Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Category: Education

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:


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.

2016-12-16 10.34.27-1-1

Submitting my thesis. December 2016

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén