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

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?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

18 October 2015 - 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mk 10:35-45
“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 
and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
The Disciples are an interesting bunch. Despite the time they’ve spent with Jesus, it seems that his message of humility, service and self-sacrificial love is consistently lost on them.
The reading for this Sunday recounts the story of James and John asking Jesus for places of high honour in the Kingdom. Their question itself belies a particular ignorance of the Kingdom that Jesus had been teaching and preaching about, and so Jesus capitalises on this most teachable of moments.
Gathering his disciples together, he instructs them “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
These words are a radical challenge not only the pagans of Jesus’ day and the disciples to whom his words were first addressed, but for us who live in the modern world, Jesus’ words could not be more contradictory to current mode of being which we have inherited. For us today the assertion of one’s will and authority over self and others, and even nature itself is viewed as a supreme virtue. All must be bent to the power of the human will.
In this context, Christ’s words about humility and service or worse still meekness could not be more unpalatable!
Here, the example of sacrificial love and meekness that he gives is himself, the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve.
Indeed, Christ’s admonition to follow after him, to be meek and humble of heart, is a difficult task – and those who take a more pessimistic view of human nature would hold that what he asks is impossible. While the nay-sayers would claim that the last Christian died on the Cross, we can assert with St Paul that ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ [Phil 4:13]

Words of Wisdom
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.” 
― Mother Teresa

Monday, October 12, 2015

11 October 2015 - 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mk 10:17-30
 “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

The story recounted in today’s Gospel reading is one that we are no doubt familiar with. Here the rich young man, a good bloke by the sounds of it, approaches Jesus asking ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’
Something deep within him seems to drive him to want go beyond a merely moralistic adherence to the law. Here he encounters Christ and is drawn to something more. As Pope John Paul II observed, ‘For the young man, the question is not so much about rules to be followed, but about the full meaning of life.(JPII, Veritatis Splendor, 7).
While he rightly intuits that the eternal destiny of man is connected to the moral life – the rich young man is conscious that there must be something more that corresponds to the deepest desires of his heart. And so he approaches Jesus, the One who had begun his preaching with this new and decisive proclamation about the time being fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God being now at hand (Cf. Mk 1:15).
Jesus’ call to ‘sell everything you have and give to the poor,’ and, ‘follow me’ is a real challenge to this man, not because he is living an objectively bad life, but because his relative wealth affords him a comfort that he does not want to risk.
For many of us today, the comfort which our relative wealth affords us often prevents us from allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to experience true love - to risk all in our efforts to follow Christ.
The rich man goes away sad, and his is a sadness we might share in lest we take up the invitation to boldly risk all on account of love.
As John Paul II elsewhere reflects on the challenging words of Christ, ‘[a]re we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?’ (JPII 8 Oct 1980).
Let us pray for the grace to risk all on account of love.

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.