A title card for an InsightOut blog post by Therese Hassan

The author of our post for Bell Let’s Talk Day 2021, Therese Hassan completed both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of St. Michael’s College. A recent graduate from the Master of Theological Studies program at the Faculty of Theology, she is particularly interested in Catholic philosophy of education, theology of ministry, and qualitative methods in religious studies. Therese is currently a Secondary School teacher with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.


Talking About Fight Club to Stay Healthy

I recently assigned my students an adaptation of a “time audit” activity that Jay Shetty offers in his book Think Like a Monk. The premise of the exercise was that what we spend most of our time on essentially reflects what we value most. The idea was for my students to audit their time over five days to identify where most of their time was being spent. My students had to articulate what it is they truly value and whether or not the way they spent their time (especially amid a pandemic) truly reflected what they valued most. For most students, the realization set in that how they spent their time was disproportionate to what they outlined they truly valued.

As I listened to my students’ reflections on their time audit, several patterns emerged. Many of my students identified having valued their mental health but recognized that the way they spent their time did not necessarily foster positive mental health. Many voiced an intention to carve out more time in the day to spend on activities that would benefit their mental health, including less time on social media, more time meditating and praying, and more time being present with family (I know: amazing conclusions, right?). Interestingly, almost all of them felt guilty to some degree about not doing more with their time, considering the time at home the pandemic has granted. On this point, I could relate to my students more than they will ever know.

The truth is that the conclusions my students came to as a result of their time audit are as intuitive as they are appropriate to the unprecedented time we find ourselves in. As their teacher, I am essentially endowed with the responsibility to keep considerate of their mental health, offer information and resources on how to cope and who to talk to, and tips and tools in practicing self-care, all while standing as a pillar of poise, a model of “keeping it together,” a standard of composure even though I too share in the same struggle. It’s like having to prepare my students for a test I’ve never taken myself, in an area I haven’t yet achieved a level of expertise. Put all that against the backdrop of a pandemic, and it feels more like a fight; only it’s a fight I didn’t ever think I’d need to prepare for, let alone be responsible for in preparing others. I’m right there in the ring with everyone else trying to listen to coaching instructions.

Of course, I could never say this out loud. The first rule of fight club is you cannot talk about the fight club. If I talk about my struggle in the fight club, how can anyone find me dependable or reliable? What if I am seen as any less of a Professional? How do I continue to meet the needs of my students, friends, or family members in supporting their mental health while staying afloat myself? How do I talk about self-care amid a pandemic when I’m still trying to figure out a routine that works for me? How do I help the people around me continue to feel connected despite struggling from isolation and confinement myself?

Mental health is something for all of us to be concerned about. One of the most significant personal revelations I ever had on the topic was to learn that mental health and mental illness are not synonymous concepts but rather interconnected concepts that each span their own continuum. This means that not everyone with mental illness has bad mental health, and an absence of mental illness does not necessarily mean good mental health. There’s a line in Amanda Gorman’s poem The Hill We Climb where she talks about the nation before her as not a broken nation, but an unfinished one. Similarly, mental illness or the struggle with mental health doesn’t make us broken, but unfinished, a work in constant progress. Trying to work towards positive mental health is a struggle to be met by everyone at one point or the other. Meeting the expectations of self-care can and probably does feel near impossible with or without a pandemic. For that reason, we are literally all in it together even when we feel completely alone.

Despite it all, I am still trying to do it all. People depend on me. I am sure that many out there are doing the same thing, persisting and persevering because people count on them. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that, for whatever reason, knowing I’m not alone in the ring is a comforting thing. Storytelling is a magical device we have that dates back as far as the human community itself. Testimony and dialogue help us confront some of the harsh realities of the human condition at its deepest level, inviting us into a journey of “meaning-making” as we bear witness to the stories and experiences of those around us. If there is one thing I can say for sure, it’s that we need to feel empowered and empower others by and through witness and storytelling regarding our experiences and struggles with and of mental health. We need to normalize talking about this regardless of rank, position, gender, age, or creed.

They said that the first rule of fight club is to never talk about the fight club. Well, this is our fight club, and mental health is our ring. Whether one is giving or receiving support in dealing with mental health, we’re all in the ring, a human make-up of grace under pressure, each of us hoping that we or the ones we love can and will persevere through each second of every minute of every round. One of my own coaches from the ring often reminds me that, in our fight, we strive not to be perfect but to be balanced; constantly adjusting our footing to be as close to the centre point of love, family, friends, respect and humanity. We may sway, but we adjust, and we never fall completely.

And so, to that I say: screw the rules of fight club. Let’s talk about fight club. Let’s reflect on our own stories deeply and honestly. Let’s share our testimonies and open our hearts to the testimonies of others. In a time characterized by physical and social distance, let our stories and experiences of being inside the ring connect us like never before. Let’s talk not just one day a year but consistently and intentionally, because our lives depend on it. 


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David Byrne is a doctoral candidate in theology (ethics) at the University of St. Michael’s College. David is also a professor in the Community and Justice Services program at Centennial College in Scarborough, Ontario. David lives in Oshawa, Ontario with his wife and two children.


A Year of Learning Differently

Photograph of girl looking at a math problem on a laptop

I have developed a motto over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. A year of living differently. I have said it so many times, it has become a mantra—a way to refocus when my family and I are faced with change, or when we have to give up something we love to do. No more visits to museums or the zoo? A year of living differently! We camped instead, exploring Ontario’s provincial parks. No big family celebrations or barbecues? Just a year of living differently! So, we gathered virtually and at a distance. Postponing a trip my wife and I were hoping to take for our ten-year wedding anniversary, opting instead for a long bike ride and dinner at home… a year of living differently… though, that one with less panache.

As a professor at Scarborough’s Centennial College and a father of two young children, for us there is no place that the impacts of this year of living differently have been more noticeable than in the classroom. Mornings used to be rushing around to get everyone ready before dropping them off at their schools and driving into Scarborough to teach, coffee in hand. Now, with my wife and I working from home, and our children doing online school, mornings are waking up slowly and making sure everyone is fed and set up with their technology before our various Zoom meetings start.

Though I appreciate the extra time that this change has provided, it has been a hard adjustment. My children miss their friends and teachers, and I miss my coworkers and students. My wife would happily return to the office if able. There is nothing that technology can do that can replace the transformational experience of working and learning together, face to face, despite the enormous efforts of educators over the last eight months. And in many ways, it is getting harder, as we all grow tired of the seclusion and endless hours spent staring at screens.

Though, the pandemic has not been the only major adjustment for our family this year. In the spring, after months of testing, my daughter was diagnosed with a learning disability. As a baby and toddler, my daughter shone brightly. She walked early, she talked early, she was creative and engaging. Though, despite her social skills, we noticed that she struggled with some aspects of learning. Though she would carry on conversations with anyone who listened, she struggled to recognize letters. By the time she reached Third Grade, she was a year or two behind most of the other kids. This meant that in an educational environment where grades are prioritized, we had to adjust our expectations and support her as she struggled through her work, knowing that even with her best effort her report cards would be more a moment of recognizing and celebrating small victories than big ones.

Even with her diagnosis, and the creation of an Independent Educational Plan (IEP), my daughter would struggle in a regular classroom environment. There, with a single teacher whose attention is split between twenty or more students, our daughter cannot receive the support she needs to thrive. Though my daughter’s teachers have been fantastic in their efforts to support her, there is no way in our education system to provide the level of flexibility it takes to meet the demands of children who face complex barriers to learning. So, even though the psychologist who diagnosed my daughter asserted that my daughter could a get a PhD with the right accommodations, I found that hard to believe.

Then COVID struck, and with it the longest March Break in history.

With all of us at home, my wife and I took turns helping our daughter with her work. We supported her to get organized. We taught her to use a laptop with voice technology to help with her reading and writing. We helped her to overcome the frustration that accompanied her constant feeling of inadequacy. It was not a smooth or linear process. There were lots of strategies we tried that did not work. Lots of days where the demands of our own jobs meant that our daughter was on her own. But over time, we saw a change.

Tears became less frequent. Her reluctance to try new strategies gave way to excitement for new learning technology, especially the programs that let her express herself creatively. She started answering more questions in class and, to our surprise, helping her fellow classmates to understand their assignments. And when her recent progress report came out, the results reflected what we were seeing—our daughter was “getting it” for the first time.

I witnessed the positive impact of a flexible, empathetic and unconventional approach to learning. I watched my daughter shift from apprehension to enthusiasm. And, as a professor, I immediately thought to my own students. Especially those who struggle the most—and thought, how might a similar level of support and flexibility benefit them? What do they need to unlock their hidden potential that they have not had provided to them?

As a doctoral candidate in theology at USMC, whose research is rooted in liberative theological ethics, an approach to doing ethics that begins with the concrete experience of people as a primary source for ethical reflection, I was called to think more deeply about who my specific students are. I teach in a program at a school in a community where many of the students face barriers to learning. Many of my students work full time to afford their education. Many provide care for parents and young children. Many are first- or second-generation Canadians. And many are the first from their family to attend post secondary education. Few of them enjoy the same level of support and stability that my daughter does.

What I have found is that in this year of living differently, with my life unrecognizable from a year ago, I am called to embrace how to learn differently, too. As everything I know about education shifts, as I am shaken from my habits, as an educator I am called to change. To change the way I lecture, the way I assign and assess work and the way I view the different approaches to learning of my students. I need to look for ways to identify their unique needs and provide them with accommodations. I also need to see this task as an opportunity as opposed to a burden—one that I admit makes me feel vulnerable, but one that also enables me to see the face of my daughter in each one of my students—the little girl who found her love for learning in a radically different space than the one I imagined.


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Nick Cotman did his undergraduate studies in philosophy and political science at the University of Ottawa. He then completed his Master of Theological Studies at St. Michaels Faculty of Theology in 2019. It was at this time that he began working in the chaplaincy leader position at his alma matter, Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School in Kingston, ON.


