Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: October 2016

The Closure of the JPII Institute


It was with tremendous sadness that I learned of the impending closure of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne.

As a student of the Institute, I am close to faculty, staff, fellow students, and alumni, and feel very strongly about the mission which Saint John Paul II, the Great entrusted this academy.

There is much that could be said, and I am hopeful that there is appropriate transparency in future.

For now, I present the testimony which I included in the document compiled by the student association. This larger document was presented to Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, who took the decision to close the Institute.

I enrolled, part-time, at the JPII Institute in 2011, having spent a number of years teaching Religious Education in Catholic schools here in Perth, Western Australia, and having completed a Masters in Education specialising in Religious Education. I was looking for a more robust understanding of the Church’s teaching on love and sexuality that would extend beyond the kind of presentations which I had experienced up unto that point which were, on the one hand, rigid, impersonal and moralistic, and on the other hand, ineffectual, impotent, and flaccid. I was searching for something that would speak to my students in the reality of their experience, but which would also present to them the adventure of the life of holiness that comes from following Christ.

What I came to experience at the Institute was an integrated theological education that grounded the Church’s teaching in these areas deeply in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, and within a profoundly rich theological anthropology.

While the faculty of the JPII Institute are engaged in world-class scholarship, with an impressive publications record that far exceeds larger, more well-endowed institutions, they are also among the most gifted educators and communicators I have witnessed. I am fortunate enough to have been part of the scholarly community that has grown up around the Institute, which includes faculty, staff, students and others, (nationally and internationally), who are bound together in a common search for Truth and holiness.

On a personal note, the studies I have been so blessed to undertake at the Institute have provided me with much more than an intellectual understanding of the Church’s rich Tradition, they have taught me that theological thinking cannot be separated from a life of prayer and self-gift. I have witnessed this in my teachers, in the staff, and in the students of the Institute.

I am tremendously thankful to Archbishop Hart and to the Archdiocese of Melbourne for having hosted the Institute all these years and having allowed such scholarship to flourish under its patronage. I accept with filial obedience the decision to close the Institute and am all the same deeply saddened by this action, particularly as I believe that the work of the Institute is much needed, not only in the Church in Australia and Oceania, but also in society at large.

I am hoping to graduate in April 2017, and so will be part of the penultimate graduating class of the Institute.

Tom Gourlay BEd MEd  (UNDA)

Manager, Campus Ministry, The University of Notre Dame Australia

President, The Christopher Dawson Society for Philosophy and Culture Inc.

23 October – Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 18:9-14

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

In a recent interview, the now emeritus pope Benedict XVI observed that, in our present world man today does not feel the need to be justified before God, ‘but rather he is of the opinion that God is obliged to justify Himself [to man] because of all the horrible things in the world and in the face of the misery of being human, all of which ultimately depend on Him.’ People of today are almost like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, as he stands before God listing a litany of good works. In the face of the tremendous suffering that exists in the world today, which we often pin on God, we feel self-justified, ‘if He is all good and all powerful, why can’t He or won’t He do anything about all this suffering?

This habit of mind makes us to look to the tax collector in today’s story with a sense of baffled wonder. We envy his ability to hope so radically in God’s mercy, but we are afraid to let go of everything and surrender ourselves to His care. We fear God’s justice, and do not trust His mercy.

In the same interview, Benedict spoke of how, like John Paul II, Pope Francis’ “pastoral practice is expressed in the fact that he continually speaks to us of God’s mercy.” He points out that “under a veneer of self-assuredness and self-righteousness, the man of today hides a deep knowledge of his wounds and his unworthiness before God. He is waiting [perhaps unknowingly] for mercy.” Pope Francis, when asked about this explains that ‘humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds, or it believes it’s not possible to cure them.’

The tax collector in this story serves for us as a model, of one who knows himself deeply, and of his need for mercy – but also one who knows also the mystery of God’s unfathomable Mercy and trusts in God’s goodness to give it to him. He hopes in the gift of mercy, and opens himself to receive it.

