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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

27 December 2015 - Feast of the Holy Family (Day 3 of Christmas)

Gospel Lk 2:41-52
His mother treasured all these things in her heart
One event which would have been incredible formative for Mary was the Annunciation, where the angel appeared before her and announced the good news that Jesus, the Son of God, would take on human flesh within her womb.
  Undoubtedly this event would have coloured all her efforts in raising and caring for the child Jesus.
  The event recounted in the Gospel today, the only story we have in the Scriptures of Jesus’ adolescence, would have been all the more worrisome for her considering the weight of responsibility she would have felt, knowing that this child was the Son of God.
  The absolute horror that Mary and Joseph her husbandmust have felt upon learning that their son was not with the caravan would have been unbearable. The sudden realisation that your child, the Son of God, is no longer with you would come as a tremendous shock. The sick feeling which must have arisen in the pit of their stomachs must have been overwhelming.
  Yet, despite the heartache that they must have endured, and most likely even the anger that they must have felt at having been left to worry over his whereabouts, this event was for both Mary and Joseph, as it is for us, a joyful mystery.
  This is an event which is joyful, not only for the fact of being reunited with Him, but also for the fact that, he has revealed to them plainly and for the first time his Divine Sonship.

  As we ponder this great mystery, still within this Christmas season, we look to Mary, the Mother of God and our mother as a model. Her receptivity of the Word of God, is manifest not only in her physical motherhood of Jesus, but spiritually as ‘she treasures all these things in her heart.’ She who in responding with such total self-surrender to the Word, is like the “good soil” of which Jesus speaks. “These are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Lk8:15). She is what Pope Francis called the ‘perfect Icon of faith’ (Lumen Fidei, 58).

Prayerful Words
May it come about in us, O Spirit of God, as it did in Mary–the mystery of the Word was made flesh in her. It became part of her flesh and one with her expressions. Thus, may the memory of Christ become flesh of our flesh, part of all our actions, counsel for every thought and flame for every affection, and move in us with all our moves, from morning to evening, as we eat and drink, and in all our living and in our dying.
Luigi Giussani, On the Holy Rosary

Saturday, December 19, 2015

20 December 2015 - 4th Sunday of Adent

Gospel Lk 1:39-44
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!

Today’s Gospel reading is an interesting selection. While we are eagerly anticipating the coming of the Christ child at Christmas, the Church directs our attention to Mary’s charitable visit to her cousin Elizabeth.
Just prior to this reading we are presented with the story of the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel seeks Mary’s consent to be the God-bearer. Upon inquiring how this can be, considering her own state in life, Mary freely gives her consent in an act of dynamic creative receptivity – becoming for all of us a model for free receptive-creative love.
The other piece of news that Mary receives at the Annunciation is that her cousin Elizabeth, previously thought to have been unable to conceive, and now well beyond child-bearing years, has miraculously conceived a child.
Mary’s action here is to immediately take the Word abroad. She travels, pregnant as she is, to the hill country of Judea to be with her cousin in her need. In this too she is a model for us all. In receiving into her body and her soul the very life of the Divine God-Man, she does not selfishly hide him away – but instead takes him out to where he is needed.
This is perhaps a perfect example of what Pope Francis has called the ‘mission to the margins.’ Mary goes out to be with those in need, but her actions are not that of mere philanthropy. She can perfectly give what has she has perfectly received, the divine life of God Himself in human flesh. This is why Elizabeth rightly says of her ‘Blessed are you among women’ and why we rightly echo her greeting in the Hail Mary. She is blessed because she has perfectly received the love of God and borne him to the world.
As this Advent season draws to a close let us look to Mary as a model for how we are to bear Christ to the world. 

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

Friday, December 11, 2015

13 December 2015 - 3rd Sunday of Adent


Gospel Lk 3: 10-18
A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people

Advent is a time when we wait.

   This is not supposed to be a boring wait, like for instance when we call a phone company to sort out an erroneous bill. The wait of Advent reminds us not only of the coming of Christmas, but of the final coming of Christ into this world, when he will come in majesty and power as ruler and merciful judge. This is a wait that is filled with joy and expectancy.

   The people in today’s Gospel are very much like ourselves. The feeling of joyful expectancy which had animated the crowd boiled over into an attempt to somehow declare John the Baptist as the long-awaited Messiah. In our own day however the season of Advent, a period of supposed joyful and expectant waiting is glossed over and we live as though it is Christmas already. The season of Advent has something of a prophetic character in this culture of ‘rapidification’, where the virtue of patient waiting is forgotten and the desire for immediate gratification is met with the force of untethered human will, and unprecedented technological power.

   This season of Advent serves as a reminder that patience is a virtue, and as a virtue it must be exercised and cultivated. More than this though, Advent teaches us that patient waiting is not simply a boring time of inactivity, but something that we must actively participate in. We ready ourselves for the coming joy of Christmas, by prayerful almsgiving to those in need, returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, building physical reminders, such as a nativity set, and leaving the crib empty until Christmas.

I pray that this season of Advent will be fruitful for you and for all of us.

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

Saturday, November 28, 2015

29 November 2015 - 1st Sunday of Adent


Gospel Lk 2:41-52
“When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.”

 

Jesus employs some fairly harrowing imagery in this Sunday’s reading. These things, he says, will accompany his glorious return. The apocalyptic overtones are at once terrifying and matched with words of consolation.

