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, November 30, 2014

30 November 2014 - 1st Sunday of Advent

Gospel Mark 13:33-37
Stay Awake!

In the season of Advent the Church puts before us a number of readings which have us reflect on the end times when Christ comes again. Today’s reading on this first Sunday of Advent see’s Jesus giving clear advice to his disciples – ‘Stay awake!’, ‘Always be ready!’
These rather ominous sounding words ring out clearly reminding us that we are not just preparing in this Advent Season to remember the coming of the Christ Child in the stable of Bethlehem nearly 2000 years ago, but also to remember that ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,’ as we say each week in the Creed.
What does it mean though for us to stay awake? Sure, we must always try to have our own house in order, to make every effort to remain in the state of grace through frequent recourse to the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist. But along with this we need to be prepared to meet Christ in his intermediary coming in our daily prayer, in our frequent interactions with those around us, with those in need, whether that be physical emotional, spiritual or something else.
Jesus exhorts us to stay awake and be ready to meet him in the people and in the situations where we are often most uncomfortable.

Questioning Words
How can I take time out this Advent to get my own house in order so to speak, to ready myself for Jesus’ coming again?
Am I awake to those around me who are in need?
Have I taken time out to pray this week?
How can I wake myself up this Advent to be ready for Christ’s second coming?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

23 November 2014: The Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Gospel Mt 25:31-34
More than mere social justice
Today’s Gospel has Jesus prophesying how things will be in the end times when he returns in glory. Jesus goes on to liken himself to the person who is hungry, thirsty, the person who is a stranger, who is naked, sick or imprisoned. Whenever such people are ignored or worse exploited, it is as though we are ignoring or exploiting Christ himself. Conversely, any act of charity directed to these unfortunate ones is treated as though it was done directly to him.
What Christ is asking of us is more than a well meaning philanthropy, as praiseworthy as that may be. What he is calling to us to is not merely a warm and fuzzy recommendation that we ‘be nice.’ Nor is it even a gritty social justice which would see us sleeves rolled up, getting our hands dirty helping those who are less fortunate that ourselves. Sure, those things are good in and of themselves, but he is calling us to more than that. He is calling us to be motivated in all things by the very love of God.

Ask yourself…
What can I do to show love for the less fortunate in my own community?
During the coming season of Advent how can I enact the mercy of God to those around me?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

16 November 2014: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 25:14-30
Taking a gamble

Inevitably, this Gospel reading lends itself to the kind of reflection that says, ‘don’t waste your God-given talents.’ And really, that’s not a bad message to take away from the reading this Sunday. But perhaps there’s more to be learned here.
As a matter of fact, the thing that struck me the most when reflecting on this parable of Our Lord is the absolute recklessness of the two first servants, who traded all that they had been given in the hope of making more for their master. Their investment seems to me to be a pretty risky gamble. Just imagine if they’d lost everything!
The one servant who very carefully goes about burying his talent for safe keeping was probably thinking to himself, ‘At least I won’t lose it. I will have something to give back to my master upon his return.’ In the end, we know what happened. The master took his conservative attitude as irresponsible. Why is that?
In a certain sense, Jesus is asking us to trust Him. He has given us these talents, not so that we would lock them up safely and never use them, but to put them to work for his greater glory in the building up of His Kingdom – building a culture of life and love. Like the two first servants, we need to be fearless in putting our talents to work for the good, holding nothing back, clear in the knowledge that God will in fact bless our efforts when they are put to work in furthering His Kingdom.

Ask yourself…
Am I aware of the many gifts that God has given me, and the gifts that others see in me?
Have I back in offering my gifts to God and to those around me?
How can I employ my own gifts for the building up of God’s Kingdom?
Am I paralysed by fear or animated by trust?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

9 November 2014: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Gospel Jn 2:13-22
Being Zealous for the Lord

This week’s Gospel reading is indeed a tough one. So often we are presented with schmaltzy, warm fuzzy images of Jesus – the perennial nice-guy, who encourages us all to love one another, not judge anybody or anything and generally be good people. The image we are presented with here cannot be more different.
Jesus’ actions seem extreme to say the very least. Making a whip out of some cord and driving the money traders and merchants out of the Temple seems rather confounding for someone whom we often envision as mild-mannered and who, in last week’s Gospel spoke of himself as being ‘meek and humble of heart.’
The telling phrase for me in this reading is the remembrance of the disciples of the words of Scripture ‘zeal for your house will devour me.’
What does this mean? How do Jesus’ actions show a zeal for God’s house? Surely everyone is welcome in God’s house – aren’t they?
Indeed, for Jesus, the activities which were being undertaken can be symbolic of all the many obstacles which stand in the way (and which we often put in the way) of the life of holiness that he calls us to. They are obstacles to our living in the house of the Lord.
Jesus is consumed in his zeal for holiness and consequently he takes such a strong stance against those things which stand in our way – he calls us to do the same. To be merciless to those things, those bad habits, thoughts and actions which prevent us from living more fully in his love.

