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.
Amen.

Friday, May 13, 2016

15 May - Pentecost Sunday

“He will give you another Advocate…”

The feast of Pentecost comes fifty days after the feast of the resurrection, and marks the close of the Easter season.
In the Christian tradition it can seem that we are constantly in the process of celebrating or remembering some significant event from long ago. This way of marking time is not however unique to the Catholic Christian tradition – it is something that is broadly human. We gather to mark special days on the calendar, be they birthdays, anniversaries of weddings, deaths, or other memorable events.
This natural phenomenon of collective remembering causes us to pause not just to remember something in the past, but also something continuing, something that is happening today.
If, for example, we are celebrating our birthday, we think not just about the fact of our birth, but of all that has happened since, and all that potentially lies before us. We celebrate the gifts of the year that has past, and the gift of the present.
On this particular day of Pentecost we recall a special gift, bestowed upon us, the Church, by Jesus himself –the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This Spirit, gifted to the Apostles by Jesus, is the same Spirit which animates us in the Church today. This Spirit, the Advocate, is the Spirit which hovered over the waters in the beginning; the same Spirit who inspired the authors of the Sacred Scriptures; the same Spirit who overshadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom she gave her fiat; the same Spirit who descended on Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost; and who now resides in the hearts of all the baptised.
This feast which we remember on Sunday is not simply a memory of an event long past, but an opportunity for us to step into the ongoing lived reality of the Spirit’s constant coming.

Veni Sancte Spiritus Veni per Mariam

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth. 


Veni Sancte Spiritus Veni per Mariam
Come Holy Spirit, Come through Mary

Friday, May 6, 2016

8 May - The Ascension of Our Lord

“as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven …”

The story which we mark today is perhaps one of the most fantastic that we have in the Gospels. After his death and resurrection we’ve been regaled with tales of his numerous miraculous appearances to the disciples, and now we find him physically taken up into heaven, and seated at the right hand of God.
At the time, despite their many experiences with Jesus, it seems that they still had little understanding of him – indeed, they were still expecting him to establish an earthly Kingdom of Israel.
For the disciples this episode of his ascension must have been an amazing experience: one so real and so important to them that Luke records it twice, once here in this reading, and later in the Acts of the Apostles. One can scarcely imagine how deeply the events of the last three years of their lives would have impacted them. And now this – as he blesses them he is taken from them into heaven.
But what does all this mean for me today, in my life?
It seems that our own understanding of Jesus is fairly limited also – despite whatever study we may have done to grow in that area – the person of Jesus always ultimately remains a mystery, yet one we are so strongly drawn to because it is in him that we the whole of human experience lived out most fully. In the words of the Vatican II Council, he ‘reveals us to ourselves.’
So why am I asked to believe that he ascended, body and soul into heaven? His ascension, it seems, allows him to be closer with me, with all people of all times and places. He is no longer bound by time and space.
The Ascension, says Italian priest Fr Luigi Giussani,  is a mystery that ‘completes the mystery of the Resurrection, amplifies and enlarges it to all of reality, all times, all history, eternity.’ (In the Depths of Things).

It establishes Jesus’ Kingdom on the unmovable reality of heaven as King of the universe, and Lord of history.

Food for thought
‘The Christian message announces the permanence of the fact of Christ, as a continuous happening – not something that happened once – but as something that still happens.’ (Luigi Giussani, Why the Church?, 203)

Friday, April 29, 2016

1 May - Sixth Sunday of Easter

Gospel Jn 15:9-17
“You did not choose me: no, I chose you”

The theme of today’s reading is one that we often reflect on – the love of God. We have recounted here before us a stunning message from Jesus to his disciples. He tells them clearly and beautifully of the love that he has for them. John, the author of this Gospel is clearly very affected by the reality of this love that he experienced directly from Christ – it is a recurring theme in his writings. Elsewhere he states explicitly that God doesn’t just have love - it is not simply one of his attributes, as though it is one among many. No, in point of fact, God actually is love. [1 Jn 4:8]
This can be a reality that is easily lost on us – in fact often the more we hear it, the less real it can seems. This image of love, detached from the reality of our lives becomes a trite, schmaltzy bit of warm-fuzzy nothingness.  But Jesus’ words here reveal the profound reality of what it means to love – words that are in fact deeply profound.
“A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” – Here is love: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
What this looks like in our lives may be different according to our current state in life: whether we are a parent, a friend, a husband or a wife, a boyfriend or a girlfriend, a son or a daughter. The call to love is not something that is just for some people. No, it is for each and every one of us. And it is in this act of loving, in this act of spending our lives in love and service of others that we find our true self.
The words of the Second Vatican Council, so often quoted by Pope St John Paul II echo this call; ”man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” [GS, 24]

