Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Category: Through Shadows and Images… (Page 2 of 3)

More on the Mother’s Smile

Some time ago I had occasion to post what I think is just the most beautiful photo of my wife and little daughter Anastasia. It was accompanied by a quote from von Balthasar’s little nugget of a book, Love Alone is Credible.

This time, a snap of my little man Augustine – again accompanied by some words from von Balthasar, this time from an essay contained within volume 3 of his Explorations in Theology book.

‘The little child awakens to self-consciousness through being addressed by the love of his mother’

– Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Movement Toward God,” in Explorations in Theology, vol. 3, Creator Spirit (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 15-55.

Hans Urs von Balthasar: A Primer

A very brief introduction to a thinker who has been particularly formative in my own thinking, Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Born on 12 August 1905 in Lucerne, Switzerland, to an incredibly gifted family of considerable wealth, Hans Urs von Balthasar is a luminary in the history of twentieth-century Catholic theology, and “widely regarded as the greatest Catholic theologian of the century.”[1] He was educated firstly by Benedictine monks at the abbey school at Engelberg in central Switzerland, but prior to completing his secondary education, he was moved by his parents to the Stella Matutina College run by the Jesuits in Feldkirch, Austria….

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Pope Francis and the Risk of Education

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

In his address to the students of Jesuit schools of Italy and Albania, Pope Francis said something that reminded me of one of the great teachers and educationalists of the Twentieth Century, Mons. Luigi Giussani.


‘Educating, in educating a balance must be maintained, your steps must be well balanced, one step on the cornice of safety but the other into the zone of risk. And when the risk becomes safe, the next step must venture into another area of risk. Education cannot be confined to the safety zone. No. This would mean preventing personalities from developing; yet it is not possible to educate solely in the risk zone either: this is too dangerous. It is a balance of steps: remember it well.’ – Pope Francis, Address to the Students of the Jesuit Schools of Italy and Albania, 7 June 2013.

For Giussani, it was imperative that teenage students be taught how to access the truth and rigorously verify any and every claim to truth. For Giussani, the experience of the hopelessness that accompanies the practical nihilism of a life without Christ, coupled with a deeply held Augustinian intuition that God has placed within the heart of every human person a natural desire for the supernatural, gifted him with an incredible ability to trust that, given the right method, that students could discern that T/truth in fact does exist.

This flies in the face of much of what passes for contemporary educational theory, which has been co-opted by a kind of managerialism (a topic for later discussion). For Guissani, education has a goal, and end, or a telos. And according to him the goal of education is maturity, a maturity that is manifest in a faith that is arrived at by way of a rigorous verification of one’s own lived reality.

The neutrality of present-day schools implies an “I couldn’t care less” approach to the meaning of life and the ultimate sense of the topics under study. Students may be presented with a series of solutions, without having a true critical capacity with which to assess them. This type of education normally leads youth to develop a root of scepticism regarding all the more important human problems, not an a priori refusal to take them into consideration; or else it ingrains in them a tendency to be hostile to their own tradition.

Luigi Giussani, The Journey to Truth Is an Experience, trans. John Zucchi and Patrick Stevenson (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006), 116.

The risk lies in allowing for such a verification. It means having one’s ideas put under serious and close scrutiny and even rejected. A Pope Francis mentioned education, if it is to be worthwhile, is itself a risk. And a Catholic education is one which is (or should be) the freest to take the greatest risks. Again, to quote Giussani,

In the Catholic conception of education, the school should be one of the principle instruments for verifying tradition against knowledge, to help people interpret, from a Christian point of view, the whole world that youth are called to enter. (ibid, 116)

This gets at something that has been close to my heart for some time and will, no doubt, be something of a focus for future posts here or research elsewhere.

What actually is ‘Pastoral Care’?

I had occasion recently to do some thinking on this topic – one which is particularly important to me in my work in Campus Ministry.

Often I feel that what is termed pastoral is juxtaposed against the doctrinal teaching of the faith, and the two are set up in opposition to each other, in a kind of ‘zero sum’ game.

I hope to have shown, with the use of Scripture, and the Church’s teaching at the Second Vatican Council, and through the teaching of recent papacies that pastoral care is fundamentally about helping people attain the holiness to which they are called.

Please have a read and let me know your thoughts:


Boredom: Plague of the Profoundly Uninterested

Earlier this year I spent some time reading a fascinating book by R.J. Snell entitled, Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire. While reading I was caught reflecting on a lot of the work I had done last year, looking at the work of David L. Schindler, and his metaphysical critique of liberalism. ACedia

For Schindler, liberalism is much more than a political philosophy, it carries with it an entire metaphysic which infects everything, including the ontological vision of all who come into contact with it. Liberalism for Schindler reduces things to the sum of their parts and how they function. It imposes on all a fundamentally mechanistic ontology.

Schindler’s work in this area bears a close resemblance to the work of his colleague at the John Paul II Institute, Michael Hanby, who develops this same line of thinking referring instead to a technological, rather than mechanistic ontology. In fact, as I read Snell’s book, which seems to me to be both an elaboration on, and clever introduction to this kind of thinking, I was caught wishing that I had had access to prior to engaging with thinkers like Schindler and Hanby.

Hanby develops a critique of liberal modernity with a slight variation on Schindler’s mechanistic ontologic, instead pointing to the fusion of techne and logos which the heart of the liberal order. For him, the fundamental danger of technological/technocratic society is that within such a liberal/technological order there can be no such thing as an interesting (inter – inside; esse – being) question. Things in themselves do not have insides. Within liberal order one simply cannot think the whole. And so, in a world where nothing is interesting, the most common experience is necessarily boredom.

All this is beautifully developed and explained in Snell’s book, (which I heartily recommend) and very potently argued in Hanby’s Communio article The Culture of Death, the Ontology of Boredom, and the Resistance of Joy, (Communio 31, Summer 2004).

Book Review: The Mystery and Sacrament of Love – Cardinal Marc Ouellet

Below is a review which I recently wrote for Homiletic and Pastoral Review on Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s work, Mystery and Sacrament of Love: A Theology of Marriage and the Family for the New Evangelization. There is much in this book which would do good to those currently engaged in discussions around how many live the sacrament of marriage in our world today, particularly in light of the two Synods on Marriage and Family, and the resultant Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.



Mystery and Sacrament of Love: A Theology of Marriage and the Family for the New Evangelization, by Cardinal Marc Ouellet. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015 (ISBN 978-0-802-87334-7), xiv + 346 pp., $35.00. Review by Thomas V. Gourlay.

Reputedly a significant potential candidate in the most recent papal conclave, and leading light of the Communio circle of scholars world-wide, Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s publication, Mystery and Sacrament of Love—an English translation of a work previously available in both French and Italian—is a prayerful, pastoral, and theologically rigorous Sacramental theology that is much-needed in our time.

With the synods dealing with marriage and the family now behind us, and with the (in)famous Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetita, still the subject of intense discussion, Ouellet’s work, which predates the synods and the exhortation, offers a mode of pastoral engagement with the real issues that plague marriage and the family in our contemporary world. His efforts here are informed by a deeply spiritual, and academically rigorous, theological reflection.

Readers familiar with Ouellet’s previous work will… [continue reading…]

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 was invited to speak as valedictorian 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.

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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 student 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 (2016) 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.

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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).

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