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Profile TOMIn this interview Jonathan Doyle interviews dynamic young Religious Education Coordinator Tom Gourlay. Listen in as Tom and Jonathan explore a range of important issues in faith and education.

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An Interview with Tom Gourlay

What is your current role?

Head of Religious Education Department

What do you spend most of your time doing in this role? Tell us about your work/vocation?

Aside from my teaching my own classes I spend a lot of time generating and finding resources for my staff, who are scattered around the school in various departments – There are no full-time Religious Education teachers here, so it is often not the first priority for teachers. Resourcing and guiding my staff is probably the biggest job for me right now.

My staff are very capable, but time, our greatest resource, is also our most scarce.
I also spend a lot of time find tuning programs and assessments.

What is something you are most passionate about as a Catholic person? What are the big issues, topics or questions that most interest, excite, compel or motivate you?

Culture and anthropology. As a lay Catholic man, my vocation is in the world – to evangelise those around me. I spend a great deal of my time reading and researching, trying to understand the deep philosophical and theological roots to the problems of modern, or post-modern culture. I think Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI hit the nail on the head in his Christmas address last year (2012) to the Roman Rota, that the problems we see around us are fundamentally linked to a faulty understanding of what it means to be a human person – anthropology.

This has lead me to the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies in Melbourne where I study part time. The many cultural problems of our day have deep roots which I am uncovering in my studies. The exciting thing for me is to see how the teaching of the Church can be applied to these areas – almost like a healing balm. This is, in my humble opinion, foundational to the New Evangelisation.

The pontificate of Benedict XVI has been so incredibly wonderful and, for me, it has been incredibly formative. His writings and speeches, reinforcing the call of the Second Vatican Council, point us to the centrality of the person of Christ in every aspect of our lives. ‘only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take[s] on light.’ (GS n. 22).
In pointing my students and my staff to the person of Christ, the incarnation of the God who is love, I hope and pray that they will come to a true anthropology, and build a culture of life and of light.
Lofty goals to be sure.

To that end, somewhat separate from my work as a teacher and Head of Religious Education, I have of late been involved in a new initiative with a few like-minded friends which aims to provide an opportunity for primarily lay Catholics to engage in a the intellectual aspects of our faith and encourage them to grow in an understanding of the modern problems and the Church’s response. Called The Christopher Dawson Society for Philosophy & Culture, the group is facilitating public lectures and a variety of other events which explore these issues of religion, culture, philosophy, anthropology, aesthetics, ethics etc.
We are hoping to provide the people of Perth and its surrounds with some of the tools of the New Evangelisation.

How does your Catholic faith inform, shape, guide, or motivate your work/vocation?

For me it is central.
It sustains me in my frustrations, and encourages me in my successes.
It is constantly educative for me – particularly in dealing with troublesome students, and those of other or of no faith.

The witness of the saints is a constant source of inspiration and comfort. Not only that, but a number of people whom I am fortunate enough to know personally: those with whom I have studied underneath, prayed with and worked alongside, both professionally and in a more voluntary sense over the past few years – the people who work tirelessly for the Kingdom of God – these too are a constant source of inspiration for me.

I have had the opportunity of late to read some of the writings of St Josemaria, the founder of Opus Dei. His understanding of the importance of work and vocation has been a great source of inspiration for me – and I have found in him an unrelenting source of encouragement to always strive to do my best, rather than sit back and hope it all works out. Reading him is for me like a spiritual boot camp.

Together with St Therese of Lisieux, I have found real encouragement to offer everything I do, even the menial tasks, to God as prayer. I’m not there yet, but their example is of particular importance to me.

How do you think the Church can make an impact in culture? What are the main things you think we should be focused upon in the process of the New Evangelisation?

People are really suffering – broken homes, broken relationships, broken lives. I think a central tenant of the New Evangelisation is to bring people to an awareness of their own dignity, as being created in the Image and Likeness of God; as having meaning and purpose; as being loved and being called to love.

The Church can and must do this in a number of ways.
To educate and preach: opening minds to the truth about God and about existence.
To admonish and to model: showing the right way to act, to treat one’s self, others and God. To remind us all that a human is not an object to be used, but a person to whom the only adequate response is love.
To create and purify: to patronize the arts, to reclaim beauty, not just in art, but in the liturgy, and in how we live our lives. Dovstoevski said ‘Beauty will save the world’, and I think that in a certain sense he is right. Beauty can open us up and point us to eternity and ultimately to God.

I think that now more than ever a sound anthropology is required, one which is built on the truth that centred on Christ. To awaken the world to the knowledge that they are willed and they are loved by the God who is love.