Part of the communications team, Catherine Mulroney studied English and Medieval Studies at St. Mike’s and returned recently to complete an M Div at the Faculty of Theology.


A Shot in the Arm

Photograph of a syringe with hypodermic needle stuck into an artistic representation of the coronavirus molecule (a painted styrofoam ball with coloured pins stuck in it).

“Love hurts,” the old song says. But a little short-term pain for long-term gain is always worth it—and especially in these unusual times.

A few days ago, I joined the millions of Canadians now vaccinated. I got a shot of Pfizer and, in the spirit of full disclosure, it didn’t really hurt at all, but for a little site tenderness that lasted all of 18 hours.

My injection moment made me want to recreate Rocky’s famous run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or Braveheart’s freedom speech, or Gene’s Kelly’s iconic “Singin’ in the Rain” dance because had been so long in coming and meant so much.

In truth, though, the only thing I did do was get a little teary-eyed because taking 20 minutes out of my day meant I was now one step closer to seeing my children again, a little bit closer to getting back to my real office, and I could now say I was helping in my own small way to end the nightmare we’ve all been living for more than a year. I think I’d forgotten what a pleasant sensation relief can be.

I’m happy to say that my employer, the University of St. Michael’s College, has been supportive as vaccinations have been rolled out, encouraging staff and faculty to get a shot, and offering time off to attend vaccine clinic appointments. It’s a mindset that brings our 180 strategic plan alive for me. 

In these days of the coronavirus, I am reminded that the 180 is not just a statement to hang on the wall but a reflection of a lived attitude. The references to such things as concern for the common good, the need to recognize the dignity of all, and our need to care for all creation actually mean something to all of us. Challenging times are bringing that to light. I see this in the professors’ concern for students’ wellbeing, and their understanding that, these days, support and encouragement trumps deadlines. I see it in the student life staff and volunteers’ outreach to students, ensuring they know about extra funding available during COVID or offering reminders to take a break and engage in self-care, informing students of how they can get extra emotional support if needed. And I see it in email traffic and Zoom calls where we are all beginning to realize, via expressions of longing to be together again, that we might all be a little closer than just colleagues.

Daily, I watch the very lessons lived out on campus that I learned in ethics classes while studying theology at St. Mike’s, or while reading the classics here as an undergrad. Life is beautiful and precious and we are called to do our best not only to respect and protect it, but to celebrate it, too. To me, that lesson includes getting a shot—for myself and for my neighbours. We are to live out the now oft-used phrase that we are all in this together. I’m proud to be an alumna—and an employee—of a workplace that practises what it preaches.

As strong as all these motivations are, though, my primary impetus for getting a shot was to ease my kids’ worries. Their dad died a week before the pandemic lockdown began, and the early warnings about the severity of COVID had them stressed about their mother’s health.

“We’ve just had one parent die. We don’t want to lose the other,” said the oldest, soon after the pandemic began, speaking as the now-elder statesman in his usual blunt fashion.

For the following six weeks, I only went as far as our garden, guiltily answering the door on occasions, but mostly watching the world pass by from our front window.

But then, early May dawned, and with it, my first solitary wedding anniversary. I felt an overwhelming desire to visit the garden centre and buy some plants, something that Mike and I had done in May for as long in as we’d been homeowners.

I can’t say it was a fun trip, as it was laden with guilt: guilt for co-opting my youngest into accompanying me on my covert operation, and guilt that I was contravening a heartfelt request from my children. On an up note, though, I felt 17 again, because it reminded me of being in high school and bending a few of my parents’ rules—just slightly, of course.

I monitored dropping age limits and expanding availability and leapt when my chance came. It took close to an hour on hold with the Ministry of Health to book an appointment, and the poor woman who answered my call had a wailing child in the background, but it was all worth it.

My kids put on a brave face at all times for their mother but I know they were relieved. I was just happy I could do something that would ease some of the pile of worries each of them has these days. Then attention shifted to when they could be vaccinated, too, jealous that Molly, the child living in Florida for the year, has already had both doses of Moderna.

This has been an extended period of loss for all of us. Some of the those losses, of course, are trivial—the inability to hit the links, or the discovery that not being able to go to the hairdresser’s means saying goodbye to a preferred hair colour.

And some, of course, are profound. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t lost a friend or relative in the past year, including some to COVID, with their grief compounded by the inability to say a proper goodbye.

That’s why the vaccine, along with continuing measures such as masking and social distancing, remain so important. A shot in your arm is a shot in the arm for all of us. Take one for the team.


