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, June 25, 2016

Blog movement

It sounds like bowel movement, but hopefully it is a bit cleaner.

I do not know if anyone reads this, but if you do, you will find this blog continuing on a new domain that my wife purchased for me to mark our first wedding anniversary. Easily enough, the domain is simply my name tomgourlay.com - I hope it is not considered too precocious to have my own name as a domain, but hey.

Friday, June 24, 2016

24 June - Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 9:51-62
‘Follow me’

We read in today’s Gospel something that is fundamental to the Christian life. More than any other precept or direction that Jesus gives, this one carries ultimate weight, “follow me.”
Our understanding of the Christian faith is so often one dominated by a moralism that is rightly seen as oppressive and slavish. For many this is repugnant and turns them off the faith, but for others, the reduction of the faith to a series of things that I can do to be justified is merely a convenient way to feel like I am in control. Against this, the words of today’s Gospel ring out clearly, and the essence of the Gospel calling is clearly articulated – to encounter and to follow Christ. (see also DCE, 1)
Following: This is the fundamental Christian activity. But this following is not a blind, mechanistic copying.
Fr Luigi Giussani points out that ‘following is not an unintelligent, unconscious attitude… it must be a heartfelt effort to identify with the motives of what is proposed to us.’ He continues, ‘Following does not mean being carried along by the tide; rather it is a personal decision, a continuous act of personal freedom… If you limit yourself to passive obedience it is not true obedience, Obedience requires the compliance of our entire self, with all our faculties.’ (JTE, 114)
When we read this, we should find it confronting. Jesus is asking us not for mere outward compliance, but for us to conform the entirety of our lives to him. He is asking me, you, all of us, to be saints. Not saints in an uber-pious, non-human, disembodied way, but a real, down to earth way, lived in and through the daily encounter with Christ, in the Sacraments, through his Church, and in the poor.
This is what it means to follow Christ, and this is

what we ask of his Holy Spirit in our prayer.

Point to Ponder

“Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:5-8). Christ dwells by faith in the heart of the believer (cf. Eph 3:17), and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord.”
-        Saint Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 21

Friday, June 17, 2016

19 June - Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 9:18-24
“Who do you say I am?”
American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, is often quoted as saying “Nothing is worse than the answer to a question no one is asking.”  
When we read today’s Gospel we engage with an exchange that hinges on a question – a question which when asked is like a bell that cannot be un-rung.
This is the question. The question. One that continues to confront every Christian today, and with the same force as it had nearly two thousand years ago, when Christ first addressed it to the disciples.
We might however wonder if this question is still being asked. It would seem, at least at face value, that the majority of people are content without asking this question, or are happily distracted from the idea that it needs to be asked.
If we are honest with ourselves however, it would seem that living in each of us there is a hope; a hope that there is more, than an answer does exist, and that that answer is indeed wonderful.
We suppress the existence of the question because we have lost hope that there is an answer, and yet, the very idea that an answer does exist thrills us, it sits on the boundary of our existence and opens up our otherwise fixed horizons. Can it be true?
Fr Luigi Giussani points out, that ‘[o]nly the hypothesis of God, only the affirmation of the mystery as a reality existing beyond our capacity to fathom entirely, only this hypothesis corresponds to the human person’s original structure.’ (57)

This question imposes itself on us today, and everyday – “Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks us, and he patiently awaits a response

Point to Ponder

“Only the hypothesis of God, only the affirmation of the mystery as a reality existing beyond our capacity to fathom entirely, only this hypothesis corresponds to the human person’s original structure. If it is human nature to indomitably search for an answer, if the structure of a human being is, then, this irresistible and inexhaustible question, plea—then one suppresses the question if one does not admit to the existence of an answer. But this answer cannot be anything but unfathomable. Only the existence of the mystery suits the structure of the human person, which is mendicity, insatiable begging, and what corresponds to him is neither he himself nor something he gives to himself, measures, or possesses.”
-         Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense (McGill-Queens University Press, 1997), 57

Sunday, June 12, 2016

12 June - Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 7:36-50
Who is this man…?

This is a question that continues to lurk at the heart of all those who come into contact with Jesus, or indeed who hear of him through another.
The Gospels contain a myriad of stories about Jesus, some fantastic, some seemingly mundane. He always manages to capture the attention of those around him, always he is a surprising presence. Somehow He manages to exceed all of our expectations in the most curious of ways.
Before him none can remain unmoved, and often his words and his presence spark an internal conflict within those who are there. His words, mysterious as they are awaken within his listeners the desire to hear more – despite at times their inability understand. In this I think of Andrew and John, in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. They didn’t know him, never saw him before. ‘They follow behind Him timidly and stay there all afternoon to see him speak, because they didn’t really even understand what He said. It was so evident that that man said true things, even if they didn’t understand them, that after they left, they repeated to others what He had said as if they were their thoughts’ (Giussani, 53).
In today’s Gospel the Pharisees find the truth of Jesus, a truth unmistakably bound up in mercy, so confronting that they are scandalised. While they may not fully comprehend the meaning of the words that he speaks, their truth resounds in their hearts and they are convicted from within. It is right here that the freedom of each of us in engaged, and a choice is forced upon us – will we react like the woman who feels the strength of these words, and, moved to contrition, reaches out to receive them; or will we like the Pharisees reject them as asking too much of us?
‘Are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?’ (JPII, 8 Oct. 1980)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

