Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Tag: Benedict XVI (Page 1 of 2)

13 August – Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 14:22-33

‘Lord! Save me!’

As in last week’s reading which recounted the event of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, this reading see’s Peter launching again headlong into territory that he is ill-equipped to handle. With a radical trust in Jesus, whom he sees walking on the water, Peter calls out, asking that he may walk out to meet his friend, then launching himself out of the boat begins to walk across the water. Incredible.

Surely Peter was astounded. Here he is, walking on the water. But rather than be strengthened in his faith, Peter lets the wind and the waves discourage him. Why is this?

He has witnessed not only his friend walking on the water, but he too has actually experienced what it is to walk on water. With the help of the Lord, he has done the impossible, and yet he now loses his nerve.

Peter, as we have seen, is that guy who always rushes in, perhaps somewhat foolishly. In doing so, however, he experiences graces that the other Apostles do not get to. And yet despite these experiences, his faith is easily shaken by the waves and the wind that had been there all along.

What are we to make of this?

It seems that there are many lessons which can be drawn from this. While we might smile knowingly at Peter’s seeming recklessness, we should also be given some pause to consider the depth of the faith that would see him not only to ask to go out on the water but also to then ask for and expect help as he began to sink.

Peter is out of the boat before he realises that he might have gotten himself into a bit of trouble. Seeing the wind and the waves he realises that, were it up to him alone, that he would surely drown and so he begins to doubt. Peter is nothing if not one who lives every moment intensely. The fear he experiences, and the consequent moment of doubt see him begin to sink, but then he reverts back to his usual manner of being and throws himself on the mercy and love of Jesus, crying ‘Lord! Save me!’

Point to Ponder

‘Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God—an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God’s standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly.’

Pope Benedict XVI – Deus Caritas Est, 28 (a).

16 July – Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 13:1-23

“[H]e told them many things in parables.”

A good portion of Jesus’ teaching was done through parable, that literary device that seeks to make known or shed light upon something deeply mysterious.

Here a scenario is relayed to us that sees Jesus being inundated by large crowds. People from all around sought him out such that, in this instance, he had to board a boat, and push off shore so that his teaching could be heard by all who had gathered.

Interestingly though, he does not lecture the people on a distinct set of truths which must be believed in order that they would receive eternal life. Instead, he offers them a story that points to, and invites his listeners to engage with something mysterious.

The truth is that what is revealed by God in Christ is not simply a set of doctrines about God, but God himself, in the person of Jesus. This person, Jesus, God incarnate (in human flesh), cannot be reduced to a mere set of facts, or doctrinal propositions.

More than his teachings then, it was the person of Jesus himself that aroused so much interest. And when Jesus taught, he sought to invite his listeners into the mystery of his own life and love – into the life and love of the Trinity itself. He does not simply unfold a set of cold propositional dogmas which must simply be assented to. This is why Pope Benedict XVI began the first significant teaching document of his pontificate by proclaiming 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” (DCE, 1).

The parables of Christ invite us to engage with the Mystery. They steer us away from cold moralistic or hyper-intellectualised propositional formulations and remind us of the person who has entered human history and astounded us with an answer to our deepest longings.


Words of Wisdom

God cannot be reduced to an object. He is a subject who makes himself known and perceived in an interpersonal relationship. Right faith orients itself to open itself to the light which comes from God, so that reason, guided by love of the truth, can come to a deeper knowledge of God. The great medieval theologians and teachers rightly held that theology, as a science of faith, is a participation in God’s own knowledge of himself. It is not just our discourse about God, but first and foremost, the acceptance and the pursuit of a deeper understanding of the word which God speaks to us, the word which God speaks about himself, for he is an eternal dialogue of communion, and he allows us to enter into this dialogue.

Francis, Lumen Fidei: The Light of Faith, 2013, n.36

21 May – Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Gospel Jn 14:23-29

‘He will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever’

Jesus’ words here have a certain mysticism about them. “I am in the Father, you are in me…”, “I will always be with you, I am going away.” It all seems a little difficult to get my head around.

There is a temptation to dismiss it all as nonsense – Like Thomas, who is known as the ‘Doubter,’ I want to see the Risen Lord with my own eyes. I want to touch his wounds myself to see that they are real.

Here though, Jesus promises an Advocate. One who will always be with us, who will guide and protect. This is, on face value, not what I want.