Questioning Words
What can I cut out of my life that would allow me to live more fully the joy which comes from living a life united to Christ?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

2 November 2014: The Feast of All Souls

Gospel Matthew 11:25-30
Moving past the abstractions and encountering the person

This week we read Jesus’ invitation to come and give our worries and our cares over to him. It is fitting as we enter into the month of November, when we dedicate our prayers to God for the souls of those who have died. The sufferings and the hardships that come with this remembering can be paralysing.
And so while this invitation is comforting for most of us at one time or another, it is an invitation that can seem rather abstract. Perhaps this was possible for the disciples when they were walking and talking with him to share their concerns and worries with the Lord, but after he had died, risen and ascended into heaven, doesn't the idea of resting in Christ become something rather abstract? How is it that he is supposed shoulder our burdens when we can’t see him?
Sure, we have the risen Christ with us today, but it’s just not the same. The risen Christ for most of us is an abstraction. He ‘died and was buried and rose again on the third day’, so we say in the creed each Sunday - but what does this mean for us? This real, human encounter with the person of Jesus, if that doesn't exist today, then it’s simply pointless. No amount of orthodoxy or morality or philosophy can bring it back if there is no encounter. The problem that we have is making the Christian proposal not just a theoretical one, but a fact of life.
How do we have this encounter? Most often we simply don’t allow ourselves to experience God because we make ourselves too busy. Our leisure time is used to immerse ourselves in a sea entertainment, in television, youtube, facebook and the like. We surround ourselves with noise and leave ourselves little to no time for silence and prayer. Often we simply aren’t comfortable in that silence as it is there where our worries and our burdens can overwhelm us. But, in fact, it is right there where Jesus says to us ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.’
How can I make time to encounter him in my day to day?

Wise words from Pope Benedict XVI
‘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.’ (Deus Caristas Est, 1)



Sunday, October 26, 2014

25 October 2014: 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 22:34-40
The new horizon of love

The Gospel readings for these last few weeks have seen Jesus constantly harassed by Pharisees and Sadducees and Herodians, all of which seem to be trying to trip him up and catch him out, to get him to say something that they could arrest or at least vilify him for. There was obviously something about Jesus that challenged these people, all representatives of the established structures of the society in which Jesus lived.
What is encouraging here is that Jesus does not engage at all in the internal squabbles of the established religious groupings. Instead he quickly identifies the commandments which summarise the entirety of the Law and the Prophets and in doing so lays out a great challenge for one and all.
The command to love, both God and neighbour, is a tough one firstly because I don’t necessarily see God and my neighbour can be the most annoying person on earth and secondly, because it seems impossible to be totally selfless all the time.
What I think is interesting here is that in loving God there is a whole new horizon opened up which supersedes the rule based mentality that the Pharisee’s exhibited, and which we so easily find ourselves falling into. For Jesus the most important commandments are not those which dictate moral norms or liturgical practices (though these are incredibly important). The most important thing is love: love of God, and love of neighbour.

Questioning Words
What would it look like if I was to let a love for God and neighbour really animate my daily life?
What are some of the practical ways that I can show love for those who are close to me?
What are some ways that I can show love to those who I find it difficult to be around?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

20 October 2014: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 22:15-21
Render Unto Caesar

Entering into this story doesn’t seem to be all that difficult. Jesus is likely with his disciples and others who are interested, imparting his teaching upon them when a group of Pharisee approach him with a question. He is used to this it seems, as they’re always trying to catch him off guard.
The question this time however gives him an even greater opportunity to explicate his teaching. The Pharisees come at him with a moral concern – the taxes they would pay to Caesar would no doubt be used, at least in part, to fund the ongoing oppression of their people. On the other hand, they come to him with a band of Herodians, those loyal to the King who had been imposed on them by Roman Empirical decree. It seems that Jesus is stuck between a rock and a hard place - there is seemingly nowhere for him to go. If he declares it immoral for the tax to be paid the Herodians will arrest him and have him turned over for persecution.
Jesus’ response however takes them well and truly off-guard. His response is to bring the issue back to a more fundamental principle. While he acknowledges that there are in fact temporal or earthly responsibilities that we as citizens must responsibly participate in, he encourages us not to get too caught up in that. Our primary responsibility as a citizen of the heavenly kingdom is to render to God what is His due.
For the image of Caesar is imprinted on the coin and thus in a certain sense, it belongs to him. But the image of God is imprinted on each and every one of us [Gen 1:26] and thus it is our duty to surrender ourselves, whole and entire – body, soul and will – to Him.
The final line of this story, not included in the reading for this Sunday reads: “When they heard it, they marvelled; and they left him and went away.” The words of Jesus here are marvellous indeed. Instead of allowing himself to be dragged into a muddy debate where he most certainly could not emerge cleanly, Jesus reframes the question encouraging both civic responsibility and religious devotion.