Encountering Opportunity in Restriction

Image of an open window looking out onto an autumn landscape

As we have come to expect from most things in 2020, public education in Ontario’s schools looks a little different from most years. In Kingston, secondary schools are following an octomester model, meaning that there is one class each day for 22 straight days. Lunch periods are staggered for each grade in an effort to avoid congestion around the school. Additionally, teachers are livestreaming their lessons to ensure remote learners are getting the needed material. All of these adjustments have required a significant mental and pedagogical reorientation from staff and students. Having only begun my high school chaplaincy career in the fall of 2019, and being out of the school by this past March, these first months back have felt more like the second volume of my first year as I relearn the role.

Being (physically) back in school has affirmed something I had been reflecting on since COVID first began to reshape our daily lives: that a single thing can be both restrictive and freeing. The colleagues and students I have the privilege of spending time with each day are showing me there are unexpected opportunities to be found in the constraints we are currently navigating. I think it is important to note, however, that any “pleasant surprises” we encounter in no way diminish or undermine the unique challenges each of us has faced. Nonetheless, we should acknowledge that by being forced to reconsider the way we approach many things, 2020 has also shed light on the shortcomings of previous practices and provoked new, more effective methods. Being in school has made this especially clear to me.

There are a few experiences I’d like to recount. The first is one which is bound up closely with my position in the school: the absence of school Masses.  This has forced a significant shift in focus to other liturgical practices. I have been doing regular class visits to lead lectio divina readings and the Ignatian Daily Examen with students. Although we will be thankful when the day comes that we can celebrate Mass as an entire community, this unplanned hiatus has led me to recognize the richness of these other liturgical approaches. Mass in school was always an appreciated community event, but it was evident that further foundational efforts in spirituality and liturgical understanding would enrich the experience. The event of a school Mass may have become overly familiar, causing a lack of deliberate and reflective participation. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that we often need “to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur or triteness of familiarity.” This break may inadvertently serve as opportunity to form our liturgical sensibilities as a community through other practices, allowing us “to clean our windows,” and more fully appreciate Mass when we can gather once more as an entire community.

Another example that is small but noteworthy is the new inclusion of an end-of-day prayer. Prior to current circumstances, we would recite a simple grace over the PA before lunch.  Now, however, with each grade now getting out of class at different times, this was ruled out to avoid further interruptions. In the absence of a lunch hour prayer, we decided to begin doing a prayer at the end of the school day. This small change has been incredibly well received. We join in a meaningful prayer to give a definitive conclusion to the school day and to look forward to the evening ahead. This is a practice we will likely carry forward beyond these unusual circumstances, though we may have been unprompted to explore it without the current conditions.

Without Masses, retreats, or community outreach to coordinate, my priorities within the school have shifted. More than ever, it seems that chats in the staff room and chance encounters with students in the halls are of greater pastoral importance. When there was more room to complete tasks and plan outreach events, I began to let behind-the-scene to-do lists take the front seat. I’m thankful I’ve been required to shift my focus to relationships within the school. When things return to normal, I’ll be sure to maintain this focus.

There are an array of other instances I could talk about, such as our amended graduation ceremony, virtual coffee houses, and the music class using the cafetorium so as to social distance more effectively (allowing halls throughout the school to enjoy their practice). Students seem more open to seek me out to chat (though perhaps they just want out of class since they’re now in the same room all day!) and are displaying impressive consciousness of the well-being of those around them. They are dutiful in mask wearing, have embraced the octomester model, and even surpassed any previous food drives during our Thanksgiving collection.

These are all just small instances of the pleasant surprises I’ve seen over the past months. We have all encountered them in different ways, but I am especially thankful to see them occurring in Catholic education through the lens of chaplaincy. When we learn to embrace unanticipated circumstances, we can open ourselves up to viewing things in new ways and create room for God’s grace in areas we might lack control. In the chaplaincy work ahead, I’ll be sure to continue looking for the pleasant surprises and opportunities for growth that our current restrictions can bring.

Nisheeta Menon is a graduate of St. Michael’s Christianity & Culture program and holds a Master of Divinity degree from the Faculty of Theology. While studying theology she served as the Social Justice Co-ordinator and Student Life Committee Vice-President. She is now a high school Religion teacher in Mississauga, where she hopes to continue her co-curricular work serving her school community in the areas of equity and diversity education and chaplaincy.    


Wandering in the Desert

Moses with the Tablets of the Law by Marc Chagall, 1956
Moses with the Tablets of the Law by Marc Chagall, 1956

Autumn is a time of year I have always loved. As a student, I looked forward to transitioning back into school and the start-up of all of the clubs, sports, and activities. Now, as a secondary school teacher, my appreciation of this time of year has only increased. It is around this time that the life of a school starts to take shape—student leadership, chaplaincy, athletic teams, volunteer and outreach initiatives, arts programs, etc. Plans turn into reality and the school begins buzzing with activity, creativity, and life!

This autumn, as you might imagine, looks very different. The beginning of the school year was tumultuous, to say the least, and some of us only received our teaching assignments in late September. A number of teachers, like me, were designated to teach the online cohort and, with that, we have sunk into the routines of virtual teaching with considerable reluctance.

Students continue to be moved in and out of our courses due to a host of scheduling issues while the quadmester is rapidly progressing toward its end date in the second week of November. The tight timeline forces teachers to compress the curriculum, either speeding through important concepts or eliminating them entirely. The students “attend” class daily but are behind their screens while we are behind ours, and, even when our cameras are on, there is a palpable discomfort.

In a regular classroom, these students would know each other quite well by Grade 12, and they would continue to build connections with one another throughout their time in a class like mine. In the virtual environment, however, students in my classes are from all over the school board and, despite my efforts, their interaction is limited. As well, during the average school day, my colleagues generally remain isolated in their own classrooms (for good reason), leaving the staff lounge and department offices empty. The school is eerily quiet and the few faces you may pass are hidden behind masks. This is a far cry from the Thanksgiving liturgies, staff potlucks, and Student Council Haunted House tours of the past.

For most teachers, even those with in-class cohorts, the laments are the same: feeling disconnected from the students, being unable to teach and assess in an effective way, concern over students with access issues or learning challenges, and a general lack of guidance and support. At the same time, we watch the news as reports of COVID-19 cases in schools rise and we check in with some of our close friends and family as they await the results of their tests. We miss the loved ones who are outside of our social bubbles, and we worry about them, and ourselves. It is difficult to be hopeful.

One day, as I discussed these grim realities with a colleague, I confessed I was having a difficult time staying optimistic and energized, but that I was simultaneously feeling guilty about this because I also acknowledge how privileged I am in many ways. She offered one of the most helpful comments I have heard throughout this pandemic: “Of course you’re having trouble staying hopeful! What do you expect? We are the Israelites in the desert! This is not the Promised Land!”

Coincidentally, it was at that very time that I was in the midst of discussing the Exodus story with my Grade 12 Religion class. We had talked about how the Israelites in the desert must have felt a sense of hopelessness, fatigue, monotony, and an underlying fear that they might never actually reach the Promised Land. It is difficult to imagine that they ever woke up optimistic and chipper, ready to spend another day wandering in the desert!

During this pandemic, part of the struggle which so many of us put ourselves through is trying to make our lives as close to what they were pre-pandemic as possible. Of course, this is nearly impossible, and our failure to meet our self-imposed standards only heightens our anxiety. By acknowledging that we are “in the desert,” perhaps we can give ourselves permission to feel a little lost, at times hopeless, and generally unable to think more than a few steps ahead at any given time.

My most gratifying class thus far occurred when I shelved the curriculum for one day and chatted with the students about how I was feeling. As a teacher, and one of the only adult influences outside of their home they have regular access to right now, I know that modelling for my students the fact that it is okay to be struggling is perhaps the most important lesson that I can offer. After sharing with them a little about what was weighing on me, my students quickly piped in with words of validation and encouragement, which led to other students sharing their particular burdens, which in turn led to more encouragement from the group. Despite the distance between us and the glitchy internet connection, our discussion rolled on until the end of the period. There was laughter, exclamations of, “Oh my gosh! Me too!” and quiet, muffled sniffles at times. We never got around to our lesson on the Book of Exodus that day, and yet I am certain that we came to a better understanding of how the Israelites were able to survive—and find deep meaning in—their time in the desert together.

By Catherine Mulroney


When student Therese Hassan offered her reflection at the Faculty of Theology’s Commissioning Mass earlier this spring, she shared a great awakening she had about her time spent studying, an insight that likely resonated with many of her colleagues.

“What I can tell you today is that … I have much deeper and profound questions to ask and venture to understand – and I love that this is the case,” the Master of Theological Studies student explained.

The annual tradition of the Commissioning Mass is one of the most moving moments of the Faculty’s academic year, a time for the community to offer prayers of support and blessing for those students poised to graduate and begin their lives of ministry. After Mass, students, faculty and family gather for a reception.

“One of the important aspects of studying theology is that community becomes like family. It’s important to get to know each other because we learn, in part, through relationships,” explained Fiona Li, who co-chaired of the Student Life Committee (SLC) this past year and was instrumental in planning the post-Mass reception. Fiona will complete her Master of Theology (ThM) degree this year and move on to doctoral work. She earned her Master of Theological Studies degree from St. Mike’s in 2016.

For Fiona, who describes her time at the Faculty as “transformative,” the Mass would prove to be a “bittersweet moment,” one last time to attend liturgy with classmates and professors, “one last time to serve as a reader or an acolyte. … This is the community sending us off, telling us ‘We think you’re ready for the world.’ It’s a beautiful experience.”

Scott Harris, who chaired the SLC’s Liturgy Committee this year, looked forward to the blessing and act of being sent forth that is offered at the Commissioning Mass. He’s grateful for the opportunity to serve as committee chair, noting that it “deepened my experience with Church life.” As chair, he was required to invite presiders for Mass, arrange for readers and acolytes, select hymns and write petitions, as well as plan non-Eucharistic liturgies—all skills he will be able to call on in the future.

Chairing the committee meant “I became more immersed in the community. It meant, for example, having to take others’ views in mind rather than just planning liturgies that met my taste in music, for example. It gave me an entirely new perspective on liturgy.”

The Commissioning Mass is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how the study of theology transforms how we look at the world and our place in it, says Fr. George Smith, CSB, who presided. Fr. Smith was himself offered a blessing at the reception by Fr. Peter Galadza of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, an acknowledgement that Fr. Smith’s time as Superior General is coming to a close, with new duties with the Basilian Fathers beckoning.

Citing the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, Fr. Smith noted before Mass that “too often these days we see ourselves as Church against the modern world” rather than, as the English title of the 1965 document reads, the Church in the Modern World.

Theological study offers the opportunity to examine the great challenge of what it means to be a Church in service to the modern world, he said, noting that it builds upon Church tradition. Self-awareness and self-knowledge lead to an understanding that the centre of ourselves is God, he noted.

“Theology opens up the conversation to magisterial teaching of the Church, bringing rich tradition into conversation.” Pope Francis, for example, gives life to his own pastoral theology without dismissing the teachings of Pope Benedict before him, he noted.

For Therese and her classmates, that conversation is just beginning. As she told the congregation at the Mass, “this thing we do called theology isn’t just about coming to or acquiring knowledge. It’s about living in the questions themselves.”

And so, reflecting on late nights writing papers, struggling with complex readings and trying to keep on top of all the demands of student life, Therese told her colleagues that if they still have a desire to learn more and engage with the Mystery that is God, “congratulations: you are doing this right.”


Catherine Mulroney is the Faculty of Theology’s programs co-ordinator. 

Dr. John L. McLaughlin

The Faculty of Theology offers its congratulations to Old Testament scholar Dr. John L. McLaughlin, who has been promoted to full professor, the highest of academic ranks.

“I am delighted to see John honoured in this way,” said Faculty Dean Dr. James Ginther. “It affirms what we already know – that John is an invaluable asset to the Faculty, not only in terms of his teaching but also due to his research and service.”

As stated by the University of Toronto’s Office of the Vice-Provost, Faculty and Academic Life, a successful candidate for promotion to the rank of full professor will have established “a wide reputation in his or her field of interest, … be deeply engaged in scholarly work, and … have shown himself or herself to be an effective teacher.”

The assessment process required a committee made up of both Faculty colleagues and external members examining a wealth of materials from Dr. McLaughlin’s academic career, including a lengthy list of books, book chapters, peer-refereed articles, and book reviews, as well as student evaluations. His extensive curriculum vitae includes serving as a member of the editorial board of Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, and as an associate editor of Catholic Biblical Quarterly. He served as President of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies in 2015-2016

After earning his BA in Philosophy and English from St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB, Dr. McLaughlin earned an MA from the University of Toronto, and an MDiv, and PhD at the University of St. Michael’s College. He joined the Faculty of Theology in 2002 and is cross-appointed to the Graduate Faculty, Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, at the University of Toronto. Prior to joining the Faculty, he taught at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Dr. McLaughlin’s teaching areas include Introduction to the Old Testament, Israelite Religions, Prophets, Wisdom Literature, Isaiah, Qoheleth, and Job. His research interests include Ugarit, Israelite Origins, Wisdom Literature and Psalms.  His books include The Parables of Jesus, published by Novalis in 2004, and What Are They Saying About Ancient Israelite Religion, published by Paulist Press in 2016. An Introduction to Israel’s Wisdom Traditions (Eerdmans) is in press and slated to appear next month.

A proud son of Saint John, NB, he notes in his Faculty profile that he misses the Atlantic Ocean, fog and dulse.

The following address was delivered by Dean James Ginther at the Faculty of Theology convocation, which was held in St. Basil’s Church on November 11, 2017.

 

Let me begin my offering my personal congratulations to all of you.  After spending years attending classes, writing papers, fretting over marks, and constantly wondering if you would ever get here, let me remind you that it is done.  You have accomplished a very important thing in your life.  For each of you, regardless of which degree you carry after your surname, today is a gateway to a future of greater possibilities because you have completed your program.

At the same time, you join the ranks of pastors, educators and scholars who share in a rich theological and intellectual tradition. Vice-Provost McCahan quite rightly noted that theological education in the university is integral to the history of the university itself.  By middle fo the twelfth century, nearly every cathedral church employed a master of theology whose responsibility was to teach and train local clergy in both theological thought and pastoral care.  As parish churches became more of the norm and as the innovation of auricular confession for all Christians began to take root in ecclesial practice, it became necessary that a priest not simply apprentice with a senior cleric for his education.  Rather, he should be formed in a theological tradition that would in turn inform his pastoral practice.  That dual end of theological education—to think theologically and to act pastorally—was retained as those cathedral schools began to transform into universities where the faculty of theology became the highest form of university education.

And here we are, nine centuries later, standing together as part of a legacy of service, education and scholarship.  That legacy is complex enough in its history that it easily elicits questions: what is Catholic higher education?  There as many books and articles on this topic as there are opinions and arguments.  It is a challenging topic and in some ways there will never be a complete resolution, let alone universal agreement.  Even the papal encyclical, Ex corde ecclesiae, has not yielded a clear resolution for it has generated a robust debate on how to put “flesh on the bones” that Pope St John Paul II formed in his papal pronouncement.

Today, I would like to take us back to the beginning, to the early centuries of the university, as a way to explore the nature of Catholic theological education.  I want my reflection this afternoon to act as a speculum historiae, an opportunity to gaze into the past in order to think about your experience as a student of the divine science.  There are in fact four characteristics of theological education in the medieval university that I want to highlight, and these characteristics have contemporary equivalents or applications that I want each of you to consider.

The first characteristic is that theological education in the medieval university was disruptive.  We sometimes assume that we look to our institutional and theological traditions we will encounter an irenic and orderly set of resources.  Some even attempt to contrast the frenetic changes in contemporary society with a stable teaching of the tradition.  It can be easy to forget that the eternal truths of our faith enter into the variable contours of history and often do not become clear and intelligible without conflict and disagreement.  Such is the tradition of catholic education in the Middle Ages.   The rise of the university was ultimately a critique of a six-hundred year tradition of monastic education.  The monastery offered rigorous education within a deeply spiritual context, but by the end of the eleventh century, the leaders of Christendom had begun to conclude that this institution did not offer enough to meet the needs of a changing society.  Some monasteries attempted to adjust by creating external schools where non-monastics could study alongside novitiates, but they were too sparse to address the growing need to educate new clergy and even laity who demanded formal education.

We know that this disrupted the tradition of theological education because monastic writers told us so.   They aimed their critique at a variety of issues, but they boiled down to two fundamental ones. First,  these new universities encouraged a cult of personality where the master’s authority was based on his own accomplishments rather than with which an institution had endowed him.  Peter Abelard was a prime example of this to monastic thinkers like Bernard of Clairvaux, but it was not limited to him.

Second, universities were foolishly accelerating the learning process, that is, they had abandoned the leisurely approach of meditation and rumination in the cloister for the cacophony of debate in the classroom.  They had turned education, so it seemed to a number of monastic thinkers, into an acquisition of facts without any attention to the wisdom needed for theological argument.  One severe critic, Stephen of Tournai, remarked that the new theological education resulted in students standing on street corners dissecting the Holy Trinity as if it were a geometrical puzzle.

But the fact is, the rise of the university was a response to a monumental shift in the social and cultural fabric of European society.  Migration patterns, urbanization, technological innovations in agriculture and war, new intellectual resources that could be used to think about creation—all these created new demands of what it meant to be Christian.  Monastic education did not adapt but the cathedral schools did.

Even as universities became the centre stage for education, the faculties of theology did not abandon their disruptive nature.  For the rest of the Middle Ages, theologians constantly pushed the boundaries of orthodox thinking. They taught and engaged tradition not to simply explain it, but to challenge its principles and re-think how its teaching could be applied in a new context.  Let me provide two short examples,  In the early twelfth century, some theologians began to suggest that a new formula for Trinitarian thought should speak of the Father in terms of Power, the Son in terms of Wisdom and the Holy Spirit in terms of Goodness. The reaction was visceral as this appeared to deny the unity of Trinity because it applied a single attribute to only one person of the Trinity.  The concept of personal or notional attributes was formally condemned at a local council in France and deemed heretical.  But this idea would not go away, and as theologians in the next century began to develop a more sophisticated metaphysics, this model of Trinitarian language was adopted.  What had been condemned as innovative and dangerous soon became foundational for the theologies of teachers of the Church such as Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas, as well as John Duns Scotus.

An issue that hit closer to home in theological education was the nature of the soul.  Now this may sound like another ethereal and abstract theological topic, but it had clear implications on how a faculty of theology would form students for pastoral ministry. The soul in the tradition of early Christianity was tripartite but a fairly simple entity.  This account of the soul was the foundation of monastic practice and theologians and bishops had developed notions of pastoral care based on it.  The discovery of Aristotle and his Islamic commentators disrupted that tradition significantly.  That new account challenged the very basis of religious knowledge and called into question the principles of pastoral care that were in use.  The soul according to Aristotle was far more embedded in the human body and presented a far more complex understanding of human behaviour.  The theologians in the university were excited by this disruption. To them it provided a more robust way to think about virtue and vice; if offered a more coherent explanation of both the bodily and spiritual features of human salvation; and, it suggested a more realistic explanation of how we come to know God.  It took several decades for this new account to work its way into the tradition.