This Advocate that Jesus speaks of is not the physical/empirical proof I feel that I need.

While we understand here that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, we are in a situation where we do not simply want a guiding spirit, but something irrefutable that will prove to us, according to our own standard, the existence of, and the love of God.

The mystery of God is such that, by necessity, it must exceed our own desires, expectations, and measurements. While on one level I might desperately want to have irrefutable evidence of God’s existence and His love, I also know that such irrefutable (read empirical) evidence would be inadequate.

The presence of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is an opportunity for trust, an opportunity for faith. ‘Trust [faith] engenders a knowledge that is mediated, a knowledge that comes through mediation, through a witness’ (Giussani, p. 3).

Faith is a kind of knowledge, mediated through a witness. In this instance our witness is the generations of believers who have preceded us and with whom we are united.

Point to Ponder

“…We must not forget that in our cultural context, very many people, while not claiming to have the gift of faith, are nevertheless sincerely searching for the ultimate meaning and definitive truth of their lives and of the world. This search is an authentic “preamble” to the faith, because it guides people onto the path that leads to the mystery of God. Human reason, in fact, bears within itself a demand for “what is perennially valid and lasting.” – Benedict XVI, 10

7 May – Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Gospel John 10:1-10

I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.

Sometimes it doesn’t really feel like this is the case. The Christian faith is so often as a straightjacket than a way of life characterised by fullness and freedom. Jesus’ statement here about having life and having it to the full follows what is a fairly stern admonition to abide by his way of doing things. It reads something like a ‘do it my way or else…’ type of reading, with the bit about ‘life to the full’ just thrown in so things don’t sound too harsh.

It seems though, that the fullness of life of which Jesus speaks, is a fullness that is, in a very particular sense, beyond what we can conceive of – it far exceeds our own expectations and hopes.

We often think that a full life is characterised by a freedom that is characterised by doing whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like doing it. When we live like this though we know that, in the end, we remain unsatisfied. We only really feel free when our desires are fully satisfied. Our desires are endless and our desire to love and to be loved is infinite. This is what St Augustine referred to as the restless heart, which cannot rest until it rests in the infinite love of God (Confessions 1.1).

Fr Luigi Giussani wrote that ‘If freedom is the experience of satisfaction, of completeness, then this completeness, this satisfaction, in its total acceptance, comes about in relationship with the Mystery, with the infinite’ (p. 66). Here it all begins to make sense. Jesus, explaining why he has come says, ‘I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.’ He came to complete our freedom – to offer us completeness through a relationship with him.

This circumvents and corrects a moralistic reading of the Christian faith and places it squarely back into the realm of relationship – a relationship which gives life. As Pope Benedict wrote,‘[b]eing 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)

5 March – First Sunday of Lent (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 4:1-11

‘He was very hungry…’

Of course he was!

I get hungry pretty well every hour, on the hour. And if I don’t eat I get all sorts of ‘hangry’ (hunger + anger). Ok, perhaps that’s overstating it, but the idea of not having eaten for 40 days and nights seems to me to be a tremendous feat.

On one level, the inclusion of the detail, ‘he was very hungry’ seems comical, and yet, perhaps it points to something much more profound.

When we read the story that follows we are confronted with an episode which is fantastic – an out of this world tale, shrouded in mystery which we could otherwise dismiss as the work of a fanciful imagination.

But what if we take seriously this otherwise comedic detail. He had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and we are told that it is in this state of what would no doubt be enormous hunger and weakness that he is confronted with these temptations.

Had the author merely been trying to tell an imaginative or inspiring story, this detail would be better left out. Instead, however, its inclusion points to something far more extraordinary – the fact that the author here wants us to take this seriously.

This opens us up to something that should in fact give us tremendous hope. In the letter to the Hebrews we are told, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” (4:15)

Despite his sufferings Jesus displayed tremendous strength and fortitude in the face of temptation. Not as an act of sheer will like some sort of stoic hero – but as an act of love. Love received and given.

Jesus did not refuse temptation out of fear of Divine retribution, but because of the relationship of love which he enjoyed with his Father, and with the Holy Spirit. This bond of love is what we are called to share in and to enter into more deeply in this Lenten season.

Point to Ponder

We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. 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.’

– Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1

25 December – Christmas Day

Gospel Lk 2:15-20

and everyone who heard it was astonished.

This is truly an astonishing encounter.

