Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Category: Through Shadows and Images… (Page 1 of 2)

Graduation from the JPII Institute


After having worked on this Masters degree since mid-2011, I was particularly glad to have been asked to offer some parting words on behalf of the graduates. The graduation really was a joyous occasion, and the ceremony was the most meaningful that I have to date experienced (I had my degree conferred upon me by a Bishop, in the name of the Triune God, which is pretty darn special). The joy of the occasion was met also with a tinge of sadness, not only in the fact that I will no longer be a student at the Institute that has taught me so much, but also, in the knowledge that the Institute will soon be closed.

Below are the words I spoke at the reception after the ceremony.

It is a great honour to be asked to say some brief words on behalf of the graduating class of 2017. This is the penultimate (or perhaps third to last) graduation ceremony before the Institute is closed. There is a great sadness surrounding the events which have seen the decision made to close this fine institution.

While this is, in fact, my third University graduation ceremony, I can honestly say that it is the one that has to date meant the most to me. To measure an institution such as this solely on the basis of the sheer number of graduates seems to be folly. The closure of this institute is a tremendous blow to the Church, and to our efforts to evangelise in Australia in the twenty-first century.

Those of us who can now proudly call ourselves graduates know of the great privilege it has been to have been able to study here in this centre of academic excellence, founded by one of the Greatest Saints of the twentieth century. The formation that we have received in and through our studies is now the source of responsibility that we all now bear, to ensure that what we have learned is able to be lived out and effectively communicated to others. Those to whom much is given, much is expected, (Lk 12:48).

Reflecting on my time here under the tutelage of some very fine scholars and excellent teachers, I am reminded of a wonderful essay by Hans Urs von Balthasar entitled, ‘Theology and Sanctity.’ If there is one thing that I have learned here, it is that the life of the mind must be dynamically integrated with the life of the soul. I feel this has been witnessed in the lives of our teachers here, perhaps more than it has been explicitly taught. What we have sought after in our studies here has been more than mere cognitive intimacy with ‘the LORD’. The studies which we have been so blessed to undertake at the Institute have provided us with much more than an intellectual understanding of the Church’s rich Tradition, they have taught us 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’d like to specifically mention here the late, and much loved Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, who many of us were privileged to study under, or work alongside. His is an ongoing example of an integrated life of prayer, a wholehearted striving for sanctity, and an incredible academic rigor that I believe to be idiosyncratic of the staff and faculty here.

My studies here have been perhaps different to many others, travelling intermittently as I have from Perth to Melbourne each time there has been an intensive unit of study offered. As a result, there are many who are active members of the student body whom I unfortunately do not know all that well. What I have found though, is that having been a student at the Institute makes one a member of what seems to be a vibrant community of faith and of learning.

This is something that I have experienced, not only in my home town of Perth where there are a number of alumni and people that I would call ‘friends’ of the Institute, but wherever I am fortunate enough to meet a fellow student or graduate of the Institute. Students, graduates, and friends of the institute in my experience, seem to share, amongst other things, a profound understanding of the implications of the universal call to holiness. Taking solace in the words of St John Paul II, this call to holiness is seen, not as a burden or something which one should be afraid of, but is instead seen as the ultimate adventure. Their lives are marked by an ongoing encounter with an event, a person, which gives their lives a new horizon and decisive direction, (DCE, 1).

I am sure that I can speak for everyone who is graduating here, when I say that the achievements which are symbolised by this graduation ceremony are not merely the achievements of us as individuals, but of the families and of the communities to which we belong. We have learned here that no man is an island, that we are constitutively related to one another – but in the process of this learning we have experienced this fundamental relationality in deep and profound ways. To my family, my beautiful wife Elizabeth, our little Anastasia, my parents Ray and Lori, who have made the journey with us to be here for this occasion, I thank you for all your love and support over the years.