Medieval theological education as disruptive was possible because theologians did not abandon their faith or ignore their tradition but rather engaged it.  This is the reason that regardless of what degree program you were in, my colleagues and I wanted you to know the core teachings of our Faith in terms of Scripture, Trinity, Christology, Ecclesiology and pastoral care.  But we do not want you to be comfortable with that formation, but rather to see how your education can disrupt.  At the heart of education in the medieval university was the question.  It was a rhetorical device that empowered both student and professor to demand the tradition account for itself and it gave license to thinking creatively how we can reimagine our faith.

Disruption can create anxiety that often undermines learning opportunities.  One way that medieval theologians mitigated this was that they embraced theology as performative. Now this sounds like one of those concepts postmodernists use to sound learned while saying nothing.  A number of years ago a colleague of mine gave a conference paper on preaching before the papal court in Avignon.  He was asked if he thought the sermons he had studied were performative, to which he replied “What do you mean?  It’s not like they used hand-puppets when they preached.”

Let me avoid the highfalutin talk and simply state that performative theology means that one learns by doing. Another way to think about this idea in contemporary terms is that theology in the medieval university was student centred.  Yes, the master of the sacred page lectured, but even here we see the master modeling what he wants his students to do.  I am currently leading a project to edit a collection of lectures on the Pentateuch that we think were penned by Peter Lombard.  That’s a big thesis to prove, and even if we are wrong, these unpublished commentaries will provide another point of access to medieval theological education in the university.  We are currently making our way through the Genesis lectures and what has struck me is that the author is aware that he is teaching both about Genesis and how to be an exegete.  He regularly uses the imperative mood as he transitions from one biblical section to the next, and often in the second person singular.   “having said these things,” he regularly states, “move to the next text and consider…”

Moreover, lectures were always followed by questions from students.  One of my favourite texts by Aquinas is his exposition of the first 54 Psalms.  It so un-Thomas in its formulation: it is messy if not disordered at times.  But this is because we do not have polished text but rather a report of what happened in the classroom in the Dominican studio at Naples.  The messiness is due to the fact that Thomas was fielding questions and it is clear he is working through his reading of the Psalter in front of his students.

Theological education, as you have discovered, is not about acquisition of content, but rather the integration of faith and the mind.  It is why we value small class sizes because you needed the space to engage.  It is why we value the one to one interaction of the thesis experience so that the faculty can model how one does theological research.  Don’t abandon that model in your vocational and career choices.  Many of you are destined to educate in some form or another. Remember that we do not communicate theological truths through power point, but in how we perform as theologians and teachers.  Reflect on how your formation here in the faculty has prepared you to model the Catholic theological tradition.

The highest performance in theological thought is prayer.  It was no different in the medieval university, where masters and students came together for Eucharist and to pray together.  Catholic theological education must be bound up in prayer. But, not surprisingly, even this act was not without criticism.  Once again we hear the monastic voice calling into question the integrity of theological education in the medieval university.  The problem was not that university theologians did not pray, but rather how many times they did each day.  When the university emerged there were two models of the divine office that one could adopt: the older office that had prayer for the eight canonical hours each day, that is, the model in use at every cloister in medieval Europe; or, the Little Office, which had fewer hours for prayer.  The latter had begun to be adopted by parish priests so that they could divide their time between the vital need to pray and the demands of the pastoral care of their parishioners. The masters and students also found the Little Office to work more effectively with the demands of teaching and learning, and they were soon followed by the newly established mendicant orders.  The criticism, however, never disappeared even though there was papal endorsement of using the Little Office for secular clergy.

Your time here in the faculty of theology was bound up in prayer.  Our regular liturgies were as much a part of your education as were the course readings or the papers you wrote. As you move forward from graduation, let me offer two pieces of advice.  Continue to pray.  Pray for your colleagues, pray for your students. Pray about the things you will teach in order to ruminate about their theological realities.  Pray for those who will not pray with you. Second, celebrate when other pray and don’t focus on the fact they may not pray often enough.  Our life as theologians is a life of prayer, but we must be mindful of Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  We pray because we need to, and we must model it so others can see the need to pray.

Finally, Catholic theological education in the medieval university was defined the Latin phrase: vita et scientia.  The apex of medieval education was the awarding of the title of magister.  It took at least fifteen years of study to become such a master in theology—so yes, time to completion was not an issue in the Middle Ages—and the final hurdle was a general examination before a master would incept.  That examination had to include a sponsor who could testify that the newly minted theologian was learned in theology and upright in his life.  It was not enough to be able to navigate an ocean of theological knowledge if the new master had no moral compass; and a life of piety could not be a substitute for the rigours of theological argument.

This was a tall order.  In his inaugural sermon at his own inception as a master of theology at Oxford University in 1229, Robert Grosseteste captured the intention.  Like most inaugural sermons of his day, this text laid out Grosseteste’s approach to theology which included praise of Scripture.  As he transitioned from how the natural sciences assisted the theologian in his work to reading the sacred page, he states that “Scripture is more excellent when it resides in a living heart than on dead parchment.”  Theological education is disruptive, performative, bound up in prayer, because it must be transformative.  If you leave the faculty today in the same disposition you were when you got here, then we have failed you.  Theologians, before they can challenge others, must first challenge themselves, and they must be willing to change not only what and how they think but how they live.

Over the last two weeks, I have had the privilege of conducting exit interviews with our graduates.  With the shackles of the degree program loosened, many of you felt free to tell us what you really thought about your experience here.  One of the common themes in those interviews was that your education did indeed disrupt the way that you thought and acted.  One student summarized that her experience at the faculty of theology “breathed life into my faith.”

I encourage you to consider that your theological education must have an impact on both your thoughts and your actions.  You may be the most stalwart defender of the Faith, but if you don’t treat people with dignity and respect you demonstrate you don’t understand the calling to be a theologian.  You may certainly be able to teach Christology, soteriology or moral theology but if you engage people in anger and bitterness then you cannot call yourself a theologian.  You may support the New Evanglization with a honest desire that all men and women come to know their Creator, but if you cannot dialogue with those of other faiths then you have fundamental misunderstanding of the theological enterprise.   Jesus certainly cleansed the temple in righteous anger and he spoke clearly about what fidelity to God meant, but he was also the one who welcome prostitutes and tax collectors as friends and showed mercy and compassion to those who had been marginalized and neglected.

Our Catholic theological education can never be pursued in isolation; there is no ivory tower for us to occupy.  I pray that in teaching you, in challenging you, we have been disruptive, but that we have shown what a theological performance is, and that we discovered you both in the classroom and the chapel.  So go forward and challenge the assumptions of our society and our institutions.  Bring your theological education to bear on the circumstances you find yourself in.  Model to your colleagues and students what it means to think theologically and act pastorally.  And let us pray for one another that we may reflect the invisible light of our heavenly Father in both our speech and our actions.

 

 

By Catherine Mulroney

When David Byrne opted to attend a conference as an MDiv student a few years back, little did he know that the conference would lead not only to further studies but also to a fulfilling career.

The conference Byrne attended was on restorative justice, an approach that sees criminal offenders make amends with victims and the broader community. Fascinated by what he heard, Byrne sought to do his mandatory MDiv field placement – an extended period of service learning that stems from a theological question — in this area, landing a spot with Peterborough Community Chaplaincy, about 135 kilometres northeast of Toronto.

One of the programs under the Peterborough chaplaincy umbrella was a local chapter of Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA), a national program designed to offer a network of support to sex offenders who have served their sentences, helping with weekly meetings to re-integrate them into community life while reducing the risk of recidivism.

That was 2009. Today, not only is Byrne the executive  director of Peterborough Community Chaplaincy, he also serves as chair of CoSA Canada, the umbrella organization overseeing local chapters, while also continuing as a doctoral student at the Faculty of Theology, working on a thesis on the ethical, moral and spiritual questions surrounding chemical castration of sex offenders.

Under Byrne’s leadership, CoSA Canada received a $7.48-million grant from the federal government earlier this year under the National Crime Prevention Strategy to assist 14 CoSA sites across the country as they help offenders accept accountability and responsibility for their actions as they complete their sentences and return to the community.

Byrne credits mentor and thesis advisor Dr. Dennis O’Hara with helping him to find the confidence and self-awareness to discover his calling and recognize his skills.

“Dennis saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself,” he reflects. “Dennis provided the one-on-one guidance I needed to help me identify my strengths and interests.” Byrne also credits Dr. Marilyn Legge, of Emmanuel College, with being another great mentor for him.

That ability to offer guidance to another is a skill Byrne now employs in his workplace when he comes in contact with clients.

“We can help, but sex offenders need to be willing to work with us,” he explains.

Byrne’s workplace responsibilities are numerous, and include managing a staff of 15, and overseeing local residences, including a 10-bed palliative and long-term care home for released offenders. People who are incarcerated “age out” more rapidly, Byrne notes, due to a complex set of factors ranging from diet and exercise to issues of mental health.

One of the biggest challenges he faces are societal. For example, “revulsion stands in the way of treatment,“  he notes.  Current research, he adds, indicates far more people than once thought have a propensity for pedophilic tendencies.

While he finds his work infinitely rewarding, one of the most important pastoral skills he learned while working on his MDiv was understanding the importance of leaving work behind, an especially important gift, as his wife works for a non-profit agency as well.

“When we get home, we’ll spend 10 to 15 minutes de-briefing, and then it’s all about family,” says the father of two.

Byrne finds many of the skills he developed while working on his MDiv to be applicable to his work life: he leads retreats and meetings, for example, and uses the research and writing skills he’s developed whenever he drafts a grant application. He’s also taught Additional Qualifications courses for teachers at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, and taught ethics at Fleming College in Peterborough, ON.

This article was authored and submitted by the University of St. Michael’s College Faculty of Theology


By Catherine Mulroney

Internationally noted theologian Gregory Baum, one of Canada’s last links to the Second Vatican Council and a former University of St. Michael’s College, Faculty of Theology professor, has died in Montreal at the age of 94.

“Gregory Baum was a major theologian, an interpreter of Catholic Social Teaching and papal documents, and a key communicator of the change of Vatican II, “explains Dr. Lee Cormie, a former Faculty colleague of Baum’s and a friend for 50 years.

