Weekly Reflection

As part of my work as Manager, Campus Ministry for the University of Notre Dame Australia I write a weekly refection on the coming Sunday's Gospel and email it to all staff and students of the Fremantle Campus. This then is the weekly blog of those reflections, based on the Gospel readings for Sundays, as per the lectionary of the Roman Missal of Paul VI. Should these reflections find any readership whatsoever, I hope that it is edifying.
The title of my blog is taken from the English translation of Cardinal John Henry Newman's memorial epitaph, which was inscribed on his memorial plaque at the Birmingham Oratory.

Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem - Through Shadows and Images to Truth

Saturday, October 3, 2015

4 October 2015 - 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mk 10:2-16
“But at the beginning of creation...”
In today’s Gospel we read of how Jesus dealt with the contentious issues surrounding marriage in his own day by pointing towards God’s creative intention ‘In the beginning.’ This brings us right back to the stories of Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden.
In our own day it seems that we need this constant reminder of our creatureliness, and of who made marriage in the first place. In his teaching on this obviously contentious topic Christ himself points out that the relative laxity of the Law of Moses in this regard was a concession for those living after the Fall and prior to the Incarnation of Christ. His words here not only re-affirm the original vision for marriage, but efficaciously call us all to a redeemed and sacramental understanding of marriage. 
Here he is not at all like the Pharisees of his time, tying up heavy religious burdens for the people that he is not willing to carry [cf. Mt 23:4]. No. Instead he shoulders the heaviest of our burdens, taking on all our sin and inviting us to a new life, redeemed by the blood offered in sacrifice on the cross.
His call to a conception of marriage as indissoluble, as it was ‘in the beginning,’ is not just some ‘pie in the sky’ ideal, but an efficacious call. His words here have a power that is beyond mere human effort. We need to couple our effort with an openness to the grace God wishes to bestow upon us.

Perhaps too this can serve as a model for how we might engage in current discussions concerning marriage. Rather than debate supposed social consequences, we can emulate Christ by pointing to an understanding of marriage as it was in the beginning, and elevated by Christ to the level of a sacrament.

Questioning Words
Do I have faith in the power of Christ’s words that love can last?

Friday, September 25, 2015

27 September 2015 - 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.”

This really is a challenging text. More challenging than we are used to or comfortable with.
So often we nurture amongst ourselves an image of Jesus that is far from the reality as it is presented in the Gospels and here we have Christ speaking in unequivocally harsh terms about the seriousness of sin.
In the first part of this selection from Mark’s Gospel Jesus is open and tolerant of good wherever it is to be found, and so should we be also.  Good is good regardless of who is doing it, or the style in which it comes about.
Jesus’ open and tolerant words regarding the good however take on a strikingly different tone when the topic turns to evil. Evil and wrongdoing are met by Jesus not in a tolerant, understanding manner, but with a certain mercilessness. Anything that is evil must be completely avoided, disregarded and even hated and cut off.
If it will prevent me or others from receiving the love of God, then it must be done away with.
Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnate God who is Love can speak with such severity only concerning items or actions which prevent his love from being known and experienced. Jesus does not direct this to persons at all, but to actions and items which stifle the reception of his love.
What am I holding on to that is preventing me from experiencing God’s love today?

SuscipeThe Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Friday, September 18, 2015

20 September 2015 - 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mk 9:30-37
“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

The Catholic faith is one which embraces paradox – those seemingly absurd, contradictory sounding statements that upon closer inspection turn out to be true.
Some of these classic paradoxes include claims that God is One and God is Three; Jesus is both fully God and fully man; Mary is both virgin and mother, and so the list goes on.
Here in today’s Gospel we find Jesus dropping another one of these paradoxical truth bombs upon us: To be first in the kingdom of heaven we must be last and servant of all.
This claim turns our regular mode of operating on its head. We often feel that in order to be ‘first’ we need to assert ourselves – to exercise power and make history in some way or another. Instead Jesus tells us that to be ‘first’ in the only place that really counts at the end of the day, we must put ourselves last and be servant of all.
What does this look like? For most of us this is difficult to fathom, but if we think for a moment about the people in our world who honestly put themselves last, in the service of all around them we are confronted with some truly great people, people such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Dorothy Day, and Jean Vanier among others.
It is so easy for us to be overwhelmed with the suffering that occurs in our world. We think, ‘what can I do, I’m just one person?’ While it is true that we cannot help all of humanity, we can show love in a real and tangible way to those with whom we live and work, those who we pass in our daily commute and the like. We have no real way of demonstrating love for humanity in general. We can show love to the specific people that we encounter daily.
This is much more difficult that it would otherwise seem, but it is much more effective.
It is only through this self-emptying gift of ourselves that greatness is achieved in us. Let us pray for that grace.