20170530 OwensGrad 4K - 101 20170530 OwensGrad 4K - 0012017-05-30_21.03.02[1]

The Catholic Academy and the Sanctified Mind

Having spent the most of my life in one sort of Catholic educational institution or another, as a students in primary, secondary schools, and a Catholic university, and also as a teacher in a Catholic secondary school, and in Campus Ministry in a Catholic university, I have increasingly been concerned with the efficaciousness of the Catholic education system, at least as I have experienced it, in passing on the faith, and in its role in educating as such.

Through a happy twist of fate that I do not hesitate to name providence, I was able earlier last year (2015) to settle on a topic for a Masters thesis, which I was planning to write. I had just completed the coursework component for the MTS (Master of Theological Studies) degree at Melbourne’s ill-fated John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, and was increasingly interested in everything! Narrowing down a topic to write on was quite a task indeed, but the groundwork had been done by what I feel was an incredible program of studies through the Institute, and I was able to settle upon the topic for a thesis which was to enable me to think through systematically much of the concerns that I was perhaps unable to articulate adequately until then.

Then I happened across the following, openning lines to an essay which really knocked my socks off, and I was able to make a decision:

“Sanctity should provide the inner form of the intellectual life, in a way that affects both the methods and the content of the modern academic curriculum”

David L. Schindler

The thesis, which was eventually to be titled, The Catholic Academy and the Sanctified Mind: The Implications of David L. Schindler’s Critique of Liberal Metaphysics for the Ethos of Catholic Academies (the introduction of which can be read here – or email me if you’re interested in reading it in full), emerged over the 8 months or so that I was able to work on it as a piece which answered many questions for me, and has opened up new avenues for thinking, which I hope to be able to develop at some stage in the future.

Happily, I was able to delve deeply into the work of a formidable thinker in David L. Schindler, who I think is somewhat underappreciated at present, but whom I think will, in future, be recognised as increasingly important. Schindler’s work is deep, and while I was able to push out the thesis in 8 months, I must admit that much of the difficult work of getting to the kernel of Schindler’s thought (to the extent that I have been successful in doing so), was done in the years preceding.

What attracted me so much to Schindler’s thinking is, perhaps, what puts so many others off. That being, simply, the incredibly radical nature of his claim. And I will leave this blog post with a quote from the man himself which demonstrates this:

[I]f we as Christians accept the ontological force of the Incarnation, then we must consider [that]… things have their being only in relation to Jesus Christ and to all else in Jesus Christ, then of course they can have health and wholeness of being only in relation. They can be properly understood, from the beginning and finally, only in relation.

– David L. Schindler, ‘Faith and the Logic of Intelligence: Secularization and the Academy’, in Catholicism and Secularization in America, ed. David L. Schindler (Huntington, Indiana: Communio Books, Our Sunday Visitor, 1990), 170-93 at 176.

2016-12-16 10.34.27-1-1

Submitting my thesis. December 2016

Understanding Being in Relation

Submitted without comment…

[I]f we as Christians accept the ontological force of the Incarnation, then we must consider [that]… things have their being only in relation to Jesus Christ and to all else in Jesus Christ, then of course they can have health and wholeness of being only in relation. They can be properly understood, from the beginning and finally, only in relation.[1]

[1] David L. Schindler,  “Faith and the Logic of Intelligence: Secularization and the Academy.” In Catholicism and Secularization in America, edited by David L. Schindler, 170-93. Huntington, Indiana: Communio Books, Our Sunday Visitor, 1990., 176.

Love as the Ground of Being


One author with whom I have become somewhat acquainted with in recent years is the Kentucky farmer, Wendell Berry. Since this serendipitous discovery, his work has been a continual source of encouragement, as well as inspiration. I have managed to read through a number of his ‘Port William’ novels, which I would wholeheartedly recommend (beginning with Jayber Crow).

His essays and poetry are for the most part, as yet, unexplored by me – though what I have read has been excellent.

What strikes me as so particular about Berry is not his penchant for nostalgia, (which I think is overstated by his critics – I think he is a very realistic thinker) but his integral vision of reality – from the mundane prosaic things of where our food comes from, through to the inner-relationality of persons with each other and with God.

