Receiving the Gift

A Way of Life Open to Reality

A baby in utero at about 14 weeks. And, the Blessed Mother visits her relative, Elizabeth.

(This essay was previously presented at the National Billings Ovulation Method Teachers’ Weekend.)1

If the Christmas Season is about anything, it’s about the salvific nature of the human body, human flesh, the human condition as united to God’s divinely perfect nature in Christ. It is about saying “yes,” fiat, when God breaks into our lives, and it is about bearing new life when the Lord of all life draws near. Unfortunately, contemporary ways of thinking tend to reduce reality, including our own bodies, to merely mechanical things. I am my thoughts, or my mind. My body is not me, but instead something that I possess. It is as if all the material things around me, including my body, is merely dumb stuff which I can technologically manipulate at will to achieve the ends which I see fit. This is played out, for example in contemporary gender theory, which sees people as free to determine their gender, regardless of their biological sex. I am biologically a man, but in my mind, I choose to be, and therefore am a woman. Not only then do I chose to act or behave in ways which I see as being feminine, but I may even begin to take drugs or undergo some kind of surgery to bring about phenotypical or physically observable changes to my body.

There are many reasons as to how we got here, as to how this way of thinking has developed. There is a long genealogy of thinkers: philosophers, theologians, scientists, etc., who have contributed to this way of conceiving of the world, or more properly of reality, as merely mechanical and technologically manipulable. Interestingly, this is not just a way of thinking and being in the world that affects our secular brothers and sisters. It affects all of us, including us Christians, such that despite our profession of faith in the goodness of God’s creation, we live in an intellectual context which has reduced all things, including people, to what they can do and what can be done with them.2

The purpose of this paper is not to trace this genealogy of thinking,3 but to highlight is how the Billings Method, along with the other methods of natural family planning, and indeed many other practices can develop habits, or habituate within us, modes of being present in the world which open us to an encounter with reality that leads to the fullness of life that was promised us (Cf. Jn 10:10). What I hope to argue is that methods of natural family planning, such as the Billings Ovulation Method actually provide part of an adequate response to much of the ills of our contemporary culture.

Technology, Boredom, and the Culture of Death
In 1968, Pope Paul VI promulgated what became his most controversial encyclical, Humanae Vitae: On Human Life. Within this encyclical he, rather unpopularly, upheld the Church’s constant and consistent teaching on the objective immorality of contraception. The controversy surrounding the document is well known, and public dissent from the Church’s teaching by Catholics at the time and since has been seen at an unprecedented scale. In the United States for example, moral theologians took out advertisements in secular newspapers to broadcast to the lay faithful, and to others, their public dissent from papal teaching in this instance. For faithful Catholics this was a time of much confusion and many, it would seem, took the advice of dissenting theologians and priests who advised the lay faithful to follow their own conscience, without much by advice way of how one could appropriately form one’s conscience.

Now, 50 years after the encyclical’s promulgation we are able to see with clear eyes the vindication of a great many of its warnings. In paragraph 17 of the document, Paul VI wrote that with the acceptance of contraception we would see a rise in marital infidelity, general moral decline, a loss of respect for women, the abuse of power, and a striving for unlimited scientific and technological dominion over nature.4 In our own day we are unfortunately witness to much of what Paul VI had prophesied. We see these prophecies played out in the devastating effects of the widespread acceptance of divorce, and its coincident cultural mentality; a culture of cohabitation prior to marriage; the legalization of abortion; the proliferation of pornography; increasing acceptance of assisted reproductive technologies; and increasing acceptance of homosexual behavior, along with the legal redefinition of marriage to include couples of the same-sex, and perhaps in the not too distant future, campaigns that would argue for “marriage” between more than two consenting adults, as part of this wide ranging cultural phenomenon.

To suggest that this all has its roots in the widespread dissent from Humanae Vitae is a ridiculous and unhistorical notion, as a great many of the cultural forces that fuelled this revolution in both public and private morality have roots reaching back long before 1968.The fact however, that Catholics contracept, cohabit, and divorce almost as much as their secular counterparts is evidence of the widespread rejection of the Church’s teaching in this instance.

This is not merely a problem resulting from the rejection of the Church’s teaching in this area, but instead an outcome of a more fundamental way of looking at the world, the way in which we conceive of reality as such. In essence, this is a way which understands and sees reality as fundamentally meaningless—and consequently manifests itself in the phenomenon of boredom.