A quote to contemplate

“The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Friday, September 11, 2015

13 September 2015 - 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mk 8:27-35
“Who do you say I am?”
Here it is - the question which we all must answer.
This is where objective reality meets our own personal subjectivity – it is a meeting that often leaves us uncomfortable.
When they are asked ‘who do people say that I am?’, the disciples are not at all troubled and easily come forth with a variety of responses. For them it is merely a relaying of other people’s opinions – it doesn’t require them to commit to one view or another. It is only when Jesus directs the question to them personally that it becomes troubling.
It is at this point where the disciples are forced to take ownership of their opinion as to who he really is.
This is the bloke who, you’d remember, they’d all given away everything to follow. They obviously have some understanding that he’s a unique individual, an exemplary teacher and worker of miracles – they had witnessed all this first hand.
Now however they are asked to state definitively what they believe of him, and it is here that they are troubled.
Our words are strikingly powerful. Sometimes we think that they are nothing, but this is quite simply not so. With our words we can commit our lives to another, when we marry for example. With words we can build up or tear down. With words we can alter our own perception of and engagement with reality itself.
This moment recorded in the Scriptures is one such moment where the power of words becomes blatantly obvious.
Peter steps forward and states rather boldly ‘You are Messiah.’ Simple words of tremendous significance.
Peter’s acknowledgement of this objective truth is a commitment of his entire subjective person to this reality, namely - Jesus is Lord.

Questioning Words
Knowing what I know about what is taught and believed about Jesus, who do I say that he is?

What impact does this belief have on my stance towards him?

Friday, September 4, 2015

6 September 2015 - 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mk 7:31-37
“He has done all things well,’ they said ‘he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”

Recounted in the Gospel today is an encounter with Jesus that radically transformed the life of a man who was both deaf and mute.
When we consider the experience of the man who suffered this double disability we are moved with compassion. How difficult would it be to live that existence today, let alone in first century Palestine!
It seems that the friends of this man were equally moved with compassion – they had no way of helping him, aside from bringing them to the one who they hoped could do something for him.
This encounter is one which no doubt would have radically changed the course of this man’s life, indeed it would be a key, life-changing experience for him.
Moved with compassion, and in a genuinely human way, Jesus reaches out to this man and enters into his suffering. He touches those parts of him which are disabled – the man’s ears and tongue. The physicality of this is particularly telling. Jesus communicates healing and truth through his body, through the power of touch. His encounter with this man is bodily.
How often we refuse to take to Jesus those elements of our lives which we do not work as they should – those sinful habits, those selfish desires. Instead of seeking him out and bringing these things before him, we hide them away in the vain hope that through our own determination or perhaps the ‘miracle of time’ they will somehow right themselves.
Today’s Gospel invites us to an encounter, one which is total and complete, which has the potential to transform us radically: An encounter which is not just spiritual but, as we’ve read recently in John 6, bodily. Are you willing to meet him?

Truth Nugget

“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.”

Monday, August 31, 2015

30 August 2015 - 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

“Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean.” 

In Jesus’ day, the people of his faith followed strict religious rules which governed much of their every day lives. This is for the most part well known, and Jesus was known for a particular attitude towards such laws. While many of these laws pointed towards a time when they would be superseded by some new dispensation, some new testament from God, for Jesus these laws were supposed to presuppose outward manifestations of inward dispositions. When the Pharisees the scribes saw that many of Jesus’ disciples were somewhat lax with these rules they saw it as an indictment of their teacher, Jesus. His response however turns their world on its head. Pointing to the primacy of the heart, Jesus does not do away with the law as it is, but instead seeks to replace the moralism which had found a home in the teaching of these Pharisees. Jesus asserted a new law of love which was to govern the hearts and minds of all who were to follow him. How often we find ourselves today thinking of the faith as nothing more than mere ethical propositions or lofty ideals. Jesus is calling us to much more than this – he is calling us to a relationship of love - love which casts out evil and purifies our hearts so that we can climb the mountain of the Lord.

Wise Words of Wisdom 

“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” – G.K. Chesterton 

Monday, August 24, 2015

23 August 2015 - 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Jn 6:60-69
“This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?”

This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ It really is. Jesus is saying some truly disturbing things here. “Eat my flesh. Drink My Blood.” It’s kind of ghoulish when you think about it.
His ongoing admonition to eat and drink is body and blood was just too much it seems for the majority of people who heard it. As John reports, ‘After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.’
For me this little detail about many of his disciples leaving him is tremendously important. In fact it gave Jesus an opportunity to clarify his teaching. Had he thought they’d misunderstood his teaching he would have chased after these deserting followers and told them that he was ‘only speaking figuratively’ and that he ‘didn’t really mean all that stuff about eating and drinking his body and blood.’
But no, instead he turns to the Twelve and asks them “What about you, do you want to go away too?”
This is huge. Jesus’ words here show that he is a man who is absolutely certain of the truth of what he is saying. His offer of eternal life is open to all who  have followed him, those who initially came to see him perform miracles, and those who ate so freely when he multiplied the loaves and the fishes. But being the free gift that it is he does not force it on anyone. He allows them to walk away.
Will you?

Truth Nugget

‘Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.’
                                                            - C.S. Lewis