Point to Ponder

“If we—all of us—accept the grace of Jesus Christ, he changes our heart and from sinners makes us saints. To become holy we do not need to turn our eyes away and look somewhere else, or have as it were the face on a holy card! No, no, that is not necessary. To become saints only one thing is necessary: to accept the grace that the Father gives us in Jesus Christ. There, this grace changes our heart. We continue to be sinners for we are weak, but with this grace which makes us feel that the Lord is good, that the Lord is merciful, that the Lord waits for us, that the Lord pardons us—this immense grace that changes our heart.”

― Pope Francis, The Church of Mercy

16 October – Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

 Gospel Luke 18:1-8

“Pray continually and never lose heart.”

We hear these words and feel that they ask something impossible of us, and so we are tempted to dismiss it out of hand.

In the early centuries of Christianity, there were some, as there are today, who stole away to live a life of constant prayer, often alone in the desert, but later in monastic communities.

This specific calling that some receive and live out, is for those of us still ‘in the world’ a witness to the kind of radical communion with God that is on offer, and should be sought after in all walks of life. The challenge for us, who live and work ‘in the world’ with jobs, and studies, and families to attend to, is how we can live out this call to pray constantly, all the while attending to our real and important tasks.

How do we do this? The great saints throughout the ages have recommended that, in order to pray constantly we first need to set aside and prioritise specific time(s) for daily prayer. In this, we are to seek conversation with God – to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The treasury of the Church’s tradition is replete with a wide variety of prayer practices, but all remind us that most fundamentally prayer is a gift of God to us, more than it is the other way around. In prayer we, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, first and most fundamentally open ourselves to the indwelling of the Spirit. Union with God in prayer is not the result of a specific technique that can be mastered, it is solely a gift.

Making time then, perhaps at the beginning and end of each day, to encounter God present among us, to spend time with Him, to share with Him our cares and troubles, to thank Him for the many gifts which He so generously bestows upon us is the first step to this constant prayer/communion to which we are called.

Transformed by this daily encounter, we then can live each moment in the presence of God with us.

We must request the strength of the Father, the strength of God. The strength of God is a man, the mercy of God has in history a name: Jesus Christ… We must request Jesus! “Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Lord” is the cry that sums up all human history, the history of the relationship between man and God in the Bible. Go and get the Bible, on the last page, the last words are these: “Come, Lord”. We must pray. It is a begging, it is not a strength, but the extreme weakness, the extreme expression of the knowledge of the weakness that is in us. The awareness of our weakness becomes begging. Begging is the last possibility of strength fitted to our destiny, it renders man fitted to destiny. It is normally called prayer.

Luigi Giussani, ‘Event of freedom. Conversations with young university students’, Marietti, Genoa 2002, p. 56

9 October – Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:11-19

“Jesus! Master! Take pity on us!”

There is much to consider in the story before us.

The lepers approach Jesus in desperation. “Jesus!”, they cry, “Master! Take pity on us!”

Their encounter with Him is authentic – they seek him out in their need and he answers their request. Interestingly, we are told that, of all those who are healed, only one, a foreigner, comes to give thanks at the miracle they had experienced.

I’d like to think that I would be like the returning leper, who at least thought to return thanks for the gift he’d been given, and yet I must pause to wonder… In the mundane drudgery of our daily lives, we can so often take for granted much of what we’ve been so generously given.

Rather than gratefully acknowledge all that I have as the gift that it is, we often succumb to the temptation to either be overwhelmed with prideful arrogance at our status, our wealth, our health etc.; or, think that it is up to us to take what we want, forcefully if need be – to be a self-made man or woman.

The lepers can symbolise us, we who are thrown into this world, not at our own request – our very being is given to us, (and even then, through our inheriting of original sin, we are still in great need).

9 out of 10 of us are forgetful of the abject need in which we find ourselves and from which we are rescued, but the one who returns to give thanks is for us a wonderful example – and yet, perhaps there is more still to this story.

Jesus tells him to ‘Stand up and go on your way.’ He sends him out, and reminds him of his faith.

The posture of gracious receptivity empowers one to go out and to act – to bring mercy and love to others. In this sense, it is only once we have received that we can go out and give. One cannot give what they first have not received. In order to be apostles of love and mercy, we must first be open to receive the same.

Point to Ponder

‘Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.’ Gaudium et Spes, 24


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