Theologian and philosopher R.J. Snell argues that boredom is one of the most pernicious and widespread vices of our day.5 His work in this area can be used to illustrate in particular ways how even otherwise good Christians and Catholics can be co-opted unwittingly into becoming active participants in what Saint Pope John Paul II in his 1994 encyclical Evangelium Vitae refers to as a “culture of death.”6

For Snell, Boredom is linked to, though not identical with, what the ancient writers referred to as the vice of “acedia,” often translated in the Latin tradition as “sloth.” “Sloth,” he writes,

was understood [by the desert fathers and early monastics] as an aversion to our proper purpose or ultimate end, a hatred of friendship with God. Often this manifested itself in an aversion to the effort and disciplines of such friendship (prayer, fasting, study, etc.), but sloth could also result in a frenzy of busyness, even a workaholic life attempting to flee the quiet voice of God.7

Rather than a “hatred,” modern boredom is an indifference toward God, and to reality more generally. Things cease to have any value aside from my ability to make use of them.

While this might, perhaps, seem far from the kind of societal ills that were prophesied by Blessed Paul VI, the link will, I hope, become obvious soon enough.

Within contemporary Western culture, the effects of boredom seem to be easily identifiable. Our penchant for technology (in smartphones, internet, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Pintrest, twitter, etc.) exacerbates what is already an enormous problem— that being our loss of wonder in the created world. We can see this primarily in the younger generation, but in reality it effects everyone.

It seems that it is increasingly difficult for many, if not most of us to sit and wait patiently without reaching for, and scrolling through, our phone. We fritter away our time with frivolous things, slowly begin to abhor silence, and continue to drastically reduce our attention span. The world around us is bleached of meaning and, as such, we simply seek to occupy our time often with frivolous entertainment, and by so doing, we are increasingly bored, and consequently, less present to reality.

Now, it certainly seems something undesirable to be a personality that gets bored easy. None of us, I am supposing, would like to be known as someone who is easily bored. Chesterton once quipped that there are no boring subjects, only boring people.8 In fact, boredom is not just something undesirable, but according to Snell, boredom is a heresy.

In boredom, we declare that the world is not good. But it is good. God says so, repeatedly, in Genesis 1. Nor does sin negate the goodness, although the goodness is disordered or perverted. Further, God, in Christ, becomes one of us, a fellow member of the world, thereby definitively declaring the world good, beautiful, and true. In boredom, we say that God is wrong, that he cannot create or redeem, or that his nature is itself not good or worth loving. Boredom is a persistent rejection of what God reveals to be true, even after we’re told our error. That’s heresy.9

Now perhaps calling boredom a heresy is a little strong, but he makes an interesting case for it. More than that, we see that boredom is not simply the result of being inundated and constantly titillated by technology. It is, in fact, the result of a fundamental change in the way we view reality, or existence, (or being), that does not acknowledge nature as creation, or as wonderful and mysterious, or enchanted with the life of God’s Spirit. The modern way of looking at reality is one which reduces things to the sum of their parts and how they function. This is what the philosopher Michael Hanby calls a mechanistic and technological way of viewing reality – a way of seeing the world which is, in the end, inherently meaningless.10

Boredom is, in fact, an exclusively modern phenomenon. The first recorded use of the word boredom is in the novel, Bleak House by Charles Dickens, written in 1852, although the expression to ‘be a bore’ had been used in print in the sense of “to be tiresome or dull” since 1768. Modern boredom is the result of this technological and mechanistic way of viewing reality as though it is fundamentally meaningless or nihilistic. Snell writes that,

Unlike earlier struggles with nihilism found in thinkers like Camus or Nietzsche, the nihilism of our time tends less to an epic struggle to find meaning than to an endless search for the stimulation of entertainment and consumption. Our nihilism is of the debonair [bourgeois] version—nothing really matters, but have you seen the most recent [Netflix series]?11

What we live with now is a technological mentality that is fundamentally bored, a mentality that is in fact unable to be interested. If we think of the word interest, it can be broken up into two latin root words “inter” meaning, “among,” “between,” or “inside of,” and “esse” meaning, “to be,” or simply, “being.” To be interested is to be inside of some-thing. A technological mentality does not see things as having an inside, things are simply made up of smaller and smaller parts.

