Tom Gourlay at the Rimini Meeting August 2022

The Religious Sense as a Preparation for Faith

What is the relationship between the religious sense and faith? For Tom Gourlay this question kept emerging in his own experience and in interactions with young students.

Tom Gourlay*

I have always been intrigued by the distinction that Fr Giussani makes between the concept of the religious sense and faith. When I heard of the project to produce three books on Giussani in the centenary of his birth (2022), it was the perfect opportunity to work out my ideas on paper and maybe make a contribution to our deeper understanding of Giussani’s thought.
Reflection on my own life, plus my encounters with students through my work in university chaplaincy and education, showed me that the present-day ‘crisis of faith’ is not really about a lack of faith, but more about underdeveloped humanity, an atrophy of the fundamental aspect of human nature that Giussani calls ‘the religious sense’. Life at work and at home was busy, but with encouragement from my wife – ‘you know how important Fr Giussani’s thought is for you’ – and my good friend John, I deepened my understanding.
The religious sense and faith are different, separate but intimately connected. The relationship is asymmetrical. Following an idea from philosopher D.C. Schindler, the religious sense can be seen as a preparation for faith. But the preparation does not stop, it is a constant companion in the life of faith. The religious sense, as Fr Carrón described it, is not like a ladder you leave behind once you reach the second storey of faith. It remains a part of human experience alongside faith.
Schindler compares this to marriage. There is a distant, generic preparation, the boy growing into a man. Then there is a specific preparation, as the man meets a specific woman, falls in love and prepares to marry her. Finally, he points out that marriage is not just a wedding – the couple need to be ready every day and in each interaction to be attentive to the presence of the other, the mystery of which continues to deepen as familiarity and love grow.
The encounter of faith deepens and broadens the religious sense, and a broader and deeper religious sense allows the faith itself to grow. To live a life of faith, I need to actively and continually cultivate my religious sense – to keep my questioning heart open and experience Jesus as the answer to its searching, each and every day.
The chapter appeared in the volume dedicated to Fr Giussani’s theology, Il Cristianesimo come Avvenimento. Saggi sul pensiero teologico di Luigi Giussani (Milano: BUR, 2022) – hopefully it will be available in English before too long!
One thing leads to another. I was surprised and thrilled to be invited to speak at the Meeting in Rimini some months later. I was in a panel discussion dedicated to ‘Christianity as an Event: the theological thought of Luigi Giussani’. My first experience of the Meeting was amazing. My impressions are summed up in my encounter with Giovanni, a young lawyer, who guided me and a few other Australian friends through the exhibition on Blessed Rosario Livatino. Giovanni’s intensity and enthusiasm for sharing something of the life of Livatino was infectious. I saw a keenly developed religious sense in Livatino, but also in this exceptional young man who wanted to share with us his passion for the person, for justice and for truth. Grazie, Giovanni!
Fr Giussani’s approach to the faith and the way he opens up the concept of the religious sense attracts people everywhere. Another follow-on from my chapter was being interviewed by American theologian and writer Larry Chapp, as part of his “Gaudium et Spes” blog. The world is hungry for signs of hope.
So many unexpected fruits, and all from a simple desire to go deeper into my own experience.

To watch the encounter at the Rimini Meeting:
(Tom Gourlay speaks at 42:10)
Tom’s interview with Larry Chapp:

* Tom Gourlay is the National Director of Chaplaincy and Faith Formation, and a lecturer and PhD candidate in Theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia.