Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Tag: Giussani (Page 1 of 2)

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

“A particular history…”

A particular history is the keystone of the Christian conception of man, of his morality, in his relationship with God, with life, and with the world. Our hope is in Christ, in that Presence that, however distracted and forgetful we be, we can no longer (not completely, anyway) remove from the earth of our heart because of the tradition through which He has reached us.

– Luigi Giussani

I read the text of the Christmas poster when it was released and, I must confess, did not think much of it at the time.

Having been exposed to this text again via an email from a friend I have spent some more time reflecting on it. For me, this particularity that Giussani mentions is the great scandal or stumbling block of the Christian faith.

Why then, why there?

Why not here, and now?

Giussani draws our attention to this tradition through which He (Jesus) has reached us, the Church. Giussani shakes us from falling back into that common conception of the Church as merely an institution or structure of purely human making, because if that is true then we really have no need for it. The Church then is not life giving, but rather a museum, interesting perhaps, but not essential. In fact, it is a particular history that in many respects, one would want to distance oneself from.

If however we see or experience the Church for what it truly is, an unbroken communion of persons united in the living person of Christ, and the Communion of the Trinity, we see and experience it as a living and breathing body. As a memory, not only of something that happened long ago, but a memory of something that continues to happen in my life, and in the world, despite, as Giussani says, my distractedness and forgetfulness (of which there is much!). The living tradition exists as a real and tangible reminder of Him whom we follow. It is the ongoing presence of Him whom we follow.

This particularity is, as previously mentioned, scandalous in many respects but it is also Christianity’s greatest strength – it is it’s only point of truth. Without the concrete particularity of His coming amongst us as a clump of blood in the womb of the Virgin of Nazareth; as a helpless child born in a stable; as a walking, talking, tortured and crucified man; without all this Jesus is merely abstract, merely an idea. Without him passing by, on the shore where John was Baptising; without Him being singled out by the Baptist as the ‘Lamb of God’; without John and Andrew following after him, and Him asking them what it is that they want – without this encounter there is no living tradition, no Church, no ongoing presence of Him who Is.

So yes, He was really and truly present then and there, in a particular way, but He really is present to us now in and through the Communion of Believers, the Church.

Pope Francis and the Risk of Education

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

In his address to the students of Jesuit schools of Italy and Albania, Pope Francis said something that reminded me of one of the great teachers and educationalists of the Twentieth Century, Mons. Luigi Giussani.

 

‘Educating, in educating a balance must be maintained, your steps must be well balanced, one step on the cornice of safety but the other into the zone of risk. And when the risk becomes safe, the next step must venture into another area of risk. Education cannot be confined to the safety zone. No. This would mean preventing personalities from developing; yet it is not possible to educate solely in the risk zone either: this is too dangerous. It is a balance of steps: remember it well.’ – Pope Francis, Address to the Students of the Jesuit Schools of Italy and Albania, 7 June 2013.

For Giussani, it was imperative that teenage students be taught how to access the truth and rigorously verify any and every claim to truth. For Giussani, the experience of the hopelessness that accompanies the practical nihilism of a life without Christ, coupled with a deeply held Augustinian intuition that God has placed within the heart of every human person a natural desire for the supernatural, gifted him with an incredible ability to trust that, given the right method, that students could discern that T/truth in fact does exist.

This flies in the face of much of what passes for contemporary educational theory, which has been co-opted by a kind of managerialism (a topic for later discussion). For Guissani, education has a goal, and end, or a telos. And according to him the goal of education is maturity, a maturity that is manifest in a faith that is arrived at by way of a rigorous verification of one’s own lived reality.

The neutrality of present-day schools implies an “I couldn’t care less” approach to the meaning of life and the ultimate sense of the topics under study. Students may be presented with a series of solutions, without having a true critical capacity with which to assess them. This type of education normally leads youth to develop a root of scepticism regarding all the more important human problems, not an a priori refusal to take them into consideration; or else it ingrains in them a tendency to be hostile to their own tradition.

Luigi Giussani, The Journey to Truth Is an Experience, trans. John Zucchi and Patrick Stevenson (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006), 116.

The risk lies in allowing for such a verification. It means having one’s ideas put under serious and close scrutiny and even rejected. A Pope Francis mentioned education, if it is to be worthwhile, is itself a risk. And a Catholic education is one which is (or should be) the freest to take the greatest risks. Again, to quote Giussani,

In the Catholic conception of education, the school should be one of the principle instruments for verifying tradition against knowledge, to help people interpret, from a Christian point of view, the whole world that youth are called to enter. (ibid, 116)

This gets at something that has been close to my heart for some time and will, no doubt, be something of a focus for future posts here or research elsewhere.