Let us turn to Christ and ask that he will provide what is lacking in our love, and for the courage to spend our lives in love and service of him and those whom he loves.

Point to Ponder
Recognise that you have been chosen first. God has chosen me, as his beloved daughter or son.

We love only because he has loved us first.

Friday, April 8, 2016

10 April - Third Sunday of Easter

Gospel John 21:1-14
“I’m going fishing.”
Despite our familiarity with tragedy, it is hard to fathom how the disciples must have felt. Their friend and leader from whom they’d been inseparable for the last three years had been executed in the most public and horrendous of ways.
Despite news of his somehow being alive again, the confusion and fear that weighed on their hearts and minds must have been phenomenal. If a tragedy such as this could befall him who had been the most upright, though perplexing of persons, what was in store for them as his followers?
“Let’s go fishing”, suggests Simon Peter – a fisherman by trade, yet no doubt one who enjoyed the pastime. In his grief what he needs is familiarity, and some kind of activity to distract him perhaps.
When we actually sit down and read the Gospels it is often surprising, scandalous even, to find such banal or commonplace statements. We expect, and oftentimes get, elevated spiritual discourse, but just as often it seems, we are treated with mundane details of the ordinary and everyday, leading us at times to ask why such details are included. And yet, it is here, in the mystery of our everyday lives that the resurrected Christ comes to meet us.
We are often waiting for a big event to break upon us and open us up the spiritual realities that we hope exist somewhere out there, and often we find ourselves seeking out such experiences – we go on retreats, or find ourselves engaging in meditation or other ‘spiritual’ practices, hoping to connect with the mystery.
It is the inclusion in the Gospels of these rather mundane events that reminds us that it is right here, in the everyday, that Christ comes to meet us.
For Simon Peter and the others, this was a real, physical experience, but it can be for us as well. God cannot be contained to those spaces where we go to try and seek Him out, but can and will be found wherever we open ourselves to receive his love.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

27 March - Easter Sunday, of the Resurrection

Gospel Jn 20:1-9
“[A]nd he saw and believed …”

These words strike me with a particular strength. ‘He saw and believed.’
The disciples had followed Jesus for three years, and upon his arrest only John had stuck around to witness the horrific events of his execution and death. News had obviously circulated and the disciples, whether they had physically witnessed it or not, no doubt knew and understood the fate of their friend.
Overcome with grief, Peter and John ran to the gravesite upon hearing Mary Mag′dalene’s news of the open tomb. John reached the tomb earlier but waited for Peter to enter first.
What they saw was enough – without seeing or conversing with the resurrected Jesus (something that they would do in the not too distant future), they ‘saw and believed.’
So often for us today, sight is required for belief in almost everything. For the most part we require an experience of something if we are to profess our belief in it – particularly if said assertion is extraordinary, as in the case of the resurrection. In such a circumstance, how are we to come to belief? Where is my evidence for belief in the resurrection?
If the resurrection had not happened things would be different. There would be no reason at all for our hope. Death would be the end.

Our evidence then is not just the verbal or written testimony of those men and women who witnessed the risen Lord – but it is the witness of the lives of those around us which have been radically transformed by the hope which accompanies this resurrection. As we enter into these last few days of the Lenten season we rightly reflect on the suffering and death of Our Lord, but let us not give in to despair. This is not the end, for he has overcome death.