Questioning Words
Am I taking care to ensure that I meet all my civic responsibilities?
Have I considered what it is that I owe to God? Am I prepared to give that to Him?
What would it look like to live a life of abandonment to God?
Is there anything holding me back?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

12 October 2014: 28 Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 22:1-14
All are invited to the Wedding Feast
The parable that Jesus tells in this week’s Gospel uses the familiar imagery of the wedding feast, one which is quite common throughout the whole of biblical literature.
Here Christ compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast, one to which everyone is invited. Those that scorn and refuse the invitation are certainly not forced to attend against their will.
After the refusal of the original guests the invitation went out to one and all, the bad and the good alike, and the wedding hall we are told was filled with guests. We can imagine the joy and frivolity that would have accompanied such a large crowd celebrating the marriage of the son of a king! No expense would be spared with good food, music and dancing. What a wonderful vision of heaven!
One curious detail is included in this story however, and it is that of the guest who took no care to prepare himself for the wedding celebration. The king deals with this guest rather harshly it seems and after an initial inquiry to which the man is non-responsive, the king instructs his servants to bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the dark. What could this possibly mean?
It seems that while all are welcome to attend the joyous wedding celebration of the marriage of the king’s son, there is a requirement that some effort is gone to on the part of the guests before arriving. One can imagine arriving at a wedding celebration after just rolling out of bed, or after a days work in the garden – it would hardly be honouring of the host, indeed it would likely be considered an insult.
In this parable we see a glimpse of the unfathomable mercy of God, but we also get a sense of his justice – all are invited to the wedding feast but there is an expectation that we make some effort to prepare ourselves for this joyous occasion.
The putting off of our old garments and the wearing of a wedding garment has traditionally been understood as the putting off of our old, selfish and sinful ways, and the putting on of the life of grace, which God gives us in His mercy. The invitation is open, and God will give us the grace to aid us in preparing ourselves if we but only ask Him.

Truth Nugget
God loves us the way we are, but too much to let us stay that way

Sunday, October 5, 2014

5 October 2014 - 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 21:33-43
No Cheap Grace
This week’s Gospel has Jesus presenting a parable which really throws us off. We are somewhat shocked at the behaviour of the tenants of the vineyard, who seem utterly consumed in their greed, willing to stop at nothing, not even murder, to satisfy their lust for riches and produce which in fact was not theirs to keep.
The owner of the vineyard is tireless in his attempts to reason with these tenants, and omits nothing from his attempts to bring salvation to these wicked tenants, not even sparing his son. As their wickedness increased so too did the mercy of the land owner.
The allegory here is obvious, the landowner is an image of God the Father, and the tenants are in a certain sense representatives of each and every one of us who at times neglect to do justice towards God, not giving him his due.
What is important to note here is that God is showing the unfathomable depths of His mercy, to the point of sending his Son into the fray, knowing that he will be in danger – risking his very life.
We are constantly in need of reminders of God’s mercy – we need reminders that God is not simply on the lookout for things to punish us for but instead is looking for opportunities to save us from our own selfish and sinful desires.
In all this too, we must remember at what cost His mercy comes – the blood of His Son. It is in remembering this that we do not take God’s mercy for granted. Mercy is no cheap grace, and while it cannot be earned, it must be received freely, as a gift freely given. God will not force it upon us.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

7 September 2014: 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 16:21-27
Finding the Courage
Today’s Gospel has some really practical advice for us all, advice that we often need to be reminded of. Jesus clearly here is instructing his disciples of the best way to deal with grievances that occur within the community.
It is clear and direct. His advice is not to brood over past hurts, or current activities that might be causing us anger or anxiety. Instead, he directs us, to go to the one who is acting wrongly and speak to him or her about it. Jesus’ advice here is pertinent particularly to those of us who shy away from any situation where there may be conflict.
For those of us who do often seek to avoid confrontation, there is a tendency to not address such issues. In fact, we might find such occurrences to be occasions of sin, as we express our frustrations in less that desirable ways such as outbursts of anger, gossip or detraction. In such cases Jesus’ words are fact words which will bring a much deeper peace than can be achieved by avoiding such confrontation.
In such times we remember that we can pray for the courage to deal appropriately with those issues which may be causing us anxiety.