The season of Advent which begins this Sunday marks the beginning of is an annual reminder of a foundational hope of the Christian faith, namely that Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

We live in the joyful and expectant hope of this as we know that God is a God of mercy. This hope is not presumption, but it is realistic as we know that mercy is not simply an attribute of God, a characteristic that he possesses, but we can say that mercy is of his very essence. Mercy, says St John Paul II is love’s other name. (Dives in Misericordia, 7)

Hope is a theological virtue which is not passive presumption, but actually is the cause for our activity. In hope we are saved, and this hope spurs us on to live as Jesus taught, to ‘Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’ (cf. Lk 21)

The season of Advent is one of expectant and hopeful waiting, but waiting it seems is not something we are often prepared to do in our culture. Indeed, it feels at times that we have been conditioned not to wait, but to take what we can immediately perhaps thinking that hope in God is unfounded.

Let us pray for the grace to wait in joyful hope for Christ’s coming this Christmas, rather than living as though it is Christmas already.

Prayer for Advent
Grant, almighty Father,
that when Christ comes again we may go out to meet him
bearing the harvest of good works achieved by your grace.
We pray that he will receive us into the company of the saints
and call us into the kingdom of heaven.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
    one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Friday, November 20, 2015

22 November 2015 - The Feast of All Saints - Solemnity Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (34th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

“Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”
The reading today, much like the Solemnity it is chosen to mark, is a strong one. It is yet another of the remarkably bold truth claims of the Christian faith – namely that Jesus Christ is the King of the Universe.
In the scene before us Jesus stands before Pilate, a beaten, bruised and broken man and yet he is as engaging and provocative as ever.
Here he blows open the notion of worldly power which dominates the mind of Pilate, and speaks of a Kingdom which is not of this world. A Kingdom where Truth reigns, and which grows in power and authority wherever Truth is found.
Pontius Pilate is a man of earthly power. His power is exercised through the sheer and inescapable might of the Roman army which he was responsible for in that region at that time. Through this power he is able to command wide respect and to manipulate all manner of circumstances to meet his will.
The power that stands before him in the person of Jesus is of an altogether different sort. Jesus’ power is paradoxically weak, humble and suffering. And yet it is this power through which he defeats sin and death. In his complete self-emptying love, the tremendous power of God the Father is manifest for the world.
The wisdom of this world teaches that we need to reach out, and through an act of sheer will, assert our own power and determine reality for ourselves. This is exemplified here in the person of Pilate – and yet this power is ultimately weak, impotent and flaccid. It will meet its end in death.

Contrary to our intuition we see that the power which is universal across time and space, is that kenotic or self-empting gift of self that Jesus exemplifies for us. It is through this that God works most effectively in and through us.

Poetic Musings

May 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 you gentle rule subdue
The home of all, their countries, too.

All glory be, O Lord, to you,
All earthly powers you subdue;
With Father and the Spirit be
All glory yours eternally

Te saeculorum principem
First Vespes on the Feast of Christ the King (from the Old Rite)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

1 November 2015 - The Feast of All Saints - (31st Sunday of Ordinary Time)

Gospel Mt 5:1-12
“His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them”
Here we have before us what is perhaps the most famous and powerful sermon ever preached.
Here Jesus turns the wisdom of this world on its head. This series of paradoxical sayings show us that God’s priorities are not our own.
Where we seek the blessings of riches and comfort, Jesus tells us that it is the poor in spirit that are the blessed as the inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.
Here he is not praising poverty for its own sake, but for the disposition which comes with poverty – that of simple acknowledgment of our need before God.
As we work through each of these beatitudes, these recipes for happiness, we see that they challenge pretty well each and every one of the ways we would seek happiness: We seek riches and comfort, thinking they will bring us happiness, we seek power and influence, we seek retribution and vengeance upon those who wrong us and hold grudges. All these are short-sighted attempts to assert our own happiness or contentedness.
Instead Jesus tells us something rather different. He tells us to be merciful, to seek after righteousness and meekness – these are the things that bring us real, deep and lasting joy, not only in this life, but in the life to come.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

25 October 2015 - 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mk 10:46-52
“What do you want me to do for you?”
So often our conception of God regresses to something rather childish – we think of God as little more than some kind of mystical Father Christmas figure, who, when we remember to pray, receives little more than a list of things that we wish for. Often this sets us up for disappointment, and eventually we cease praying.
Here we have something of a model to follow. The son of Timaeus is firstly aware of his situation. He is a beggar, and the lack that he suffers is foremost in his mind.
At the news of Jesus’ passing by he is relentless in seeking his attention and pleading for his mercy. This is where we need to position ourselves – in humble acknowledgement of our need before God, acknowledging his greatness and crying out for his mercy.
Bartimaeus’ example continues. When he comes before the Lord he is not shy or embarrassed. He does not hide his needs in the face of the Lord’s greatness. “Rabbi, I want to see.”
How often do we let moments of grace such as this pass us by, refusing to acknowledge our need before God, thinking to myself instead that I will sort myself out first, and then present myself to God with a list of all that I have accomplished on my own.
This fails the test of reality because truly we cannot do much at all under our own steam – all is grace. All has been given freely to us, and our natural desire for infinite happiness remains stifled if we do not open ourselves, as did Bartimaeus to the grace that Jesus came to freely give.

Questioning Words

Do I seek out Jesus and offer him all that I am?

Am I open, bringing to God my faults and failings and asking for his mercy in the midst of my need, or do I hide my needs and my faults thinking that I can sort it out on my own?

Am I willing to accept the grace of God to work in my life, even through my shortcomings?