The circumstances are beyond what we would consider normal – choirs of angels appearing seemingly out of nowhere announcing the birth of the Messiah to lowly shepherds.

Yet despite the extraordinary nature of the events leading up to this encounter, what is perhaps most astonishing is the fact that what the shepherds found not only matched exactly what they had been told – but that the child they encountered corresponded to the deepest desires of their hearts. Extraordinary events surrounded something that was otherwise so ordinary, so natural.

This child, innocent and helpless, in fact changes everything. This vulnerable child is in fact ‘the center of the universe and of history.’ (RH, 1)

And this is what we celebrate at Christmas – the All-Powerful taking on the weak and vulnerable human flesh of this little child. God comes to meet us in the ordinariness of our daily life.

As we must remember, the Christian faith is not a series of intellectual propositions or moral precepts that must be accepted an abided by – ideas (propositions and precepts) do not need a mother. No. The Christian faith is an encounter with an event, a person which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’ (DCE, 1)

The encounter that the shepherds had corresponded to the deepest needs and desires of their hearts, and this is an encounter that we can now share.

Point to Ponder

‘Mary and Joseph are not ideas. They are real people who made decisions on which our faith depends. Christianity is not a timeless set of ideas. Christianity is not some ideal toward which we ought always to strive even though the ideal is out of reach. Christianity is not a series of slogans that sum up our beliefs. Slogans such as “justification by grace through faith” can be useful if you do not forget it is a slogan. But Christianity cannot be so easily “summed up” even by the best of slogans or ideas. It cannot be summed up because our faith depends on a young Jewish mother called Mary.’ – Stanley Hauerwas

4 December – Second Sunday of Advent

Gospel Mt 3:1-12

But the one who follows me is more powerful than I am

From the very beginning of the Jesus story, and even further back into the history of salvation, we are confronted with, and confounded by, the profound power of paradox. Preference is given to the poor and the lowly; and, power is found in weakness.

The Baptist is one who exemplifies the profoundly powerful nature of this paradox. He owns nothing, clothes himself in camel-hair, eats bizarre food and behaves wildly, and yet he holds a power that is widely acknowledged, and is even threatening for the establishment.

His mysterious appearance in the wilderness drew a crowd, and despite this harsh manner of dress and speak, the people listened intently to him. Aware as they were of his significance, not only personally, but of his ministry in preaching repentance and baptising, John the Baptiser is a model of humility. Despite his being acknowledged as ‘great’ (cf. Mt 11:11, and  Lk 7:28), John functioned merely as a sign of what was to come.

In his ministry, John does not accumulate influence or power for himself, but instead points forward to the ‘one who follows.’

John functions as a powerful model for Christians today who seek to prepare the way for the Lord, not only so that He can come into their own lives, but so that He can be present in the lives of our family and friends, and all with whom we come into contact. He makes us uncomfortable, ruffles feathers and then gets out of the way. Breaking the mold of what we think is acceptable in ‘polite society,’ John points the way to an unusual and astounding ‘encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’ (DCE, 1)

13 November – Our Lord JESUS CHRIST, KING of the UNIVERSE

Gospel Luke 23:35-43

‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’

The claim that Jesus is God, that He is King of the Universe are often looked upon by modern ‘enlightened’ minds as the quaint beliefs of the feeble minded.

While the believer today may feel a certain pressure to offer empirical or philosophical proofs that God exists and that Jesus is God, such an endeavour to formulate and offer said proofs more often than not fall incredibly short of convincing anyone.

The fact of his crucifixion, and the scorn hurled at him from those who did the deed seems to point to a certain powerlessness on the part of Jesus.

Taking up this question in his book on Jesus, Benedict XVI asks, capturing the sentiment of modern man who often struggles to believe: “Why, indeed, did you not forcefully resist your enemies who brought You to the cross? […] Why did You not show them with incontrovertible power that you are the Living One, the Lord of life and death? Why did You reveal yourself only to a small flock of disciples, upon whose testimony we must now rely? The question applies not only to the Resurrection, but to the whole manner of God’s revelation in the world. Why only to Abraham and not to the mighty of the world? Why only to Israel and not irrefutably to all the peoples of the earth?” (p. 276).

Despite our frustrations, it seems that this is the paradoxical style of God.

‘Is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love. And if we really think about it, is it not what seems so small that is truly great?’ (ibid, pp. 276-277).