This vision of reality, (onto-logic) which so grounds Berry’s thought is perhaps nowhere better expressed than this pithy quote, taken from an essay I happened upon recently.

‘I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.’[1]


[1] Wendell Berry, The Art of the Common-Place: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. N. Wirzba (Berkley: Counterpoint, 2002).

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, MEd, BEd (UNDA)

Manager, Campus Ministry, The University of Notre Dame Australia

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

Seeking Subsidiarity

When Pope Francis promulgated his encyclical Laudato Si, I was just finishing reading, for the second time, Wendell Berry’s classic novel Jayber Crow (highly recommended). Perhaps it was the confluence of these two works at such a time made the impact more significant than they would have been alone, but the message hit with tremendous force.

I am only recently married, and we are fortunate enough to be living in a home that we own (well, at least our names are on the title – the bank owns most of what we have). We live in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, fortunate to be close to where I work, at the University. While I have always lived in the suburbs, the sense of nostalgia provoked by Berry’s fiction is stunning. His vivid imagery is convicting, and the sense of place stirs up a longing within me that I do not always recognise as my own.

Along with some friends, we have discussed, at length, the idea of living on acreage and being involved in some kind of subsistence or small crop farming etc. And, as appealing as it is, is not really within our grasp at present (or for the foreseeable future). Chickens, veggies, herbs, and some fruit trees will have to do for now – all we really need now is a bacon tree and we are set. This is our attempt to ‘grow where we’re planted…’ (don’t excuse the pun, embrace it).

The motivation to do just that came with a little inspiration drawn from a favourite author:

Participate in food production to the extent that you can.
If you have a yard or even just a porch box or a pot in a sunny window, grow something to eat in it. Make a little compost of your kitchen scraps and use it for fertilizer. Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again. You will be fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.

Wendell Berry – The Pleasure of Eating

Sanctity and the Intellectual Life

“Sanctity should provide the inner form of the intellectual life, in a way that affects both the methods and the content of the modern academic curriculum”David L. Schindler

I have thought for a long time that our Catholic/Christian educational institutions should be radically different from their secular counterparts. If the belief that God created everything ex nihilo, out of nothing, and that all things live and move and have their being in the person of Jesus Christ, that ‘all things were created through him and for him’ [Col 1:16]; if this is actually true, then this should radically impact on how we understand reality as such, and then how we conduct research, teach and learn.

The words quoted above, which come from David L. Schindler, articulate for me a project which I hope to give life to through this blog, which will be something of a companion to the work I am currently doing at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne. My intention is to use this blog to test some of the thinking which may, in fact, find its way into the thesis I am currently writing. As such, the reflections which form the bulk of this blog find their inspiration primarily in the work of the American philosopher and theologian David L. Schindler. As well as Schindler however, I mention also such thinkers as Christopher Dawson, Fr Luigi Giussani, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Stratford Caldecott, and John Milbank as well as the great saints of education, Mary MacKillop, Don Bosco, Marcellin Champagnat, Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, and John Henry Newman. These and others have been a tremendous source of inspiration in my thinking in this area and will feature from time to time in what I post. It would be remiss of me not to mention two other tremendous figures who have influenced my thinking in this regard – Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II, and Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.

As I progress in my own study, I hope to share with you through this blog much of my thinking – I would value any input you might have along the way.

What are the concrete possibilities of man?

Theologian David L. Schindler, who I suppose features as the hero in the thesis I am currently composing, has some really challenging proposals for Catholics and Christians more broadly, as we engage in the new evangelisation in our modern-liberal culture.

My reading thus far sees Schindler is something of a confounding figure in contemporary Catholic theology. As editor of the English edition of the Commnio journal he is, in my humble opinion, certainly an influential thinker, and yet it seems that his own work does not find a huge audience of scholars outside of Communio circles who deeply engage with him. Outside of a number of engagements in the 1990s with certain scholars associated with the journal First Things, it seems that, within broader academia, Schindler’s voice, which I consider to be somewhat prophetic, has been deemed either uninteresting or unintelligible.