Born in Berlin, Baum arrived in Canada in 1940, a refugee who then spent time in an internment camp in Quebec. He began teaching at the Faculty of Theology at St. Mike’s in 1960 but headed to Rome to serve as a peritus, or theological advisor, in the secretariat for Christian Unity at the Second Vatican Council,  which ran from 1962-1965.  During that time, Baum, the child of a Jewish mother and a Protestant father, entered the Catholic Church as a young adult. He contributed to the first draft of the ground breaking document entitled Nostre aetate, or The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.  He also was involved in the sessions that resulted in the documents Unitatis redintegratio (On Ecumenism) and Dignitatis humanae (On Religious Liberty), topics that were to fascinate him throughout his lengthy academic and publishing life.

“Because he was an advisor to Vatican II he had an inside track on how much was changing; he was a leading light on what had happened at the Council and what it meant for the Church,”  notes Cormie, who team-taught a course with Baum at the Faculty on theology and the social science.

“He was a very big presence on campus,” engaged in countless lectures, conversations and teaching, Cormie recalls, adding that in the early 1970s,  Baum began to teach graduate courses in sociology and religious studies at the University of Toronto as well. It was at this time that Baum began to immerse himself in social justice issues, inspired by Catholic Social Teaching.

After moving to Montreal in 1986 to begin teaching at McGill University, Baum also became in important interpreter for those outside of Quebec regarding what was happening in the Church in Quebec in light of the Quiet Revolution, Cormie notes.

“He was also an unbelievably friendly and warm person, someone who carried on an ongoing conversation with an incredible number of friends,“ Cormie recalls.

Noting that Baum labelled himself a “conversationalist”, Cormie adds that the label “speaks to the renewal that came with Vatican II, making us a communication of people in conversation with each other.”

A prolific writer, Baum published books on topics ranging from the Church in Quebec and Muslim theologian Tariq Ramadan to critical theology and the signs of the times. He was also the founding editor of The Ecumenist, a Canadian periodical dedicated to theology, society and culture.

In 1990, when he was made an officer of the Order of Canada, his citation described him as “a guide and inspiration to generations of students of many different faiths and backgrounds.”

Listening to the Voices of the Local Church

 

This piece, as well as the accompanying post from Fr. Peter Galadza,  launch the new Faculty of Theology blog, a chance to hear from the experts on the topics of the day. Dr. Michael Attridge is an associate professor at the Faculty of Theology, where he teaches systematic theology, Christology and issues relating to Vatican II. He serves as the Faculty’s Director of Academic Programs.

 

Recently, Pope Francis issued a letter Motu Proprio entitled “Magnum Principium”, which relates to the Catholic Church’s liturgy. For those who are wondering, this kind of document is issued by a pope’s own initiative and it changes canon law (Canon 838). This motu proprio, issued last month, is interesting because it now requires those in Rome in charge of translating  liturgical texts into local languages to listen to the suggestions of bishops’ conferences throughout world. Previously, these conferences were allowed to undertake translations, but their work was always subject to the review and approval by Rome. Now, Rome will be required to listen to the conferences and to “recognize the adaptations approved by” them. In other words, the conferences can now propose language and, with the force of law behind them, expect that that language will be accepted.

All of this is quite interesting, but my area of theology is not liturgy or liturgical history; it’s ecclesiology – that is, the theology of Church,  historical theology, and the Second Vatican Council. In this respect, I’m intrigued by something else that this document signifies, and especially for what it indicates about Francis’ papacy.

One of the most important developments at Vatican II was the rediscovery of the importance of the local church, which we would think of as a diocese. For centuries, when official Catholic theology spoke of the Church most often it was not in reference to the diocese, but to the larger concept of the Church universal, that is, spread throughout the world with the Pope as its head. The Council, however, retrieved the theology of the local church, which was much better known in the earliest centuries of Christianity. It didn’t say that the local church was the only thing that mattered, it simply emphasized that the local church 11sn’t just a piece of the larger universal Church, but is, in a true sense, a Church

In the 50 years since the end of Vatican II, there has been a drift in the direction of official Catholic theology to once again emphasize the universality of the Church instead of its particularity. So why does this local/universal issue matter? It matters because it relates to where decisions are made that impact the lives of individual Catholics around the world. Those who emphasize universality are concerned with the unity of the Church, which seems more easily safeguarded when authority is centralized. Those who emphasize particularity are concerned with recognizing the value of the multiple ways in which faith comes to be expressed in different peoples and cultures and languages throughout the world. Since the beginning of his papacy, Francis has appeared to be redirecting us once again towards the local church. He is interested the lives and conditions of individual believers and to the places where they find themselves. An early indication of this  arose when he was elected Pope. In his speech, he spoke first to the local people of Rome, as their bishop, and asked them for their prayers. It was only afterwards, that he addressed the Church universal as its Pope. Further, much of his papal ministry has been focused on recognizing the situation and struggles of individual people, whether in the streets of Rome, the shores of Lampedusa, or at the US-Mexican border. But these examples, as with many others are symbolic, not doctrinal. The motu proprio last month, insofar as it alters canon law, now codifies this decentralizing shift. It’s significant, ecclesiologically, not just liturgically, and is worth noting.

 

This piece, as well as the accompanying post from Dr. Michael Attridge, launch the new Faculty of Theology blog, a chance to hear from the experts on the topics of the day. Fr. Peter Galadza, PhD, is Professor of Liturgy and Director of the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, Faculty of Theology, University of St. Michael’s College

 

Having an Eastern Catholic comment on Roman-Rite realities is not always a good idea. As a member of a church such as the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic, I am less likely to know the nuances of ecclesial life in another church sui iuris. I say this on the basis of my experience – seeing how Roman Rite Catholics frequently don’t understand our Eastern Catholic realities.

 

However, I’ve been asked to comment on Magnum Principium, and as someone who has worked in the area of Eastern Christian liturgical translations, I cautiously offer the following reflections.

 

In principle, the papal document reflects a sound intuition: native speakers, working in the countries where the translations will be used – and directed by authorities in those countries – should control the lion’s share of the translation process. In the case of the 2011 revisions, this apparently did not consistently happen. This seems to explain why a number of the 2011 presidential prayers are simply “clunky” English – especially when read, as opposed to sung. (Notice the tentative nature of my assertions, as I am reluctant to be too categorical for the reason stated above.) The infelicity of some of the 2011 translations was the collateral damage caused by the legitimate desire to correct ICEL’s wildly paraphrastic renderings.

 

However, throughout the 1990s, ICEL itself had been doing yeoman’s work to re-do these translations. Members of ICEL understood that they needed to revise the earlier translations in order to bring out the inter-textuality with other Christian writings, and provide clearer access to the original. I recall reading more than a decade ago an article in Studia Liturgica by the noted Jesuit liturgist, John Baldovin, who was reporting on ICEL’s commendable efforts in this area. In parallel columns, he placed three texts: the original Latin, the old ICEL translation, and a new translation that had been proposed by ICEL. It was obvious how flawed the old ICEL translation was, and – now that we have been exposed to the 2011 renderings – how much more felicitous the proposed ICEL revisions of the 1990s would have been – had they not been sidelined in favour of the 2011 texts.

 

Turning now from sound intuition to possible unexpected consequences, the one thing I hope can be avoided in the Roman Rite– especially as a member of an Eastern Catholic Church where total chaos reigns in the area of translations – is that the “decentralization” signalled by this Motu Proprio will not lead to an unintended disregard for official renderings. As we know: what people think you are doing is almost as important as what you actually are doing. Thus, if the perception develops that translating liturgy – and receiving the translation – is a more fluid process than it should be, Roman Catholics could end up hearing, for example, six different English translations of just the rites of Initiation – and in North America alone. This is the situation in my own Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church. It could happen not because any authorities had actually promulgated a variety of translations, but because of the perception that “decentralization” means “deregulation” – and a deleterious one at that.

 

Fortunately, Roman Catholicism has been known for its ability to co-ordinate and unify different constituencies within its ranks. May this always remain so. Ex oriente lux – sed non semper.

 

Congratulations to doctoral student Marie Green, who has been awarded a fellowship with the Forum for Theological Experience. Marie is certified to teach Law and History with the Ontario College of Teachers and the New York State Board of Education. After completing her undergraduate degree at Carleton University (Ottawa), she served as an intern with the United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict in New York. She holds a Master of Theology from Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Adolescence Education from D’Youville College. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Her research focuses on intersections between Christian education, race, and Indigeneity.

For more information, here’s a link to the FTE website: http://fteleaders.org/press/fte-announces-recipients-of-2017-fellowship-for-doctoral-students

Catholic Education Week is celebrated every year in Ontario during the first week of May. Those of us involved directly– teachers, support staff, administrators, custodial staff, parents, students and trustees –  celebrate the gift of Catholic Education every day of the year. We have the gift of teaching students about God, helping them to grow in faith and truth, and in their relationship with Jesus Christ. It is wonderful to be able to share our love of God in the safe and nurturing environment of a Catholic community in a Catholic school. How many in the world get to do the same? This gift also includes being publicly funded. Parents do not have to pay to send their children to a Catholic school in Ontario. It is truly a blessing that all Catholic children can have an excellent Catholic education no matter what their family’s income might be.

Being at student at St. Michael’s College myself, I am in classes with teachers and those aspiring to be teachers. I marvel at their zeal and energy to bring our Catholic faith to life in their classrooms and in the lives of their students. You too are gift and I thank God for you.

The value we bring to the world as people of faith is most significant–being not afraid to live as Christians, going beyond ourselves to help others. Let Catholic Education Week remind us that we have a voice, a voice we raise to seek justice and dignity for all in the world; a voice we raise to advocate for Catholic Education, an instrument of salt and light in the world. Join together at www.togetherinfaith.ca and learn how you can strengthen Catholic Education.