5 June - Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 7:11-17
“Opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside”

    One of the most fascinating elements of the whole Jesus story is that it continues to find perpetuate. Generation after generation, the experience of Jesus continues to inspire interest.
    In his own time, as we read in the Gospel today, Jesus’ actions, the words he spoke, and his mere presence became a significant talking point for all manner of people everywhere. His was a figure that demanded a response – he could not be ignored.
    Mysteriously, Jesus continues to present himself to us today. His is a presence that manifests itself most significantly in the lives of believers who have encountered him really and truly, not only through the verbal testimony of others, but through the actions of lives conformed to him – the living and visible presence of Jesus’ body, the Church.
    The event of the Incarnation, of God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus, happened concretely, at a point in time, when the angel appeared to Mary. Nevertheless, the Incarnation continues to happen in another sense today. As I open up as Mary did, to receive the Divine life within me, and bring it to bear on the life that I live. It is here that I become a conduit for others to encounter the person of Jesus. It is here that Christian faith becomes an event, an event that takes flesh in the world today. It is not simply a wonderful, pious idea or a moral code of ethics, but an encounter with a person, who becomes incarnate, (takes on flesh) in words and actions of love.

    The Christian faith then rises and falls on the openness of frail individuals, who live in that encounter with Jesus, and share it in word and deed with those around them.

Words to Ponder

“Christ. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life who reaches the person in his daily existence. The discovery of this way usually takes place through the mediation of other human beings. Identified through the gift of faith by the encounter with the Redeemer, believers are called to become an echo of the event of Christ, to become themselves an "event".”
- John Paul II

Friday, May 27, 2016

29 May - the Most Holy BODY and BLOOD of CHRIST

Gospel Luke 9:11-17
“Jesus made the crowds welcome…”

People flocked to Jesus.
He was a figure who was ultimately intriguing and was for many of his contemporaries, as he is for us today a source of fascination. No doubt the miracles he worked, like that recounted in today’s Gospel reading, or the great many miracles of healing that he performed, were big drawcards, but beyond this, there are many accounts which tell of the magnificent attraction of  Jesus’ words and his mere presence.
When we think, though, of Jesus and his message, we are often perplexed at how someone can say such weighty things, and get away with it.
But the opening lines of today’s Gospel are in this case very telling for us. He made the crowds welcome’, before going on to talk to them about the kingdom of God.
So often our experience of the Catholic or more broadly Christian faith is one of rules and regulations, of neatly packaged propositions or nuggets of truth which believers are forced to swallow. When we think, though, about the person of Jesus, as the way, the truth, and the life, we see a man who was not intent of forcing philosophical concepts onto the people, nor was he fixated on the following of rules.
What he came to offer was a freedom hitherto unknown in the world: a freedom from sin and death. This freedom comes about though through some pretty difficult modes, often requiring self-surrender and self-gift. It is here where Jesus’ gentle and welcoming nature is most affective - opening the hearts of those who were there such that the message he spoke could land on the fertile soil of their hearts.

For us today, who have been commissioned by Jesus [Mt 28:16-20] to teach others about and invite them into the Kingdom of God, we should take a leaf out of his book. To be firstly welcoming of those who are searching. And then, we must not fail to share with them the great gift of which we are recipients.

On the reception of guests
(taken from the Rule of St Benedict)
‘Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, 
for He is going to say, 
"I came as a guest, and you received Me" (Matt. 25:35).
And to all let due honor be shown,
especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims…
In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims
the greatest care and solicitude should be shown,
because it is especially in them that Christ is received;
for as far as the rich are concerned,
the very fear which they inspire
wins respect for them.’

Sunday, May 22, 2016

22 May - Trinity Sunday

“He will lead you to the complete truth”

There can be little more reassuring a line than these words of Jesus in John’s Gospel.
The disciples had been with Jesus for some time, and yet he remained for them a mystery.
Here he is, truth incarnate - a truth at once so simple and yet so complex that despite their personal knowledge of the man and his physical presence with them, he remained beyond the reach of their understanding.
I am struck, particularly in this year of mercy, of how God so understands fallen human nature in all its foibles and shortcomings. It seems that the whole of salvation history reads as a divine pedagogy of sorts, where God reveals himself gradually over time – beginning with Abraham, through Moses and the Prophets, before finally and fully revealing his very self in the person of Jesus. And yet, despite the event of this full, unreserved revelation, in his infinite mercy God ensures the ongoing reception of this truth in and through the person of his Holy Spirit.
While new revelations of God are no longer needed, the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in the world and in the Church prevent what has already been revealed in the Scripture and through the Tradition does not remain a dead letter, but remains active and dynamic in the life of the Church.

We pray to, in, and through the Holy Spirit, and trust in his continuing presence amongst us. We ask for him to continue to animate our lives so that the Christian faith does not become for us a museum piece, but instead remains a living presence, an event, an encounter which gives life a ‘new horizon and a decisive direction’, which reveals us to our very self and makes our supreme calling clear.

Prayer for the day
Taken from the Office of Readings for Trinity Sunday

God our Father,
    you revealed the great mystery of your godhead to men
    when you sent into the world
    the Word who is Truth
    and the Spirit who makes us holy.
Help us to believe in you and worship you,
    as the true faith teaches:
    three Persons, eternal in glory,
    one God, infinite in majesty.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
    one God, for ever and ever.