The year of Mercy, which is now at its end, was of tremendous pedagogical value inasmuch as it brought us into this method of God – we see that the gentle way, the quiet invitation, has greater power to open hearts than the forceful proof of God’s omnipotence. It is in his weakness on the Cross that Jesus demonstrates the true power of His love.

Point to Ponder


Many nations’ rulers you profess

And in a public worship bless;

May Teachers, Judges, you revere,

In Arts and Laws may this appear.


Let every royal standard shine

In homage to your power divine;

Beneath your gentle rule subdue

The homes of all, their countries, too.


All glory be, O Lord, to you,

All earhthly powers you subdue;

With Father and the Spirit be

All glory yours eternally


(Te saeculroum in principem, from First Vespers on the on the Feast of Christ the King)

2 October – Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:5-10

“Increase our faith.”

Here is a prayer that we so often pray – or perhaps struggle to pray. ‘Increase my faith, I do not feel like I have enough. Sometimes I don’t feel like I have any!’

Faith in our secular age is something that is constantly thrown into question. So often we fall into believing the lie that faith stands in defiance of reason, and that even if God exists, he is irrelevant.

We live in a world that has closed itself off from the transcendent and the miraculous. Yet despite the ongoing business of our day we remain haunted by the question of God’s presence. Even if we are intent on spending time with God daily in prayer we are met with the constant struggle to believe – and if we are unbelievers we are constantly tortured by the question ‘what if it is true?’ The attitude of our age is perhaps best characterised by noted author and atheist Julian Barnes who wrote ‘I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.’

Perhaps however, we have become prey to a faulty conception of faith. It is a very modern understanding to think of faith merely as a list of simple propositions to which I must give intellectual assent before I continue on my way. This however is far from what true faith is.

Yes, faith is a gift that we must hold and nurture (CCC. 162), but it ‘is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or moralism. Christianity is instead an encounter, a love story; it is an event.’ (Ratzinger)

Even the apostles struggled, it seems, in living from this place of encounter – and they were with Him!

The apostles it seems, ask the wrong question. Faith is not a quantitative thing that they can acquire more of – it is qualitative, and it is strengthened when we open ourselves to live from that place of encounter with Christ, through daily prayer (despite the struggles), through attentive reading of the Word of God, through acts of charity and service to our neighbours.

Points to Ponder

“God revealed himself, not only in order that all men should know him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the unity of the Godhead, but also in order that through the Son—the Word of God made flesh—they might, in the Holy Spirit, have access to the Father, and become sharers in the divine nature, that is in the Godhead itself.” – Karol Wojtyła, Sources of Renewal: Study on the Implementation of the Second Vatican Council. Translated by P. S. Falla. (London: William Collins Sons & Co), 1981, 53.


“Faith is born of an encounter with the living God, who calls us, and reveals his love, a love which precedes us, and upon which we can lean for security, and for building our lives.” – Francis, Lumen Fidei, n. 4

Sanctity and the Intellectual Life

“Sanctity should provide the inner form of the intellectual life, in a way that affects both the methods and the content of the modern academic curriculum”David L. Schindler

I have thought for a long time that our Catholic/Christian educational institutions should be radically different from their secular counterparts. If the belief that God created everything ex nihilo, out of nothing, and that all things live and move and have their being in the person of Jesus Christ, that ‘all things were created through him and for him’ [Col 1:16]; if this is actually true, then this should radically impact on how we understand reality as such, and then how we conduct research, teach and learn.

The words quoted above, which come from David L. Schindler, articulate for me a project which I hope to give life to through this blog, which will be something of a companion to the work I am currently doing at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne. My intention is to use this blog to test some of the thinking which may, in fact, find its way into the thesis I am currently writing. As such, the reflections which form the bulk of this blog find their inspiration primarily in the work of the American philosopher and theologian David L. Schindler. As well as Schindler however, I mention also such thinkers as Christopher Dawson, Fr Luigi Giussani, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Stratford Caldecott, and John Milbank as well as the great saints of education, Mary MacKillop, Don Bosco, Marcellin Champagnat, Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, and John Henry Newman. These and others have been a tremendous source of inspiration in my thinking in this area and will feature from time to time in what I post. It would be remiss of me not to mention two other tremendous figures who have influenced my thinking in this regard – Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II, and Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.

As I progress in my own study, I hope to share with you through this blog much of my thinking – I would value any input you might have along the way.

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