In a society which is fundamentally shaped by this nihilistic and technological or mechanistic mentality, which sees things as being reduced to the sum of their parts and how they function, it is increasingly difficult or even impossible to be truly interested, or ‘inside of’ in anything at all. Things cease to have an interiority, and instead they are seen only as the conglomeration of infinitely smaller and smaller parts. In the words of the hugely influential educational theorist John Dewey, who was celebrating this development, things are merely, “what they can do, and what can be done with them.”12  Things have no given purpose prior to our encountering and imposing our will upon them.

This shapes not only how we engage with inanimate objects, but also, and often unwittingly, how we relate to and treat our loved ones, our families, our friends, the world around us, even ourselves – in fact, this way of conceiving of being affects our capacity to relate and engage with all of reality, including God.

In this account, the separation of sexual intercourse from fertility by way of contraception is not simply a stand alone act, but part of a whole cultural dynamic which has reduced nature, including my own human nature, to an artifice which I can and should control technologically.13

We can begin now to see how the prophecies of Paul VI in Humanae Vitae which coincide with the acceptance of contraceptives are not simply problems in public and private morality. They are, in fact, the result of fundamental problems in how we understand and relate to reality as such. The boredom of which we have been speaking is, in fact, a kind of practical atheism. One that might acknowledge God intellectually, but in reality does not allow God to be God on His own terms as the omnipotent Lord of the universe and of history, but merely as a God of the gaps.

As a result of this modern technological or mechanistic mindset one’s posture towards reality is one fundamentally of activity. Things have no meaning prior to my encounter with them. I need to determine for myself the nature of reality, and even of my own being—I create myself and the world around me through my own self-asserting activity.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si, refers to this as the “technocratic paradigm.”

[H]umanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation. Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us. Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology.14

Receptivity as the Fundamental Creaturely Posture
This leaves us in what might seem a pretty sad place. The technological and mechanistic mindset is, in many respects, absolute in our contemporary culture. It is hard to conceive of reality beyond this scheme. Our society praises the self-made man or woman, the person who is radically independent, not at all reliant on anyone or on anything. The person of faith is seen in this context to be weak—faith is a crutch for those who cannot bear the cold, harsh reality that there is no meaning anywhere. Yet our own experience tells us that this cannot really be true. We feel the constant pull, a constant attraction to the fact that there must be more to reality than just this cold, mechanistic world. What St Augustine, in the beginning of his Confessions referred to as his “restless heart,” which longs for an encounter with the living God, in whom he can find rest.

Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his masterful little book, Love Alone is Credible, describes the fundamental human experience as an encounter with another that awakens us to the love that is preeminent or fundamental to reality as such and not as the radical assertion of my own independence and my own will. He writes:

In order to gain an insight into humanity, the individual must encounter an other. The human being exists only in relation to others; he truly is only in the reciprocity of an I and Thou. The otherness of the other is a fundamental fact that he must acknowledge if there is to be any possibility of forming a harmonious community in the commonality of human nature… Man sustains himself—indeed, he first comes to himself—in an encounter. When one man meets another face to face, truth comes to pass, the depths of human existence come to light spontaneously, in freedom and in grace… the two [become] joined in a truth that transcends their finitude… If God, the Wholly-Other, ever wishes to encounter man, the place he manifests himself cannot but lie in the person who remains ever “other” to me, in other words, my neighbor.15

This contrasts significantly with the modern technological mindset, that simply does not need the other. In the modern mindset I must to construct my own reality out of the dumb stuff that surrounds me. For von Balthasar though, it is the fundamental human experience of an encounter with an other, an encounter of love, which alone can awaken us to reality. Existence itself is relational. Things exist because of a creator God who is relational, or, in the words of the Apostle John, ‘is love’ (1 Jn 4:8). We can see now what is at stake with regards to the bored, technological mentality which we described earlier.

It is in loving encounter that we are awakened to ourselves—and that we are awakened to the nature of reality, not a cold harsh mechanistic artifice, but as the creative work of a loving God. Balthasar develops this in a powerful and beautiful analogy in the same work, where he writes:

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.16

Von Balthasar deftly utilises the analogy of the mother’s smile here to demonstrate the love of God the Father. He continues,

God interprets {or conveys} himself to man as love in the same way [as the mother]: 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.17

Originating from within, and tending towards love, our existence—all of reality—is and must be understood as a gift. Reality is both gift, and also given—that is, reality has an order which precedes our will.