Point to Ponder
“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” Pope St John Paul II

Friday, March 18, 2016

20 March 2016 - Palm Sunday

‘I tell you, if these keep silence the stones will cry out.’
‘The stones will cry out.’ What an incredible claim!?
As we near the end of this Lenten season and approach Easter, the central claims of Christianity come starkly into view.
At the origin of the Christian claim stands this figure. Jesus.
On one hand he is seemingly unremarkable. The son of a carpenter, living a somewhat obscure existence, wholly unremarkable in the backwaters of first century Palestine until, that is, he reaches the age of around 30, when he begins a three year period of intense activity; preaching, teaching, healing, performing miracles, and the like. More than this though, it seems that in the stories recounted in the Gospels, it is his mere presence which elicits the greatest response – either of loving acceptance or utter derision and rejection.
Jesus was a polarising figure, and he continues to be today. His very existence makes a claim on us, and requires of us an answer.
The events of today’s Gospel remind us of this harsh reality – one cannot remain indifferent toward Jesus. Even the stones will cry out his praises should we all remain silent.

Christians of all ages, beginning with his Disciples and carrying on down throughout the centuries have found in the person of Jesus, something that resonates deeply within their hearts. It is this personal encounter, which for many of us happens through his Body on earth, the Church, which fundamentally changes us, opening up new horizons and making our supreme calling clear.

Point to Ponder
‘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.’
– Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1

Sunday, March 13, 2016

13 March 2016 - Fifth Sunday of Lent

Gospel Jn 8:1-11
‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’
The stories of Jesus in the Gospels can sometimes be confusing. On one hand we have stories like this, which seem to depict Jesus as ultimately tolerant, and perhaps even what some might consider weak on sin. On the other hand there are stories such as the cleansing of the temple, which seem to paint a picture of Jesus who is altogether intolerant and impatient with sinners. What are we to make of this?
It seems that, in this story, Jesus trying to provide some useful correction, not just to the woman caught in adultery, but to all assembled – and perhaps most particularly – to those accusing her, those seeking to meet out the punishment prescribed in the law.
Jesus does not however, feel the need to harp on about the various transgressions of the law. He can see into the hearts of all. Instead, he holds up to each person their something of a mirror – inviting them to look inwardly at the state of their own soul.
Jesus’ invitation for anyone who is without sin to throw the first stone is cutting – it does not reflect on any acceptance of the sin of the woman, but instead forces everyone to take stock of their own position before God.
There is an old Christian saying that goes, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ which is basically an invitation to put ourselves in the shoes of others. We do not know what our life would be like without the wonderful gifts that God has bestowed on us, through our family, friends or other circumstances.
Our task is not to judge others but to help them, and to work on ourselves, to take hold of the gifts which we have been given and to ‘go, and sin no more.’


Friday, March 4, 2016

4 March 2016 - Fourth Sunday of Lent

My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours.
This parable, spoken by Jesus is one of the most famous of all his sayings and stories. Pope Francis is his recent book-length interview referred to the parable of the Prodigal Son as the Gospel in miniature.
His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this parable, with the title ‘the parable of the two sons’, as for him, the parable is as much about the wandering or prodigal son as it is about the son who stays at home, and it is upon this son that I’d like to draw out some reflections today.
Upon the return of his wayward brother the older son closes himself off. He refuses to participate in the celebrations that are accompanying his return. He, it seems, is not operating out of a logic of love freely given and received. No. Instead his logic is economically minded, in the sense that he sees the love of the father as something of a reward for good behaviour or services rendered.
The father’s response to him is significant. He points out how impoverished this view really is, telling his son that, ‘you are with me always and all I have is yours.’ The son had not seen that he had already inherited all that he had wanted and more, and instead held an erroneous view of his father, one which prevented him from establishing any real relationship of love with him.
Often we find ourselves in the shoes of the lost or prodigal son, and this story is one which gives great comfort and solace. The story however becomes much more challenging when we find ourselves in the shoes of the son who had seemingly done no wrong. In these instances we must remember that ‘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.’ [BXI, DCE n.1]

We cannot reduce the Gospel to ethic or philosophical propositions, but live from that point of encounter.