28 May – Sunday of the Ascension of Our Lord (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 28:16-20

“When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated.”

After having been with Jesus for three years or so as he carried out his public ministry, after witnessing his arrest and gruesome execution, and then having experienced him resurrected, the Disciples, bound for Galilee saw Jesus, alive and in the flesh, and, while most fell down before him (presumably in worship and adoration) we read that ‘some hesitated.’

This is extraordinary inasmuch as it gives a real emphasis to the reality of the events it reports. The disciples were real guys who, despite all that they had witnessed were even now somewhat reluctant. At least a couple hesitate in bowing down before the Lord Jesus.

Witnessing the bloody death of Jesus, and both the reports of, and actual appearances of the resurrected Lord, these disciples were perhaps supernaturally fatigued. They had seen the depths of human depravity, and the glories of the Risen Lord, and now they hesitate. One can almost feel the weary confusion” “What am I to make of all this?”

Then Jesus speaks. He gives them authority, and bids them to go out and proclaim the Good News of his death and resurrection, and to baptise all in the name of the Triune God. Then he assures them of his ongoing presence, until the end of time.

Jesus puts the responsibility of his saving mission into the hands of this rag-tag group of blokes, some of whom we are told, hesitate.

This should, in fact, be an incredible encouragement for us who strive, and so often fail to live in an awareness of the reality of the ongoing presence of the Lord. Jesus, aware of our own hesitancy as he was of some of his original disciples still commissions us to be the bearers of his salvation to the world around us.

Let us pray that we would remain aware of the presence of the Risen Christ and His Holy Spirit amongst us.

Food for thought

‘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.’

  • Luigi Giussani, Why the Church?, 203

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)

30 April – Third Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Gospel Luke 24:13-36

“You foolish men!”

Sometimes Jesus can be pretty harsh.

Two of his closest mates, the names of which we are not given, decide to head off. They’ve witnessed what was a particularly gory public execution of their friend and leader – one whom they were sure was special, perhaps evening the messiah.

The confusion would have been terrible. What do you do when the one for whom you have left everything has suddenly died – and died in a way reserved for the worst of criminals? Peter and the others, we are told, had gone fishing – attempting to return to life prior to that earth-shattering event which was the person of Jesus.

Like Pete, and the lads who joined him fishing, these two sought to return to life ‘as normal’. Thinking that they could resume what they had lived prior to this encounter.

Jesus, though hidden to them at this time, was right it seems to point out how foolish this idea was? How could they not have seen and believed the message of the prophets literally enfleshed and lived out in the person of Jesus?

What strikes me in reading this passage, is that after his miraculous appearance to them at the breaking of the bread, these two come to their senses realising that, in fact, while he had spoken to them, their hearts had ‘burned within them.’ The words of Jesus as he walked with them prior to his unveiling himself at the breaking of the bread were rekindling the fire of divine love which they had experienced and were so reluctantly turning away from. The prospect of returning to life as it was lived prior to this encounter is somehow ridiculous. How can I possibly resume a life without Christ after having encountered him in such a profound way?

Our encounter today is with Christ bodily present in His Church that group of believers who are his ongoing and continuing presence here on earth. In His Church, and through the Sacraments, we encounter Christ, and the truth of the Gospel causes our hearts to burn.

16April – Easter Sunday of the Resurrection (Year A)

Gospel Jn 20:1-9

“They ran together …”

Eugène Burnand, The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on Easter Morning, 1898.

Eugène Burnand, The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on Easter Morning, 1898

 

Peter and John had witnessed some pretty incredible things in the three or so years that preceded the events of the past few days. This Jesus, that man from Nazareth, had burst into their lives and set them on a new and different path – something exciting had taken hold of them and had deepened their awareness of reality. But the events of the past few days had seen things come crashing down around them. What they knew to be an unshakable foundation had seemingly been rocked. The events of Good Friday would have rattled them to the very core of their being – had they lost all hope?

We can imagine the scene.

It is Sunday. One can imagine the crisp morning air. The grass covered in dew. Motivation levels low. Confusion reigning. An overwhelming sense of deep, deep sorrow. And then, this message from their dear friend, Mary of Magdala. Immediately they set out.