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Fr. Gustave Noel Ineza, OP, is a doctoral student at St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology. Born and raised in Rwanda, he lived through the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and went into exile for a month in what was then Zaire. His family left the refugee camps and returned to Rwanda after three members of his family developed cholera. He studied in the minor seminary and joined the Dominican Order in 2002. He studied Philosophy in Burundi, and Theology in South Africa (SJTI/Pietermaritzburg) and the UK (Blackfriars/Oxford). Ordained in 2014, he worked for Domuni (www.domuni.eu) and was a chaplain to university and high school students. In 2018, he came to Canada to pursue studies in Christian-Muslim dialogue. He is currently reading on post-colonial approaches to the taxonomies assigned to religious traditions (Muslims and Christians) by colonial powers in Rwanda.


Do We Need Someone to Die to Remind Us that Black Lives Matter?

A cartoon in which a judge asks "Have you reached your verdict?" and the response from outside the panel says "Yes, your honor—we, the jury, find that Black Lives Matter."

Black lives matter! That was more or less the verdict, 11 months after the brutal killing of George Floyd by Officer Derek Michael Chauvin, and 43-day-long traumatic trial. Twenty-nine years and a month after the trial of four police officers who savagely beat Rodney King, the fear of an acquittal gripped American society used to police officers’ trials ending with disappointing verdicts and acquittals.

The trial finished ahead of the U.S. Senate vote on a bill on April 21, 2021 to combat anti-Asian American hate crimes. Racial tensions have spiked in the United States, tensions that followed the empowerment of white supremacists, a reality which reached a peak with the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, a gathering of racist groups that envied the 1930s Reichsparteitage or Nuremberg Rallies.

Four years prior to George Floyd’s murder, a 24-year old Malian-Frenchman, Adama Traoré, died, on his birthday, in police custody, after he was brutalized by French police. Since Traoré’s death, a huge debate has begun in France. Universalist leftist thinkers were scared that rhetoric that generalizes about police brutality might hinder the “Republic,” a chimeric ideal of French unity that assumes all French citizens are equal and equitably treated by the law. Realist activists, often represented by a courageous woman named Rokhaya Diallo, never stop warning the French that there is a risk of considering the American police brutality as something particular to America, because it is widespread in many European cities. Diallo, who seems to carry alone the Black Lives Matter movement on her shoulders, has become the black sheep of a denialist French media because of her positions. The French President’s attacks on “American” Postcolonial movements, “a catch-all term covering everything from anti-colonial thought to critical race theory, intersectional theory to Black Lives Matter,” highlight the persistent denial of oppression towards racialized minorities in many former colonial European powers. Protests to bring to justice Traoré’s murderers were met with brutal police reactions. France is deeply immersed in denial of its racist colonial past, which lives on in its treatment of racialized minorities.

Indeed, change may take several decades to come, even in the United States. After the verdict was announced, the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, wrote on her Facebook page: “That a family had to lose a son, brother, and father; that a teenage girl had to film and post a murder; that millions across the country had to organize and march just for George Floyd to be seen and valued is not justice. And this verdict is not a substitute for policy change.” Former U.S. President Barack Obama wrote that “true justice requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently, every day [and] millions of our friends, family, and fellow citizens live in fear that their next encounter with law enforcement could be their last.” Obama added: “While [the] verdict may have been a necessary step on the road to progress, it was far from a sufficient one. We cannot rest. We will need to follow through with the concrete reforms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate racial bias in our criminal justice system. We will need to redouble efforts to expand economic opportunity for those communities that have been too long marginalized.”

Japanese Tennis player Naomi Osaka, who grew up and lives in the U.S., tweeted these very heartbreaking words: “I was going to make a celebratory tweet but then I was hit with sadness because we are celebrating something that is clear as day. The fact that so many injustices occurred to make us hold our breath toward this outcome is really telling.” In other words, no reasonable person believes that the verdict on Chauvin’s crimes signifies the end of police brutality to Black people. It becomes even harder when some influential TV hosts, like Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld, made it clear they believe Chauvin may not be guilty. Gutfeld stated that the only reason he would want the verdict to incriminate Chauvin is because his neighborhood was looted last summer.