Friday, February 26, 2016

28 February 2016 - Third Sunday of Lent

Gospel Luke 13:1-9
‘But unless you repent you will all perish as they did’
There is something a little unnerving in this brief passage put before us in today’s reading.
This time of lent is a graced time, one where we are encouraged to intensify our regular spiritual practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is also a penitential season, a time for self-examination in light of the love of God, a love which took on human flesh in the person of Jesus, and which manifest itself in the sacrifice that Jesus undertook for us on the Cross.
This self-examination is not supposed to be an act of fearful self-deprecation, inspired by a particularly harsh reading of texts such as what is before us today, but instead we are to take a realistic look at who we are, in light of our creation as Imago Dei (the image of God) and, perhaps more specifically in light of the person of Jesus who fully reveals us to ourselves (see Gaudium et Spes n. 22).
The opportunity to repent, as seen in today’s reading instead should be looked at as a mercy. Like the fig tree that failed to produce fruit in due season, the opportunity to repent is an opportunity to be re-planted in Christ, from where we draw the strength to bear fruit that will last.
The act of repentance asked of us here is one that opens us up to experience the love and mercy of God.
Let us pray for the grace of a repentant heart this Lenten season, so that we can experience more fully the love and mercy of God the Father.

Point to Ponder
“Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite. Also infinite therefore and inexhaustible is the Father's readiness to receive the prodigal children who return to His home. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son. No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ.”
(St Pope John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 13)

Friday, February 19, 2016

21 February 2016 - Second Sunday of Lent

 Gospel Lk9:28-36 
“It is wonderful for us to be here”
When one pictures the kind of fantastical event as described here, it can seem that Peter’s reaction is a little simple or even childish. Set aside from the other disciples, he along with John and James are brought up the mountain to pray with Jesus where they witness something truly out of this world.
James and John are not recorded as having said or done anything in response to what they had witnessed, and perhaps we can assume that they were so moved that they felt it best to respect the solemnity of the moment with silence.
Peter, on the other hand bombastically fumbles forward, as he often does, speaking before he’s had time to think. Seemingly overwhelmed with excitement he says to Jesus stating, what must have been absolutely obvious, how great it is that he’s there to see all this unfolding. Then he embarrassingly suggests that they set up camp here and spend the rest of their lives enjoying these good times.
Peter obviously does not know the difficult times that lie ahead - not just for Jesus, but for him and all the rest of the disciples, this ‘mountaintop experience’ or time of consolation is perhaps gifted to them by Jesus as a means by which they can get through the tough times, or times of desolation.

Like Peter we often find ourselves nostalgic for the good times, and in our own childish way can find ourselves wishing that nothing will ever change. Yet perhaps we can recognise that these good times, or times of consolation are gifted to us, to help maintain us on the right path when times get tough or things become uncertain.

Friday, February 12, 2016

14 February 2016 - First Sunday of Lent

Gospel Lk 4:1-13
Man does not live on bread alone.

On the first Sunday of Lent, the Church puts before us this account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.
At its most basic level, the story of Jesus’ 40 day period of fasting and prayer is for us a source of strength as we undertake our Lenten journey. With all its difficulties and penances, we are comforted by the fact that that He who is without sin is still very much like us in his capacity to experience real temptation.
At a deeper level however, we can see something perhaps more profound in the story. In the first volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI devoted his second chapter to what is a truly insightful reflection on today’s reading.
In his reflection on the first temptation, the then-Pope pointed out how at its root, this temptation is not so much about Jesus satisfying his own hunger, but that of elevating the second commandment, to love one’s neighbour, over the first, to love God.
Often we experience the temptation to reduce the Gospel to meeting the physical and social needs of those around us. When this happens our charitable works become nothing more than mere philanthropy, which often leaves out the personal dimension in our call to care for the poor. While our attempts to feed the hungry are indeed well intentioned, Jesus’ response to this temptation, that “man does not live by bread alone” causes us to ask the question ‘what then, does he “live” by?’
According to Benedict, "At the heart of all temptations ... is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives" (p. 28)
We stand in need of a constant reminder that God is the answer to the deepest longings of the human heart, and that the ongoing temptation to satisfy these longings without God will always end in greater suffering.

Point to Ponder
"Is he real, reality itself, or isn't he? Is he good, or do we have to invent the good ourselves? The God question is the fundamental question, and sets us down right at the crossroads of human existence"
(Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, vol.1, p.29)