The fundamental mode or posture then, of our creaturely being to first be receptive of love, like the child in relation to his or her mother, prior to being active. This is not a passive receptivity, but an active one most adequately exemplified in the person of Mary. Our Lady’s fiat, which we recalled every day in the recitation of the Angelus. Her yes, her willing receptivity, despite her being terribly troubled, opened her to receive the living and physical presence of God in the person of Jesus Christ, who took flesh in her womb, and whom she was able to bear forward and take out into the world, when she visited her cousin Elizabeth—Her yes is a model of the kind of receptive posture that we strive to emulate. She first receives, and then she goes out.

This receptive posture exemplified in Mary is built into our human nature, and our being both originates in, and ‘tends toward’ that love.18 Yet, as a result of the Original Sin, and perhaps in a way exacerbated by the technological and mechanistic logic of our own cultural milieu described above, this openness to the other seems to be increasingly difficult to attain.

How do we develop this mode of being open and receptive to God’s grace?

Cultivating ‘Habits of Presence’ – Developing an Openness to Encounter

The theologian David L. Schindler, speaks about the need, particularly in our cultural context, to develop what he calls “habits of presence”—ways of habitually being present, or open, or receptive to reality as it is, as it is given. ‘Forming such habits,’ he writes, “is the responsibility of every human being, and in a significant sense of every human institution.”19

To live with an openness to encountering the other as gift, to live with an awareness and an understanding that I am, in my nature, given—this is the task at hand. And it is a task of increasing difficulty in our day and age. How, then does one develop an openness to reality? How does one habitually live as present in the world? In every context?

There are, in fact, a wide variety of practices that have the capacity to habituate us into a mode of being present to reality that allows us to be open to such encounters. Like all habits, these habits of presence are the product of repeated action—action that begins deliberately, and often clumsily, but eventually becomes what Aristotle referred to as a “second nature.”

Like a little child learning to walk. Her efforts are clumsy, and require of her what seems to be an inordinate amount of concentration on her part. An adult however, who has been walking for years now, has through repeated action over many years, thankfully mastered the art of walking.

One fundamental practice that opens us to receive the gift of reality is prayer. Perhaps we can think of the Angelus. Traditionally prayed at 6 AM, 12 Noon, and 6 PM.

In encouraging the praying of the Angelus, the late Fr Luigi Giussani often substituted the word ‘dwells’ for the word “dwelt.” One of Giussani’s points of genius here was to highlight that while the mystery of the Incarnation did happen at a definite time, in a definite place, it is not something that is merely historical, merely in the past. For the Christian, Christ remains for us Incarnate in his Body on Earth, the Church. Christ is Incarnate in the Sacraments, and in the love shown between people—spouses, siblings, friends, neighbors, strangers… particularly in the poor, in the sick, the suffering, the imprisoned.

When one prays the Angelus in this way, remembering that the Word continues to dwell amongst us, one is reminded of, and enters into the receptivity of the Blessed Virgin, and gradually one is habituated into the mode of openness which she models. Mary’s fiat, her “Yes,” was not something that was once off. She was, it seems, in the habit of saying “Yes” to God, to receiving the graces which he continued to bestow on her, such that, at this important moment, when confronted by the angel, she was ready—habitually present to reality, and open to receive the gift in the working of God’s Spirit.

As mentioned, prayer is the primary way in which we develop this habitual mode of presence in the world, but there are a great many others. Like all good habits, they are not easy to acquire (and, once acquired, are often all too easy to lose). And very often, these habits are not what we might see as romantic or even externally desirable. The technological mindset that we have absorbed and the technology with which we are constantly bombarded promises to make life easy. It promises the fruit of virtue, without having to go through the difficulty of acquiring it.

The practices like growing one’s own food for example, put us in touch with reality as given by God. We cannot impose our will on what is given—it can only be received. We can work with what has been given, but we cannot subject the reality of the ground, of the weather, of the plants and the animals and insects around us to our total control.

