with Our Lord Jesus Christ takes place through the mediation of something external to us, something which is the fruit of the faith of those who have faith. Those who come to believe in Him this way are “blessed,” or “fortunate,” more so than those who first saw Him, precisely because those who come later have at their disposal the testimony of the former ones. They have at their disposal the Tradition of believers, the Tradition of the Church, embodied in Sacred Scripture.”

Lorenzo Albacete, Easter homily, April, 1993.

1 April – Easter Sunday of the Resurrection (Year B)

Gospel Jn 20:1-9

“They ran together”

Mary’s testimony reaches the disciples, and Peter and John run. Could it be?! They could never have guessed that this would or could happen, and yet it meets something deep in their heart of hearts. Until now they had followed him who had met them and had captured their attention. He was one with authority, a presence that was original, new. By his very person he demonstrated a new way to be human, a better and more complete way. They had followed him, hoping to be brought into that fullness of life that they witnessed in him.

They had followed, trusting their hearts – trusting that he was the answer to the question posed by their very existence. But all this seemed to have been destroyed. They witnessed him arrested, tortured and publically executed and were left wondering. Still filled with hope, but now a hope that was perhaps on shifting sand.

And then the news arrives from Mary Magdalene, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’.

What can this mean? Could this be the resurrection of which he spoke?

And so they run. Their hearts almost exploding with anticipation. The earnestness and sincerity of their search, of their desire for fulfilment, to begin again, drives them forward. What will they find?

The absence of the corpse in the tomb can only mean one thing. It more than meets any expectation or hope that they might have and of course, they run – seeking to verify that which they have heard.

They know that the impossible has been made possible.

For us too, as we journey to visit the empty tomb, we are made aware of the reality of the Risen Lord, who reaches out to us, and gives us the capacity to begin anew.

Point to Ponder

‘Ever since the day Peter and John ran to the empty tomb and saw Him risen and alive in their midst, everything can change. From then on, and forever, a person can change, can live, can live anew. The presence of Jesus of Nazareth is like the sap that, from within–mysteriously but certainly–refreshes our dryness and makes the impossible possible. What for us is impossible is not impossible for God. So that the slightest hint of a new humanity, to someone who looks with a sincere eye and heart, becomes visible through the company of those who recognize that He is present: God-with-us. The slightest hint of a new humanity, like dry and bitter nature becoming fresh and green once more.’

Luigi Giussani

25 March – Palm Sunday (Year B)

 Gospel Jn 12: 12-16

“Then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him…”

Imagine having been there, on that first Palm Sunday. Here was this man Jesus, whom so many had either met or had at least heard about.

Rumours of his otherworldliness would have no doubt circulated as he wandered from town to town over the preceding three years. In stark contrast to the other teachers and preachers of his day, Jesus taught with authority, healed the sick, ate and conversed with public sinners and cast out demons.

What strikes us about this man, despite his obvious greatness, is his absolute lack of pride. Coming amongst us, first as an embryonic clump of cells in the womb of the Virgin, then as a child in the stable of Bethlehem, now as he enters Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.

Here is the challenge that Jesus presents to us.

To quote the Italian theologian, Fr Luigi Giussani, ‘While he calls himself ‘master’ and asks to be followed, one can recognize and go with him or decide not to, and there is still room for mere indifference.  But when his proposal clearly claims to enter the dominion of our freedom, he is either accepted and it becomes love, or rejected and it becomes hostility.’ (At the Origin, p. 65)

Jesus, while respecting our freedom, is a presence, a fact in history, which demands of us a response.

Will we be like those who had heard of Jesus, and were ready to greet him as he entered Jerusalem, shouting with the people, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

Or, will we be like those who only days later found his presence and the claims which he had made, and indeed continues to make, a nuisance?

Point to Ponder

 

‘While he calls himself ‘master’ and asks to be followed, one can recognize and go with him or decide not to, and there is still room for mere indifference.  But when his proposal clearly claims to enter the dominion of our freedom, he is either accepted and it becomes love, or rejected and it becomes hostility.’

Luigi Giussani (At the Origin, p. 65)

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

Prayer

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.

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