Happy Catholic Education Week! Visit: https://www.tcdsb.org/board/nurturingourcatholiccommunity/catholiceducationweek/pages/default.aspx

You are also invited to participate in the province wide engagement, Renewing the Promise:

https://www.tcdsb.org/news/othernews/2017/pages/catholic-education.aspx

Blessings,

Nancy Crawford

Trustee, Toronto Catholic District School Board and part-time MRE student at the Faculty of Theology in the University of St. Michael’s College

Catholic Education Week is celebrated every year in Ontario during the first week of May. Those of us involved directly– teachers, support staff, administrators, custodial staff, parents, students and trustees –  celebrate the gift of Catholic Education every day of the year. We have the gift of teaching students about God, helping them to grow in faith and truth, and in their relationship with Jesus Christ. It is wonderful to be able to share our love of God in the safe and nurturing environment of a Catholic community in a Catholic school. How many in the world get to do the same? This gift also includes being publicly funded. Parents do not have to pay to send their children to a Catholic school in Ontario. It is truly a blessing that all Catholic children can have an excellent Catholic education no matter what their family’s income might be.

Being at student at St. Michael’s College myself, I am in classes with teachers and those aspiring to be teachers. I marvel at their zeal and energy to bring our Catholic faith to life in their classrooms and in the lives of their students. You too are gift and I thank God for you.

The value we bring to the world as people of faith is most significant–being not afraid to live as Christians, going beyond ourselves to help others. Let Catholic Education Week remind us that we have a voice, a voice we raise to seek justice and dignity for all in the world; a voice we raise to advocate for Catholic Education, an instrument of salt and light in the world. Join together at www.togetherinfaith.ca and learn how you can strengthen Catholic Education.

Happy Catholic Education Week! Visit: https://www.tcdsb.org/board/nurturingourcatholiccommunity/catholiceducationweek/pages/default.aspx

You are also invited to participate in the province wide engagement, Renewing the Promise:

https://www.tcdsb.org/news/othernews/2017/pages/catholic-education.aspx

Blessings,

Nancy Crawford

Trustee, Toronto Catholic District School Board and part-time MRE student at the Faculty of Theology in the University of St. Michael’s College

Our Easter reflection was written by MTS student Emmaus O’Herlihy, OSB. Brother Emmaus has recently completed his Master of Theological Studies degree, and will begin doctoral work in the Fall. His painting, Apostola Apostolorum, was commissioned by the Toronto Dominicans for the 800th anniversary of their order. This reflection was written as an accompaniment to the painting

Apostola Apostolorum explores the Johannine gospel’s post-resurrection periscope of Magdalene’s encounter with Christ (Jn 20:10-18).
Magdalene’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus inaugurates a development of faith that must now “yield to the call of a more radical actualization,” as theologian James Fowler expresses it. Her commission from the risen Christ, to go to the Apostles and inform them of his forthcoming ascension, earned her the title ‘Apostle to the Apostles’ since early Christian times, albeit credited to Augustine in the Fourth Century. The painting places its emphasis on movement, suggesting a movement from one panel to the next, one stage of faith to the next, crossing through the vertical line of crisis that divides the two panels.
Apostola Apostolorum is a large-scale diptych in oil (96” x 60”) painted in Toronto in March-April 2015. The term “diptych”—originating from the Greek words di (two) and ptyche (fold)—refers to a pair of panels, usually small enough to be held in the hand, made of wood or ivory and hinged together to open like a book. Adapted for religious subject matter in early Christian art, diptychs would later feature in Roman Catholic tradition from the early Gothic period (Twelfth Century), through to the Renaissance (Fourteenth to Seventeenth Centuries). Larger scale contemporary diptychs are occasionally produced by artists for works consisting of two paintings that are not physically joined but displayed side by side as a pair. The choice of colour in this work (buff titanium) alludes to the origin of diptychs as an art discipline from Sixth Century Rome in which matching ivory panels were carved in low relief.
Traditionally the two panels of a diptych relate figuratively: An image of the donor on the left, religious theme on the right; figure(s) on the left directing attention to figure(s) on the right. Here Magdalene’s figure fills the right panel to contrast with the lack of any figural representation in the other. The lack of figuration in the left canvas suggests what Walter Kasper emphasises in relation to divine revelation as “supracategorical occurrence” in which mystery discloses a whole new reality; a new way of seeing, beyond conventional imagery.
Encountering the risen Jesus (recognized by Magdalene only when hearing him speak her name, as referenced in her exposed ear) heightens Magdalene’s sense of crisis by her realization that she can no longer relate physically to Jesus.
Magdalene’s figure in the painting is blown forward; the energy of the Spirit drives her onwards to announce Jesus’ resurrection to the Apostles. Her posture highlights her active responsiveness to Christ’s commission. It suggests a sense of purpose, a “leaning into the future of God for all being.”
The position of Magdalene’s hand in relation to her mouth represents her evangelizing role. The resurrected Christ has commissioned her to articulate the truth of his resurrection by the power of speech. Her right hand remains open, suggesting both an active response to the commission she receives and that this commission will in turn be passed on to others.
Magdalene’s crossed arms mirror a gesture often associated with several of Fra Angelico’s (1395-1455) most frequent works depicting The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here it represents Magdalene’s embrace—not of the risen Christ who is now no longer carnally embraceable—but of the commission she receives and the impact this has on her new understanding of faith. Like ours, Magdalene’s witness to her commission must be evident not only in her words but in her actions.
Her left hand rests upon the robe she wears. The figure’s clothing is composed of both an inner robe and an outer garment, common in traditional representations of Biblical figures. However its suggestion of the darker ‘capa’ and white habit of the Dominican Friars honours Magdalene’s position as patron of the Dominican Order while referencing the evangelizing vocation in which the Dominican sisters participate within the Order of Preachers. Moreover, this image of Magdalene also acts as a visual reminder to the Church that in the Johannine tradition Christ first entrusted the commission to announce his resurrection to this woman. While the role of evangelisation is one the Toronto Dominicans seek to underline and reclaim for its women members, this painting is also intended as a summons to those who now represent the Apostles to engage and listen carefully to the voice of women in the Church.
I think Magdalene’s facial expression in Apostola Apostolorum reflects the sense of focus and resolution that Fowler evokes when he writes that “the most precious thing we have to offer each other…is our honest, unexaggerated and nonpossessive sharing of what we take to be moments of absoluteness in the particular faith traditions in which we live as committed participants.”

One of the great joys of studying and working at the Faculty of Theology is the opportunity to share our faith, whether it’s during our weekly liturgies, class discussions, impromptu chats springing up in the student lounge or at one of our social events.
As part of our collective Lenten journey, we are sharing seasonal reflections written by students and Faculty as a way to include the broader community in the life of the Faculty. Our Good Friday reflection is written by Fiona Li, who is a second-year ThM student at the Faculty of Theology, studying Feminist Theology. She is finishing her coursework and will be working on her thesis proposal soon. Fiona also has a M.T.S from the Faculty of Theology (2015), and has a H.BA from the University of Toronto, specializing in Christianity and Culture (2013).

One popular question I’ve heard regarding “Good Friday” is around its name: if Jesus died on Good Friday, why is it “good”? Simply put, “Good Friday” is “good” because it is the day that we commemorate the saving action of Christ for all humanity; through His death; “good” came out of it. And this is the message that we, as Christians, have heard: the message of liberation and salvation.
But why wouldn’t people believe what we have heard? One obvious answer is that they simply believe in a different religion, which is fair. But another answer, and I propose that this answer has the greatest implication for us as Christians, is that life in the day-to-day world simply does not reflect this message of salvation. We need not look far from where we are to notice all the signs of injustice, misogyny, oppression, abuse, and hopelessness. Indeed, “who would believe what we have heard?”
Yet, as Christians, we are supposed to be a sign to the world that this Good Friday message is true. Have we fulfilled this call? What have we done to alleviate such sadness in those around us — and also in our distant neighbours? Do we even embody this message anymore? Or did we actually lose our own sense of this message and have lost our identity? If we as Christians don’t believe it, and do not live out this message in our daily lives, then who would be convinced of this message?
As I tell the students in my RCIC class, it is not enough to say “I believe in God” or that “I believe in the Good Friday message”; we have to live and act accordingly. To name a few examples, it means thinking about how my actions affect others. It means having right relations with God, myself, and with all those I encounter and interact with. It means using my privileged position to advocate for justice and mercy. It means working towards the ending of oppression in whatever context it may be. Ultimately, it means mediating the presence of God to those around us, and building up the Kingdom of God here on earth.
As we celebrate Good Friday, let us all remember the Good Friday message of salvation, and our identity as those who are to live out this message in our daily lives and spread it to the world. May this scriptural passage from our first reading be a constant reminder for us, “Who would believe what we have heard?”

One of the great joys of studying and working at the Faculty of Theology is the opportunity to share our faith, whether it’s during our weekly liturgies, class discussions, impromptu chats springing up in the student lounge or at one of our social events.
As part of our collective Lenten journey, we are sharing seasonal reflections written by students and Faculty as a way to include the broader community in the life of the Faculty. Our Good Friday reflection is written by Fiona Li, who is a second-year ThM student at the Faculty of Theology, studying Feminist Theology. She is finishing her coursework and will be working on her thesis proposal soon. Fiona also has a M.T.S from the Faculty of Theology (2015), and has a H.BA from the University of Toronto, specializing in Christianity and Culture (2013).