Natural family planning methods, like the Billings Ovulation Method, are other such practices that habituate us into this mode of being present to reality. Billings, like the other methods of NFP, requires of us virtue and discipline. Through a heightened awareness of the shared gift of fertility, through an understanding of the cycles and rhythms of the body, spouses are drawn ever more fully into the reality which God has created and given to them.

Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae did not simply contain the doomsday prophecies which began this paper. Paul VI did much more than prophesy what might become of a society that adopts wholesale the practice of contraception. In encouraging doctors and medical researchers to look towards developing more rigorous methods of understanding the given nature of our bodies, and thereby aiding married couples in living out the responsibilities of parenthood, he demonstrated, with prophetic foresight, the great many positive effects that the practices of natural family planning methods, such as the Billings Ovulation Method would have.

[T]he discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace; and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention for one’s partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility.20

In this sense, we can talk of Billings as being more than a method—but a way of living that opens us to receive the gift of reality.

  1. Presented at the National Billings Ovulation Method Teachers’ Weekend. Perth, Western Australia. May 6, 2017.
  2. See, for example, John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920), 115.
  3. There are many scholarly works in this area that map this genealogy including, but not limited to, Louis Dupré, Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press 1993); Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004); and, Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012).
  4.  See Janet Smith, “Paul VI as Prophet: Have Humanae Vitae’s Predictions Come True?,”
  5. R.J. Snell, Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire (Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2015).
  6. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae: On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life (1995), n. 12.
  7. R. J. Snell, “Boredom and a Whole Lot More…” Jesus Creed (2015), See also, Jean-Charles Nault, The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2015).
  8. “There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” G. K. Chesterton, The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, ed. David Dooley, vol. 1 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 54.
  9. Snell.
  10. See, Michael Hanby, “A More Perfect Absolutism: Michael Hanby Examines Today’s Deep Threats to Christian Freedom,” First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, no. 266 (2016); “The Culture of Death, the Ontology of Boredom, and the Resistance of Joy,” Communio: International Catholic Review 31, no. Summer (2004). See also, ”Beyond Mechanism: The Cosmological Significance of David L. Schindler’s Communio Ontology,” in Being Holy in the World: Theology and Culture in the Thought of David L. Schindler, ed. Nicholas J. Healy and D.C. Schindler (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011).
  11. Snell.
  12. Dewey, 115.
  13. See Wendell Berry, “The Body and the Earth,” in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norma Wirzba (Berkley, CA: Counterpoint, 2003).
  14. Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2015), n. 106.
  15. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone Is Credible (Ignatius Press, 2004), pp. 43-44, 45, 46-47.
  16. Ibid, 76.
  17. Ibid, 76.
  18. Cf. Col 1:16 “for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”
  19. David L. Schindler, “Habits of Presence and the Generosity of Creation: Ecology in the Light of Integral Human Development,” Communio: International Catholic Review 42, no. Winter (2015), 576.
  20. Paul VI, Humanae Vitae: On Human Life (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1968), 21.
Thomas Gourlay About Thomas Gourlay

Thomas V. Gourlay is the president and co-founder of the Dawson Society for Philosophy and Culture Inc. (, and the manager of Campus Ministry at the University of Notre Dame Australia. He holds Bachelors (BEd) and Masters (MEd) Degrees in education from the University of Notre Dame Australia, and has worked as a classroom teacher and faculty head of Religious Education in a number of Catholic schools in Western Australia. Tom also holds a Masters of Theological Studies (MTS) from The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies in Melbourne, Victoria. Tom and his wife Elizabeth live in Perth, Western Australia.


  1. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    A thoughtful essay Tom, but the direct cause and effect tied to contraception leaves me wondering. As I read the article, my memory went back to the complaints of my grandparent’s generation when they said, “The world was going to hell because of the horseless carriage.” When I think of boredom, I am reminded of what one of my professors used to say often: “There is never a reason to be bored. There is always more going on then you can possibly understand.” Would it be good to encourage missionary disciples to ponder technology and find ways to integrate it into a way of being in love? My wife and I are probably alive today because a doctor went into our hearts to do ablations. We jokingly called him the electrician. We stand in wonder at this technological way of healing hearts.

