Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Category: Weekly Reflection (Page 2 of 17)

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

8 January – The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord – First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Gospel Mk 1:7-11

The new horizon of love

This is the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel, who unlike both Luke and Matthew, leaves out the stories of the Nativity which we have spent the last few weeks meditating on.

Instead, Mark begins with the Baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordan and this particular episode is just the first of a number of mysterious and confounding acts undertaken by Jesus over the course of His public ministry.

Why did Jesus seek to have himself baptised?

John’s baptism was a baptism of conversion and repentance, and yet we can be sure that Jesus, in his own person, was in no need of either of those things.

What we learn in this humble act of receiving baptism is that through Jesus, God comes down to meet me where I am. He has no aversion at all at the prospect of entering into the depths of our failings and mistakes, our selfishness and sinfulness.

Jesus’s baptism was, in essence, a prefiguring of the death he was to experience on the cross just three short years later – taking on the punishment due to all human sinfulness of all time.

We are called to emulate Jesus, not in the great miracles that he performed, but in his lowly acts of service and humility. In receiving this baptism he was accepting my guilt.

Point to Ponder

At the Jordan Jesus reveals himself with an extraordinary humility, reminiscent of the poverty and simplicity of the Child laid in the manger, and anticipates the sentiments with which, at the end of his days on earth, he will come to the point of washing the feet of the disciples and suffering the terrible humiliation of the Cross. The Son of God, the One who is without sin, puts himself among sinners, demonstrates God’s closeness to the process of the human being’s conversion. Jesus takes upon his shoulders the burden of sin of the whole of humanity, he begins his mission by putting himself in our place, in the place of sinners, in the perspective of the Cross.

Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, Sunday, 10 January 2010

24 December – Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Gospel Luke 1:26-38

‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’

It is the Sunday before Christmas, and the Church puts forward this reading, reminding us of that precious moment when Jesus, the Eternal Son of the Father, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took on flesh in her womb.

Against the backdrop of the readings from the last few weeks where we have been regaled with stories of John the Baptist and his rather harsh delivery of a message of repentance, today’s Gospel is striking in its simplicity. Rather than the bold, bombastic figure of John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness, here we have the humble virgin of Nazareth, addressed by the angel Gabriel, in what would no doubt be for her some rather troubling discussions.

Mary’s response, despite the troubling nature of the news, is fundamentally a response of receptivity. The humble virgin of Nazareth models for us what is in fact a perfect creaturely posture of active receptivity. ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’

The attitude of receptivity exemplified by Mary in this story, and throughout her life, is not an attitude that draws much praise in contemporary culture. For us (post)moderns it is considered praiseworthy to go out and get what it is that you want, to force our will upon what we come across. Reality has no meaning prior to my encounter with it, and as such we are charged with imbuing this meaning.

Mary however, exhibits a different way pf being. She is content in the reality that she is totally dependent upon God. She is consequently open to receive all of reality as a gift, and as given. Things have an integrity and a meaning prior to her encounter with them, and so she waits as they present themselves to her.

Let us use this time to practice our openness to things as they are, as they are given.

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

17 December – Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Gospel John 1:6-8,19-28

‘Who are you?’

I like to think of John the Baptist as the patron saint of Advent. His whole purpose is to prepare the way for the coming Christ, and Advent is the time when we are called to do the same –so it is a pretty good match.

John is an intriguing and enigmatic figure, who despite being a real curiosity for the people is, to be perfectly honest, is not always likeable.

He appears in the wilderness and does odd things, and as we see in the passage before us today, gives cryptic answers to even the most rudimentary of questions.

John’s abrupt way of being makes his hearers a little unnerved. It pricks people’s consciences, startling them out of the monotony of their sinfulness and redirects them toward the one who is to come. Ultimately, his rather coarse manner of being sees him meet a pretty gruesome end.

But John’s mission was less about speaking truth to power and being an oddity for the people to gawk at. He preached and practiced a baptism similar to, but unlike our own. His Baptism was a baptism of repentance (cf Acts 19:4), and remained unfulfilled – pointing to the one who was to follow after, and to the baptism which he would initiate.

In Baptism we die to sin and are made anew in Christ. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). John and his baptism point forward to the one who is to come and to his Baptism.

During Advent, when the Church puts before us a number of readings that speak of John the Baptist, we are called to enter anew into John’s baptism of repentance, so that we can receive again, with the coming of the Chirst-child, the new life He gives us in the Spirit, to the glory of God the Father.

This is a time of waiting. We cannot confuse the signpost for the destination. John is not the Christ, but he is sent to help us make straight the path.

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

10 December – Second Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Gospel Mark 1:1-8

“All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him…”

John the Baptist is an extraordinary, enigmatic figure. Mark tells us that he wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey – essentially he was a wild man, with a hard hitting message.

And yet despite his wild persona, he drew all sorts of people from Judea and Jerusalem, who came out to hear him and his challenging and mysterious message. Something that about him and his message awoke something within those who saw and heard him – it captured the hopes so strongly that many were confused thinking him to be the one that they were waiting for and he had to correct them, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am…’

The mission of the Baptist was to prepare the way and point beyond himself to the one who was still to come, namely Christ, the Lord.

In His absolute charity, God deigned it fitting that there would be one sent ahead to prepare the way – not because Jesus needs someone to go before him to work the crowd – but because so often we need to be shaken from the comfortable lethargy which we have fallen into. The preparatory work of the Baptist is in fact what the season of Advent is designed to imitate – to reawaken us from the humdrum monotony of the every-day to the fact that Christ has already, and will again come amongst us.

The danger in this anticipatory time is that we confuse the sign with the thing signified, as many had done with the Baptist. Confusing him with the one who was to come, John had to remind them that there was someone greater to come. In this season of Advent, we are tempted to live as though Christmas has already come. All the talk of the big day and the season which follows, all the preparations etc can fool us into thinking that we have arrived.

Let us hearken to the words of the Baptist today and continue to look forward in hope to the one who is still to come.

 

Point to Ponder

The liturgical texts for this Season of Advent renew the invitation to us to live in expectation of Jesus and not to stop looking forward to his coming so as to keep ourselves open and ready to encounter him. Heartfelt watchfulness, which Christians are always called to practise in their daily life, characterizes in particular this season in which we prepare joyfully for the mystery of Christmas…. Christians are asked to live Advent without allowing themselves be distracted by the bright lights but knowing how to give things their proper value and how to fix their inner gaze on Christ. Indeed if we persevere in “watching in prayer, our hearts filled with wonder and praise”, our eyes will be able to recognize in him the true light of the world that comes to dispel our gloom.

Benedict XVI, Angelus, 11 December 2011

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