Questioning Words
What are some situations in my life right now where I need to courageously step out an address issues that concern me?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

31 August 2014 - 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 16:21-27
Advice worth heeding
Today’s Gospel has some really practical advice for us all, advice that we often need to be reminded of. Jesus clearly here is instructing his disciples of the best way to deal with grievances that occur within the community.
It is clear and direct. His advice is not to brood over past hurts, or current activities that might be causing us anger or anxiety. Instead, he directs us, to go to the one who is acting wrongly and speak to him or her about it. Jesus’ advice here is pertinent particularly to those of us who shy away from any situation where there may be conflict.
For those of us who do often seek to avoid confrontation, there is a tendency to not address such issues. In fact, we might find such occurrences to be occasions of sin, as we express our frustrations in less that desirable ways such as outbursts of anger, gossip or detraction. In such cases Jesus’ words are fact words which will bring a much deeper peace than can be achieved by avoiding such confrontation.
In such times we remember that we can pray for the courage to deal appropriately with those issues which may be causing us anxiety.

Questioning Words
What are some situations in my life right now where I need to courageously step out an address issues that concern me?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

24 August 2014: 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 16:13-20
Who do YOU say I am?
Sometimes we stumble across a gospel passage which is hits us really hard. Today’s gospel is one such instance. Here we have Jesus asking what is seemingly a simple question: ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ The disciples seem pretty happy to answer such a question, pointing out the many and varied accounts that were circulating at the time.
Jesus then directs the question to the disciples asking, ‘But you, who do you say I am?’ What is interesting here is that, at this point in the story, the disciples fall silent. This is a crucial question for them all, as it is for us today. The answer that we provide will have serious consequences for how my life is lived from here on out.
Like the disciples, I am happy to recount other people’s theories about his identity, but am nervous when asked to reveal my own position on this. Jesus makes a claim unlike any other in history, and there is a wealth of evidence to support such a claim. Am I willing to accept that? Am I open to the claim that such a response will make on my life?
Will I be like Peter, the gutsy one who rushes in with a response, seemingly thoughtless about the demands such a response will place upon him. Or will I nervously hold back, unwilling to commit with a response?

Questioning Words
Who do I say that Jesus is?
What does my answer mean for me in my life right now?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

17 August 2014: 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 15:21-28
You have great faith, let your wish be granted
The woman in today’s Gospel is one of great faith and humility. She saw Jesus walking through the town and called out to him, not caring how her pleas would be perceived by onlookers, begging for his mercy to be shown to her in the healing of her daughter.
What is interesting in this story is that the woman identifies personally with the suffering of her daughter; she is truly compassionate, suffering with her daughter – taking on her sufferings as her own.
In her pleading with Jesus for mercy and healing she does not lay any stress on her own merits, but abandons herself to the goodness and mercy of Jesus.
For us then, this woman is a model of faith and humility, someone we should endeavour to emulate. In approaching God in prayer we do not need to list our accomplishments, nor do we need to attempt to use our good deeds as bargaining chips before God.
Our prayer and petition to God need not be akin to an economic transaction. In fact, God’s mercy, healing and forgiveness is wholly gratuitous and unmerited – pure gift.
As Jesus showed in today’s Gospel, he is willing to give in abundance to those who humbly submit to him in prayer with the openness to receive.

Questioning Words
Do I sometimes look at my good deeds as bargaining chips to be used with God?
How often do I simply ask God for what I need with the trust of the woman in today’s Gospel?
What areas of my life would benefit from God’s mercy and healing?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

10 August 2014: 19 Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Reading: Mt 14:22-33
Jesus made the disciples get in the boat
I often think about Peter in this story. He seems like he would have been a good guy to spend some time with. Seemingly, he’s the most enthusiastic bloke of the whole bunch of disciples – always the first to volunteer for a task, always the first to put his foot in his mouth, and always the first to apologise for any wrong doing. His is a faith which is child-like, but certainly not childish.
In today’s Gospel we read the familiar story of Jesus walking on the water. Interestingly it begins with Jesus making His disciples get into the boat. You can imagine the scene, Jesus telling them to go on ahead and that he will catch up to them later, and the disciples, Peter first among them, complaining that they want to stay with Him. Finally, after some discussion Jesus insists that they all get into the boat so he can have to time to pray by himself.
Later, when they see him walking on the water, it is Peter who is the first to pipe-up and yell out to the seemingly ghostly figure. With child-like faith and trust in Jesus he asks if he too can join Jesus out on the water, and being granted permission steps overboard and begins to walk on the water towards Jesus. I admire Peter’s audacity in asking that question. He doesn’t doubt that Jesus can grant him this power and he’s not embarrassed to ask or step out into the unknown.
Peter’s faith in Jesus is like that of a child’s faith in his or her parents. Not afraid to ask for anything at all, trusting that only good things will be given, and not afraid

Questioning Words
How can I foster that child-like faith that Peter had?
What do I have to let go of in order to allow Jesus to work in the busy-ness of my everyday life?