    I also thought of Paragraph 71 in Joy of the Gospel: Challenges from urban cultures
    “The new Jerusalem, the holy city (cf. Rev 21:2-4), is the goal towards which all of humanity is moving. It is curious that God’s revelation tells us that the fullness of humanity and of history is realized in a city. We need to look at our cities with a contemplative gaze, a gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their homes, in their streets and squares. God’s presence accompanies the sincere efforts of individuals and groups to find encouragement and meaning in their lives. He dwells among them, fostering solidarity, fraternity, and the desire for goodness, truth and justice. This presence must not be contrived but found, uncovered. God does not hide himself from those who seek him with a sincere heart, even though they do so tentatively, in a vague and haphazard manner.”

    Pope Francis here challenges us to take a much boarder contemplative view of what is happening around us. How can we find intimacy in community?

    Last night at the Vigil Mass, the summit and source of our life, we did not celebrate in any kind of loving intimacy. Some of us old folks could not hear what was said. There was little to no participation in the music, the congregation was spread all over the large church. We were strangers to each other. No one would have looked at our community and said, “See how they love one another.”

    This suggests there are a lot of aspect of where we are now that blocks our ability “to receive the gift of reality”.

    • Tom Gourlay Tom Gourlay says:

      Thank you for your comment.
      I certainly would not want to give the impression that I am advocating a Luddite or neo-Luddite position. I am grateful for the car that drove me to work today, etc.
      I observe that technology has for most of us been accepted uncritically as a good, or at least neutral factor in contemporary life. The paper sought to encourage a way of critically assessing technology, not in a merely moral sense (although this too needs to be done), but rather the world-view that technology produces. It is beyond doubt that technology has had far-reaching effects on how we perceive reality as such. The horseless carriage, which you mention, has had a significant influence on community living, and on local parishes.
      I certainly do not want to simplify anything here. I see the example of artificial contraception as one manifestation of the technological and ultimately reductive view of reality.

  2. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    Tom, I went from reading and commenting on your article to reading John O’Donahue’s Anam Cara. Here is what he said about contemplation in the city,
    “When you live in the silence and solitude of the land, cities seem startling. In cities, there are such an incredible number of faces: the faces of strangers moving all the time with rapidity and intensity. When you look at their faces, you see the particular intimacy of their lives imaged. In a certain sense, the face is the icon of the body, the place where the inner world of the person becomes manifest. The human face is the subtle yet visual autobiography of each person. Regardless of how concealed or hidden the inner story of your life is, you can never successfully hide from the world while you have a face. If we knew how to read the faces of others, we would be able to decipher the mysteries of their life stories. The face always reveals the soul; it is where the divinity of the inner life finds an echo and image. When you behold someone’s face, you are gazing deeply into that person’s life.”

    O’Donohue, John. Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom (pp. 38-39). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

    What if we were able as a community begin to experience this level of contemplative wonder while in the city?

  3. Avatar Francis Etheredge says:

    Dear Thomas Gourlay, thank you for your thoughtful piece; and, in general, it contributes to St. John Paul II call to think through the anthropological question at the heart of the difficulties we encounter.

    There is, then, the “whole” gift of created being “itself” and, in that each “part” of creation bears within it a “witness” to being a gift, we find this pre-eminently expressed in the human person; and, therefore, what completes the “logic” of the gift is that God gives the gift of creation to make possible the giving of Himself as a gift! In terms, then, of the unfolding of the “logic” of the gift, the nature of human love is expressed in an intimate action which both discloses and cherishes the reality of marriage as a reciprocal gift; and, in the reality of human love, the gifted-grace of marriage comes to magnify the possibility of “receiving” a child as a gift. In a word, the mystery of human love is a living “recapitulation” of the mystery of intra-Trinitarian love: of Gift from Gift: of the inexpressible mystery of God being “Gift from Gift”.

    On the one hand, then, there is the rediscovery of wonder in front of the amazingly coherent language of the gift: of coming to what exists in an almost impossible gaze of gratitude. On the other hand, there is the action of God that builds on nature: that “experiencing” the action of God which constitutes conversion includes the unfolding of the heart’s grasp of the generosity expressed in the whole of creation being a communication of the ultimately fathomless generosity of God!


  1. […] This essay was previously presented at the National Billings Ovulation Method Teachers’ Weekend. The full text of this paper can be found at Homiletic and Pastoral Review, here. […]