Schindler offers, in my reading at least, a radical critique of modern-liberal cutlure that asks a hell of a lot from Catholics and Christians who read him. In fact, what he asks is a fundamental re-think of how we engage with reality as a whole.
While his articles nowadays seem to be received simply with a stunned silence from those outside the Communio milieu, his critics in the 1990s offered little more than a series of variations of the question, ‘What then are we to do?’ being holy in the world
A good question I suppose, and one I am constantly asking as I wade through the pages of his essays.  Larry S. Chapp and Rodney Howsare, in an essay which they contributed to a festschrift for Schindler provide two of his favoured responses:

‘First, “Success is not a Gospel category”; and second, “Liberals give the impression that if Jesus had just been lucky enough to be born into a liberal society he could have avoided a rather ignominious end.”‘

Schindler is perhaps seen as little more than an idealist. His writing is rigourous and strong. He, in my reading at least, seems to work out the real-life implications of the Gospel and the admonition to ‘be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect.’ (cf. Mt 5:48)

In the end, Schindler’s bold claim is nothing short of the universal call to holiness.

The stunned silence he meets is perhaps similar to what John Paul II received from certain Church-men-and-women who thought he was being unrealistic.

The young people of the world, however, did not receive his call in this way. In fact, as the World Youth Day phenomenon continued to show, that kind of ‘idealism’ was not only within our grasp as something that could be realised, but was, in fact, something that all are called to.

Rather than be off-put by the call to holiness/perfection as something out of reach for common persons, the young people of the world, buoyed by natural youthful exuberance and the reality of grace presented to them by the now Saint John Paul II, recognised the call and received it joyously. When they cried ‘JPII WE LOVE YOU!‘, what they meant was, ‘Let it be done according to your word,’ 

This papal saint from Poland knew too that the weight of the Gospel, when viewed through the eyes of one burdened by guilt or sin, or simply the eyes of a jaded personality might seem too much. And so he asks, “Are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?” (Oct 8, 1980).

Or perhaps, as he writes in what is, in my opinion, his most astounding encyclical Veritatis Splendor 

It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question”. But what are the “concrete possibilities of man” ? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit (103)


Nature, Grace and Catholic Engagement in Contemporary Cultural Debate


Recently a paper I wrote was accepted for publication at New Blackfriars Review. (A link can be found here).

The piece, (which I am in fact not entirely happy with), covers material that has occupied by thoughts for some time namely, the debates surrounding nature and grace that have been raging since the publication of Henri de Lubac’s Surnaturel thesis in 1946.

The heat in this debate seems to have died down in recent years, and the arguments advanced on both sides are no longer met with accusations of heresy. The papacies of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI seem to have solidified de Lubac’s position to be at least within the bounds of orthodoxy.

The concern that has been raised most recently is that some of the rigor in this debate has been lost. Proponents of de Lubac’s thesis have been accused of taking a triumphalistic line and no longer engaging with the substance of alternative and competing arguments as they emerge from the camps of those professing a Thomism-of-Strict-Observance. My argument, I am somewhat embarrassed to say, seems to take a fairly triumphalistic tone. It does not engage with the recent scholarship in this area (namely the works of Lawrence Feingold and Steven A. Long), but really it never had any pretensions to. (I am not 100% convinced that my entry into this discussion will really add much anyway).

Instead, what I was seeking to do was to put out a paper that would be something of a catalyst for discussion around how Catholics engage in popular debate around contentious social issues. To that end, I hope that it hits home.

I’d be interested to know if you have any thoughts on this.

Love is a mighty thing…

Love seeks no cause nor end but itself. Its fruit is its activity. I love because I love, I love that I may love. Love is a mighty thing, if it so returns to its own principle and origin, if it flows back to its source and ever draws anew whence it may flow again. Love is the only one of all the senses, movements, and affections of the soul, by which the creature can answer to its creator and repay like with like.[1]

[1] Bernard, In Cantica, LXXXIII, cited in Christopher Dawson, Medieval Essays, The Works of Christopher Dawson. Edited by Don. J. Briel Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, p. 92

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