The whole idea of looking at Black people as a threat has been used to justify the discriminatory policing of Black neighbourhoods and unreasonable stop-and-frisks of Black people by law enforcement in the U.S. One highlight of the trial occurred when one of the prosecutors, Steven Schleicher, explained the difference between a threat and a risk. That some insecure white law enforcement agents, empowered by systemic racism in their institutions, might be inhabited by an unreasonable fear of black people transforms Black people neither into threats nor risks. That Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter, while training a rookie, had to pull a gun on Daunte Demetrius Wright for an outstanding driving ticket explains what may go on in the routine training of American police officers. The fact that she screamed “taser, taser, taser” while shooting him with a gun is also confusing. My training officer in my military service forgot to tell me about the usefulness of screaming “gun, gun, gun” while I am shooting at the target! The most surprising thing is the many peaceful arrests of white mass shooting perpetrators, such as Kyle Rittenhouse and Dylann Roof, which proves that police officers are trained in how to de-escalate tensions, even with highly dangerous individuals. Apparently, that training does not equally apply to people of colour.

One of the most racist whataboutisms on police criminal treatment of Black people in the U.S. is the objection phrased in these words: “What about Black-on-Black crime?” Black-on-Black crime is punished, sometimes beyond the realms of reasonable corrections. In almost all instances when police are accused of the summary execution of Black people, judicial institutions focus on police training guidelines. The fact that Black lives matter is not news to Black people. Black people who take other Black peoples’ lives know they committed a crime and that they would be seriously punished if caught.

The verdict in Chauvin’s trial does not end anti-Black racism. Orchestrated attacks on Colin Kaepernick’s knee may have ended but it will still take years before Black people start feeling safe anywhere around the police. I still get followed by the police in some liquor stores. When I am, I still have the luxury to bother them with words like: “Oh! Because you are here, can you help me find a Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Blanc and a Philippe Colin Chassagne-Montrachet, please?”—in a very French accent. However, most Black people are extremely bothered by their presence. An African American friend advised me to never ask them to fetch me a lemonade.

I think the Church must be careful in these times. When people marched against police brutality following George Floyd’s killing on June 1st, 2020, President Donald J. Trump ordered the peaceful dispersal of the crowds protesting near the White House so that he might stage a photo-op before St. John’s Episcopal Church. In a brilliant article for The Atlantic, Garrett Epps, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Baltimore, called it “Trump’s Tiananmen moment.” However, the most alarming aspect is that President Trump chose to violate American citizens’ First Amendment rights so that he could take a picture in front of a church, holding a Bible. The following day, President Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington. While many religious leaders condemned the photo ops, Trump still managed to sow discord among Christians—those who thought his attitude toward protests against police brutality was godly versus those who were disgusted.

Many police departments have Christian chaplains, and law enforcement agents are members of our parishes. Just as Church leaders in the past transformed the pulpit as a place to theologically defend civil rights, it is a Christian duty that it become clear to all the faithful that to God, Black lives matter. 


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Fr. Gustave Noel Ineza, OP, is a doctoral student at St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology. Born and raised in Rwanda, he lived through the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and went into exile for a month in what was then Zaire. His family left the refugee camps and returned to Rwanda after three members of his family developed cholera. He studied in the minor seminary and joined the Dominican Order in 2002. He studied Philosophy in Burundi, and Theology in South Africa (SJTI/Pietermaritzburg) and the UK (Blackfriars/Oxford). Ordained in 2014, he worked for Domuni (www.domuni.eu) and was a chaplain to university and high school students. In 2018, he came to Canada to pursue studies in Christian-Muslim dialogue. He is currently reading on post-colonial approaches to the taxonomies assigned to religious traditions (Muslims and Christians) by colonial powers in Rwanda.


The Other Sister

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught many to value more highly essential workers who are usually underpaid after long hours of vital work. Nurses are among the most praised as they daily risk contracting the virus while trying to offer a treatment to the sick. It is not the first time that nurses, women in particular, have risked their lives to save other people’s lives during pandemics. Several pandemics affected the pre-modern world. Some of those who offered treatment to the sick were non-cloistered women religious whose identities have not been comprehensively studied. These women were part of bigger movements which flourished in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times. 

In September 2020, I joined a team of academics as an assistant researcher to Dr. Alison More. Dr. More is the undergraduate Medieval Studies coordinator and the inaugural holder of the Comper Professorship in Medieval Studies at the University of St. Michael’s College. She works on a joint project with Dr. Isabelle Cochelin (Department of History & Centre for Medieval Studies/UofT), and Dr. Isabel Harvey (Department of Humanistic Studies of the University of Venice Ca’ Foscari). The project is called “The Other Sister” and its focus is “women who pursued forms of religious life outside of the cloister in medieval and early modern western Europe and New France.” The other members of the project are Dr. Angela Carbone (University of Bari Aldo Moro) and Dr. Sylvie Duval (Università Cattolica in Milan), research assistants Laura Moncion, Emma Gabe, and Meghan Lescault (Centre for Medieval Studies or Department of History/UofT), and Camila Justino (USMC Book and Media and Mediaeval Studies).