They run. Desperate to see what had unfolded, they couldn’t get there fast enough. Dare they hold out hope for something miraculous?

They run together, but John being younger and obviously fitter got there ahead of Peter. He reached the tomb, but there was given pause – perhaps acknowledging the sacredness of this moment – of this place. But Peter, true to form, reaches the tomb and barrels forward, entering the sepulchre. Seeing evidence of the resurrection.

He, like us, struggled to believe the testimony given to him by Mary. He was not content to live as though the event of Jesus could be merely a memory. He had to experience the Risen Christ for himself. He had to be ‘seized anew’ by this most ‘overwhelming fact of human history’ (PMO, 4).

His honest intensity at which they set out to verify the fact of the resurrection (captured beautifully by Burnand) needs to be our own.

2 April – Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year A)

Gospel John 11:1-45

‘By now he will smell…’

Lazarus was a good mate of Jesus. In fact, it seems that they had known each other for some time and were close. Jesus wept when he heard the news of his death.

There is much to consider in the passage before us. The depth of Jesus’ sorrow is expressed in sighs and in weeping. It was obviously a difficult thing for him, as it is for us, to experience the death of a loved one.

But it is in the midst of this suffering, of his own sorrow, that Jesus reveals the glory of God, by raising his friend from the dead. The reality of his activity here is brought home by the inclusion of Martha’s concern – ‘by now he will smell!’ Surely, she is grieving, and she just wants her deceased brother to rest peacefully. Uncovering his bloated, stinking carcass would only exacerbate their grief.

What follows in this story is fantastic, in the sense that it really is the stuff of fantasy. Jesus raises his old mate, from the dead.

The difficult thing here though, is that this is not fantasy. Jesus really did this.

It would be easy to try and brush this off – Jesus wept, shared the pain of the others, and told them, ‘Lazarus will always be with us… It’s like he is alive again… He lives on in our hearts.’ We have all been to funerals where this kind of fluff has been shovelled at us. In the face of suffering we often do not know how to act. We do not want to acknowledge it, and so paper over it.

If he were just to paper over the pain and sorrow of Lazarus’ loved ones, then this would simply be a weak, fluffy, fairy dust story, that doesn’t hit the ground. If that were the case, then there would be no reason to re-tell the story 2000 years later.

However, there is perhaps nothing more real than that little detail included here, that quite simply, he stank. When he emerged for the tomb, Lazarus was still covered in the burial garments and bandages. He was dead. And now he is not.

Those who witnessed this were no doubt astonished, and we are told that they came to believe in him. Faced with that kind of evidence, it seems to me that only the hardest of hearts would not.

And here we are with the testimony of those who witnessed this miraculous act…

6 November – Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 20:27-38

Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living

The episode recounted in today’s Gospel contains some interesting insights about the sacrament of marriage, as an efficacious sign of a greater ‘eschatological marriage’ (see Rev 19:7-9). What strikes me though, are Jesus’ words at the conclusion of the excerpt: ‘Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’

So often, we think of the events of the Gospel and the presence of the Incarnate God as the stuff of memory. Piously, we try to live in the memory of Christ who was with us, or at least with his disciples. But this is not really enough for me – I need to know that he is present to me today, right now. Not just as a memory, but as someone really here.

One of my favourite prayers ‘The Angelus’ recounts the event of the Incarnation, with the lines “and the Word was Made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.” – but a writer who I often cite, Luigi Giussani encourages people to pray a slightly altered version of this prayer, using the words ‘and dwells amongst us” The emphasis here, on the continued presence of Jesus with us, which I think makes a significant difference.

As Jesus tells us in today’s reading, God is not a God of the dead, but a God of the living. He lives today and is ‘more intimate to me than I am to myself’ (Confessions II, 6, 11).

The life of Christian discipleship is a life lived out of a continuous encounter, with the God who dwells with us, whom we encounter in prayer, in the Church, in the Sacraments, in those around us, and in the wonderful creation with which he has gifted to us.

Point to Ponder

 ‘[T]he companionship born of Christ has erupted in history: it is the Church, His body, the mode of His presence today, a day-by-day familiarity, a commitment in the mystery of his presence within the sign that is the Church. This is how a rational evidence, fully reasonable, can be born, which makes us repeat with certainty what He, unique in the history of humanity, said of himself: I am the way, the truth, and the life.’

– Luigi Giussani, ‘Christ: God’s Companionship with Man’, p. 102

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