Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

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

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

Balthasar on the mother’s smile

“After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child’s smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child, and as the child awakens to love, it also awakens to knowledge: the initially empty-sense impressions gather meaningfully around the core of the Thou. Knowledge (with its whole complex of intuition and concept) comes into play, because the play of love has already begun beforehand, initiated by the mother, the transcendent. God interprets himself to man as love in the same way: he radiates love, which kindles the light of love in the heart of man, and it is precisely this light that allows man to perceive this, the absolute Love: “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).”

– Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone Is Credible, chapter 5, “Love Must Be Perceived.”

Mother's Smile

My daughter Anastasia and her beautiful mother, my wife Elizabeth

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