One popular question I’ve heard regarding “Good Friday” is around its name: if Jesus died on Good Friday, why is it “good”? Simply put, “Good Friday” is “good” because it is the day that we commemorate the saving action of Christ for all humanity; through His death; “good” came out of it. And this is the message that we, as Christians, have heard: the message of liberation and salvation.
But why wouldn’t people believe what we have heard? One obvious answer is that they simply believe in a different religion, which is fair. But another answer, and I propose that this answer has the greatest implication for us as Christians, is that life in the day-to-day world simply does not reflect this message of salvation. We need not look far from where we are to notice all the signs of injustice, misogyny, oppression, abuse, and hopelessness. Indeed, “who would believe what we have heard?”
Yet, as Christians, we are supposed to be a sign to the world that this Good Friday message is true. Have we fulfilled this call? What have we done to alleviate such sadness in those around us — and also in our distant neighbours? Do we even embody this message anymore? Or did we actually lose our own sense of this message and have lost our identity? If we as Christians don’t believe it, and do not live out this message in our daily lives, then who would be convinced of this message?
As I tell the students in my RCIC class, it is not enough to say “I believe in God” or that “I believe in the Good Friday message”; we have to live and act accordingly. To name a few examples, it means thinking about how my actions affect others. It means having right relations with God, myself, and with all those I encounter and interact with. It means using my privileged position to advocate for justice and mercy. It means working towards the ending of oppression in whatever context it may be. Ultimately, it means mediating the presence of God to those around us, and building up the Kingdom of God here on earth.
As we celebrate Good Friday, let us all remember the Good Friday message of salvation, and our identity as those who are to live out this message in our daily lives and spread it to the world. May this scriptural passage from our first reading be a constant reminder for us, “Who would believe what we have heard?”

One of the great joys of studying and working at the Faculty of Theology is the opportunity to share our faith, whether it’s during our weekly liturgies, class discussions, impromptu chats springing up in the student lounge or at one of our social events.
As part of our collective Lenten journey, we are sharing seasonal reflections written by students and Faculty as a way to include the broader community in the life of the Faculty. Our reflection for Holy Thursday is written by John Solheid, a first-year doctoral student in theological studies. His area of study is patristics, and he is currently designing a thesis that examines Origen’s biblical exegesis through his experience as a reader. Prior to St. Michael’s, Ihe received an MA in Theology (2012) and a ThM (2013) from Saint John’s School of Theology•Seminary in Collegeville, MN.

Exodus 12.1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116.12-13, 15+16bc, 17-18
1 Corinthians 11.23-26
John 13.1-15

Today, we encounter the Gospel narrative of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. But the passage, which is set just prior to the Passion in the Gospel of John, is more than a how-to-manual for foot washing. In this narrative, Jesus said that he provided us with a “model to follow.” But the language used in this narrative is heavily ritualistic. The act of washing feet was a symbol of renunciation. In this act, Jesus renounced his status as “master” and “teacher,” showing that, regardless of status, we are all servants. Jesus’ act of renunciation prefigures his ultimate act of renunciation on the Cross. The ritualized language hearkens back to our baptismal calling, in which we die to our sins and rise in the newness of the Spirit.

But this is never a purely individualistic act. Rather, it always serves the broader community. We are both servants of Christ and servants of one another, regardless of status. In the washing of feet, we are challenged to renounce all those things that inhibit the living out of our baptismal vows, to renounce our will, our concerns for status and reputation, all the sins and material concerns that separate us from our sisters and brothers.

This Easter, may God grant us the grace to follow the model set forth by His Son, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

One of the great joys of studying and working at the Faculty of Theology is the opportunity to share our faith, whether it’s during our weekly liturgies, class discussions, impromptu chats springing up in the student lounge or at one of our social events.
As part of our collective Lenten journey, we are sharing seasonal reflections written by students and Faculty as a way to include the broader community in the life of the Faculty. Our Palm Sunday reflection is written by Sister Mary Angela Alexander, RSM, who has been a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, since 1998. Prior to entering religious life she received a B.A. in Theology from the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is now studying for the MA in Theology through St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology, focusing on a the theology of mercy in a collection of anonymous late medieval sermons.

Matthew 21.1-11
Isaiah 50.4-7
Psalm 22.7-8, 16-17, 18-19, 22-23
Philippians 2.6-11
Matthew 26.14-27.66

Imagine what it might have been like that day, with your household, your neighbourhood, all of the city, stirred by the arrival of this man. Who was it? A rabbi. No, a miracle-worker. No, it is a mistake, he is a common labourer. The rumours must have flown from street to street. He was definitely identified: Jesus, the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.
Whatever they thought they were doing, whatever were their thoughts about who Jesus was, the fact is that they welcomed God into their city.
We, too, can and should be shaken by the events of that day, and by our reliving of them during this Holy Week. Those who are accustomed to pray with an imaginative reconstruction of the scene from the Gospel may place themselves in the rejoicing crowd, and be renewed in their love for Christ, whom we know as Lord and Saviour.
But we are well aware of the whole story. The exultant welcome in Jerusalem was followed by a reversal of feeling and action: disappointment, anger, betrayal, abandonment, violence. We are aware of our own, real relationship with Christ — how many times we have welcomed him with joy in a moment of fervor, only to abandon him again in a time of fear, or, worse, a time of personal dullness.
Holy Week can be filled with strong sentiments of attraction and gratitude, shame and sorrow. The liturgies of this week provide time, place and material to reflect and re-live the deepest moments of our journey with Christ. The fact that we will fail again should not deter us from welcoming our Lord again and again, every time we begin our prayer, to come to our hearts with his gentle might. He did not come to keep us from failing in our human endeavours. He came to save us, and this includes, in part, showing us how to see ourselves in him. He makes us capable of his love, in spite of our poverty. Our neediness is an open door to divine love.
May we all embrace and be renewed by the tensions and graces of this Holy Week.

One of the great joys of studying and working at the Faculty of Theology is the opportunity to share our faith, whether it’s during our weekly liturgies, class discussions, impromptu chats springing up in the student lounge or at one of our social events.

Our reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is wrtten by Susan McElcheran, who is working on a thesis for the MTS degree. She is a teacher with the Toronto Catholic School Board at Holy Family school in Parkdale, where she teaches students with learning disabilities.

Ezekiel 37.12-14
Psalm 130.1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7b-8
Romans 8.8-11
John 11.1-45

We all fear death. We shield ourselves from it by framing it as the consequence of being in the wrong place or making bad choices. Like us, Martha and Mary in today’s gospel want to keep death at a distance, to avoid it: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21;32). The mourners, too, focus on prevention: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (v. 37).

Jesus did not shield his friends by hurrying to save Lazarus, and he showed no fear or worry. He allowed death to take its course, even to the point of no hope and a smell of rottenness (v. 39). Yet, we are told twice that Jesus felt anger in the face of Lazarus’ death (v. 33;38), and that he wept when he saw the grave (v. 35). His lack of fear was not indifference.

Martha expresses faith in Jesus and voices a common belief in resurrection on the last day (v. 24). Jesus’ response, “I am the resurrection and the life,” goes beyond this belief to the concept of “life” which in the Gospel of John expresses the new quality of life that Jesus brings, a life “from above” (3:7), a life in the Spirit which participates in the eternal quality of the life of God (3:5-8). Jesus offers not just continued existence but a superabundant, overflowing quality of life (6:37-39; 11:26).

Like Martha, we have faith but need to hear Jesus say “I am the resurrection and the life.” We don’t realize the gift of life that Jesus offers, not just after death, but here and now. Even now there are parts of ourselves that are wrapped in grave cloths and laid away, lost to hope, so far gone that there is a bad smell. Jesus is with us in these places, does not view our death as a punishment or a threat, and is not afraid. He is able to reach into our places of death and call us out into life, not just more of the same, but an abundance of life that participates in the nature of eternity.

One of the great joys of studying and working at the Faculty of Theology is the opportunity to share our faith, whether it’s during our weekly liturgies, class discussions, impromptu chats springing up in the student lounge or at one of our social events.

As part of our collective Lenten journey, we are sharing seasonal reflections written by students and Faculty as a way to include the broader community in the life of the Faculty.
Our reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent is written by Nick Cotman of Kingston, ON and completed a Joint Honours in Philosophy and Political Science from the University of Ottawa in Spring 2016. I am currently a fully time student in the Masters of Theological Studies program, and work over the summer as a marina supervisor.

Readings:
Exodus 17.3-7
Psalm 95.1-2, 6-7ab, 7c-9
romans 5.1-2, 5-8
John 4.5-42

The narrative of Jesus and the woman at the well is filled with rich pastoral, moral, and theological themes. I would like to highlight the significance of Jesus’ decision to instigate a conversation, and the inspiring response of the woman
It was common practice for women to communally retrieve water from the well in the morning before the heat of the day, so it is meaningful that the passage notes this meeting takes place at noon. Having had multiple husbands, the woman is a social outcast and unwelcome to go to the well with the other local women. Jesus is aware of her social status and sin, yet still instigates a conversation. Jesus wants to ensure that this woman has the opportunity to hear what he has to offer: living water, eternal life.
This passage is a great example of how eagerly Christ wants to share this gift with us. Speaking not simply to a Samaritan, but a Samaritan woman who is an outcast in this already detested community, we see that Jesus is not deterred by worldly judgment and expectation. God is always prepared to offer us this gift, regardless of our status or current struggles with sin. The Lord meets us where we are; we must simply respond.
This passage also reminds us of our responsibility in the sharing of this gift. We have the duty and privilege of extending it to others. This is exemplified not only in Jesus’ generosity, but also by the woman. The author says that, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” Like the woman at the well, let us be open to receive all that Jesus offers us and prepared to share it joyously with others, especially during this Lenten season.

One of the great joys of studying and working at the Faculty of Theology is the opportunity to share our faith, whether it’s during our weekly liturgies, class discussions, impromptu chats springing up in the student lounge or at one of our social events.

As part of our collective Lenten journey, we are sharing seasonal reflections written by students and Faculty as a way to include the broader community in the life of the Faculty.

The reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent is written by Patricia Dal Ben, who is preparing to write her thesis for her Master of Theological Studies degree. She is a religious education and faith development consultant with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board. She lives in Toronto with her family.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent:
Genesis 12.1-4
Psalm 33.4-5, 18-9, 20+22
2 Timothy 1.8b-10
Matthe 17.1-9

Suffering: not something we in the 21st century seek out.  In fact, we do all we can to avoid it —  medication, exercise, prayer, etc.  We are often too afraid to climb the mountain of pain and suffering, so euthanasia becomes appealing and right and just.  What is awe-inspiring is that St. Paul threw himself at the suffering.  He walked for days and endured the common experience of travel in the first century and was robbed, beaten and imprisoned. It was a dangerous and difficult process to preach and build community in the first century and yet he lived and wrote with such conviction and passion and love; all this to tell of the Good News.

And we bemoan and begrudge our giving up chocolate or coffee or chips for Lent.  It seems almost preposterous to juxtapose such a faith in this time and place, and yet this is exactly what we are being called to do.  Jesus didn’t ask for the faithful to be lukewarm in their mission. Not in the first century or any subsequent century.  St. Paul was unashamed to suffer for the Gospel. He was assured the future glory was at hand and he could still rejoice in the midst of his present sufferings and tribulations.  That is faith!  He was a soldier of Jesus Christ awaiting the imminent Parousia, but he didn’t complain of the long hours or the horrible working conditions or the lack of respect he got.  He, “relying on the power of God” welcomed people to suffer with him. Put on your armour, there is work to be done!

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. ~2 Timothy 1.8b-10

 

One of the great joys of studying and working at the Faculty of Theology is the opportunity to share our faith, whether it’s during our weekly liturgies, class discussions, impromptu chats springing up in the student lounge or at one of our social events.

As part of our collective Lenten journey, we are offering seasonal reflections written by our students and professors as a way to include the broader community in the life of the Faculty.Here is a look-ahead to the First Sunday of Lent, written by Faculty member Dr. Darren Dias, O.P.. Fr. Dias, who teaches systematics, is an alumnus of St. Michael’s College and earned his doctorate at the Faculty. 

Readings:
Genesis 2.7-9, 16-18, 25; 3.1-7++
Romans 5.12-19
Matthew 4.1-11

On this first Sunday of Lent we read about Jesus being lead into the wilderness by the Spirit for forty days and nights of fasting. Immediately, we remember the Exodus account, when God led the chosen people out of slavery into the wilderness. It was then that the Jewish people received the gift of Torah that placed them in a particular relationship with God, resulting in their religious identity.

In the Gospel lection (Mat 4:1-11), the devil questions Jesus’ identity, who he really is, and attempts to thwart God’s purpose for him. The previous episode in Matthew’s Gospel account is the baptism of Jesus, when Jesus’ relationship to God and his identity are affirmed in the voice from heaven that declares: This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased (Mat 3:17). Twice the devil taunts, “If you are the Son of God” (Mat 4:3, 6)… prove it.

As hungry as Jesus is after his fast, he refuses to rely on anyone but God in refusing to turn the stones to bread. Jesus trusts in God without having to test God as the devil would like. Jesus affirms his allegiance to God though his worship. Jesus’ relationship with God is marked by reliance, trust, and allegiance and a commitment to God’s purpose for him.

The devil is not merely tempting Jesus with material satisfaction and worldly power, but encouraging Jesus to forget who he is, to surrender his identity as the beloved Son of God, and to give up on his divine purpose. Like Jesus and the Jewish people, each one of us has been given an identity derived from God’s gift of life and love for us. Lent is a time to remember that we are in relationship with God and, as beloved children of God, we are a part of God’s plan and purpose for for the world.

One of the great joys of studying and working at the Faculty of Theology is the opportunity to share our faith, whether it’s during our weekly liturgies, class discussions, impromptu chats springing up in the student lounge or at one of our social events.

As part of our collective Lenten journey, we are offering seasonal reflections written by our students and professors as a way to include the broader community in the life of the Faculty.

 Our Ash Wednesday reflection comes from Nick Murphy,  a teacher from Liverpool, England, who is in his first year of course work toward a Master of Religious Education degree.

Readings:
Joel 2.12-18
2 Corinthians 5.20-6.2
Matthew 6.1-6, 16-18

As we enter the season of Lent, let the words of the Prophet Joel be present in our thoughts and actions: ‘Return to me with all your heart.’ Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality and how thoroughly human we are. It is a reminder that we should orient ourselves toward God and away from sin.

The word Lent comes from the Old English term lencten, which means ‘springtime’, and links to its connotations with new life and renewal.  In this light, for many, Lent is a time to re-connect: a time for reflection, sacrifice, and self-discipline. Whilst it is common during Lent to focus on abstinence and the things we should not do, let us not forget the things that we ought to do.

Matthew’s Gospel addresses fasting, but it also addresses almsgiving and prayer, and so let us be mindful of the good we can do during Lent. The key message of Matthew’s Gospel is that these actions should be focussed toward God rather than toward recognition from others. To ‘return to God with all your heart’ is to not only turn away from sin, but to free yourself from desiring recognition that is outside of God. It is easy to find materialistic or superficial satisfaction in good deeds that can orient our motivation to complete them away from salvation.  Therefore, let us approach this Lenten season with grace and humility to discover our vocation as Christians and return to God with all of our hearts.

 

On the eve of our 2016 convocation, we held an alumni event entitled Faces of Theology. It showcased four of our graduates who come from markedly different fields. What links them together is their awareness of how their time studying at the Faculty of Theology has enriched their lives.

For those of you who weren’t able to join us, we’d like to share a series of youtube clips, courtesy of St. Mike’s Christianity & Culture student Emma Graham, highlighting our graduates’ talks. If you’d like to be notified of future events, please drop us a line.

Here’s Kyle Ferguson, who earned his Master of Divinity with us in 2011. Kyle now serves as advisor on ecclesial and interfaith relations for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Enjoy!

 

On the eve of our 2016 convocation, we held an alumni event entitled Faces of Theology. It showcased four of our graduates who come from markedly different fields. What links them together is their awareness of how their time studying at the Faculty of Theology has enriched their lives.

For those of you who weren’t able to join us, we’d like to share a series of youtube clips, courtesy of St. Mike’s Christianity & Culture student Emma Graham, highlighting our graduates’ talks. If you’d like to be notified of future events, please drop us a line.

Here’s Senior Citizenship Judge Renata Brum Bozzi, who earned an M.A. at the Faculty, describing her thoughts on theological study. Ms. Brum Bozzi is also a member of the University’s Collegium. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My name is Sabrina Brown and my choice to study theology at St. Mike’s came as a total surprise to me. In fact, four years ago I was not even a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

 

After Grade 8, I made a bold decision: I decided I would not go to the public high school with my classmates but would attend the local Catholic high school. I would have been one of the few non-Catholic students at the time, but I was very excited to learn about religion. (I’d been baptized in the Presbyterian Church as an infant.) My parents agreed it certainly couldn’t hurt — and that it likely would be good for me. It’s hard to articulate but my high school experience transformed me.

 

I really did enjoy religion class and being a student in a Christ-centered school. I loved that my school uniform gave me a sense of community identity and that we were like a family of faith. After Grade 9 I felt I was being called to be a teacher, a feeling that grew stronger in Grade 12, when my religion teacher had a significant impact on me. I remember thinking that she was someone who not only meant what she said, but that she had the knowledge and the academic background to back it up. She was a St. Mike’s graduate and was wrapping up a second theology degree. One day, she showed our class her thesis, a work in progress, and I remember thinking, “Wow! That’s amazing. There’s no way I could ever do that.”

 

I graduated determined to be a teacher who was just as passionate and knowledgeable as my religion teacher. I went to U of T, where I majored in French Teaching and Learning, as well as in Art and Art History. Then I completed my Bachelor of Education degree at Queen’s University. I was employed as a teacher the following year, and so far I’ve taught French and Religion.

 

My move into theology really surprised me. I knew I would go to graduate school but always thought it would be in education. Near the end of fourth year, however, I was taking an elective at St. Mike’s and found myself so excited to get to that class; I really loved the company of the other students. I remember thinking they had something that I did not and, after a period of reflection and discernment, I realized it was the gift of faith. Throughout my undergrad, I wasn’t really attending church, although I was invited a number of times by other students. It was probably just too early for me on Sunday mornings! But by fourth year I decided I wanted to join the Catholic Church. I signed up for RCIA at a little church in Oakville all by myself, recognizing that I would be the first Catholic in my family in hundreds of years. At 22, I made a solemn profession of faith and was received into the Church at the Easter vigil. It was a monumental moment, and I knew my life was about to change in a big way.

 

After teachers’ college I received invitations to work on a Master of Education degree. Although I was really excited about that possibility, I knew God had an even better plan for me, so I applied to the Faculty of Theology for the Master of Religious Education program. When I received my letter of acceptance I was thrilled!

 

I am so grateful to be a part of this faculty and I have met some of my best friends here. I plan to continue to study theology and to keep asking big questions.  Being a student at the faculty has given me numerous opportunities to meet other Catholic educators, and has even given me the opportunity to travel to Israel. This past summer I was a member of the Bat Kol program, a program for Christian scholars who wish to study Jewish Scripture with a team of Jewish and Christian professors in the Holy Land. I took a course on the Book of Genesis, and another on the Biblical spirituality of the land. We learned Hebrew and had the chance to see the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock and to walk up the Via Dolorosa. I also swam in the Sea of Galilee and even got to go to Mass in Bethlehem! The experience will remain with me for the rest of my life. (The picture above shows me on the Sea of Galilee.)

 

Since becoming a student at St. Mikes, religion has become the primary subject I wish to teach and I am passionate about it. My high school experience in religion class had a huge impact on me. The reality is that it changed my whole life. I feel teachers should see their positions as one of ultimate privilege, as they have the power to transform students’ lives, not only when it comes to academics but also when it comes to their faith lives.

 

I am honoured to be a student at the Faculty of Theology at St. Michael’s College and I am honoured to be a Catholic teacher.

 

Thank you and God bless.