The women studied are known by many names, including beguines, tertiaries, recluses, oblates, secular canonesses, lay sisters, pizzochere, bizzoche, beatas, and others. Their names and forms of life varied according to location. Our research group organizes thematic meetings which are the main venue for discussing current research, and recent books, chapters in books, articles, both published and forthcoming. As the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people’s movements, presenters invited from different academic institutions around the world working on aspects of the project meet by Zoom each month. Although the situation has made it impossible for people to have actual face-to-face meetings, it has allowed those on different continents to virtually meet. 

To date, the group has prepared and successfully conducted five thematic meetings. The first meeting was entitled Women Serving Enclosed Women (held on September 29, 2020), the second was on Working in Premodern Hospitals (October 27, 2020), the third’s theme was Charity, Caregiving and Female Social Roles from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Period (December 17, 2020), the fourth was on Naming The Other Sister: Tertiary, Lay, or Penitent? (February 8, 2021), and the fifth was held on Medieval and Early Modern Beguines, from Provence to Northern Europe (March 15, 2021). Details about those thematic meetings are found on the group’s blog.

The attendance has recently been reaching about 40 participants, mainly professors, post-docs, and PhD students from around the globe, all interested in the subject. Our discussion inevitably yields new insights which cross the usual temporal and geographic boundaries. 

The main group of the ten researchers attached to “The Other Sister” has working meetings where we prepare the rest of our activities: thematic meetings, workshops for larger audiences, a workshop for our members on using ArcGIS Software to create maps of the communities of non-cloistered religious women, the construction and development of a blog, etc. The blog is named “The Other Sister.” It presents an overview of research and has space for recent updates and news of importance or interest to our community of scholars.

On a personal note, with this project I am learning about historical methodologies that do not aim at proving hidden agendas but analytically and objectively examine all possible data. Also, I have gained a new perspective as a student in Christian-Muslim relations. My usual methodology is historical and postcolonial. It investigates silenced and othered voices in my country’s religious identity construction. I have learned much from “The Other Sister.” Apart from the finesse in the communication of the members and the rigour in the historical research with its requirements for accuracy, I have come to appreciate the academic enthusiasm involved in understanding subjects that touch a given identity. I am also interested in understanding the power relationship between identity and those who write history: in our case, the image given to these non-cloistered, lay-religious women by predominantly male and clerical historians.

Our work values the religious zeal of women who were willing to live a life given to the poor, the sick, prayer, and teaching, often in the face of incomprehension and negative judgment from their society and the Church. Some were considered heretics or witches simply for wanting to live this life outside the walls of a cloister. A deconstruction of the meta-narrative on them that at times portrayed them as uncontrollable dangers to the Christian faith aims to restore their proper image. As the Church strives to include women in its decision-making bodies, it will surely be inspired by the findings of “The Other Sister” project, and the genius of the women working on it.


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Carla Thomas is a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, based in Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies. She is a national of Guyana, South America, and worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for several years. Carla is passionate about young adult ministry and adult faith formation. She sums up her self-understanding as a Dominican by means of the following bible quote, “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15). At present, Carla is involved in parish ministry among Caribbean nationals in Toronto. She is looking forward to gardening again this summer and, hopefully, to visit a few more places in and around Ontario. She is a doctoral student in the Faculty of Theology and is developing a thesis prospectus at the intersection of family theology and ecclesiology.


Photograph of a colourful kite with a long tail flying against the background of a bright blue sky and wispy clouds.

This Is the Day the Lord Has Made

Alleluia! Christ is risen! This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad! Alleluia!

Dear Easter, it is wonderful that you are here again! You are truly one of the best times of the year and I delight in the signs of your presence everywhere. Thank you for bringing your friend, Spring. You began to alert me about two weeks ago that you were just around the corner when I noticed the new life springing up all around. The perennials have begun to emerge promising to bring a feast of color to the front lawn soon and I admit that I have been eagerly keeping an eye on the trees next door looking for the first sign of leaves. In this neighborhood, the children have begun to play on the sidewalk again and some parents have hung Easter eggs on trees. You are welcomed with joy for you bring re-birth, new life, hope and God’s promise of faithful love for the world.

As I reflect on the hope that this season represents two different kinds of events come to mind. First, in my homeland of Guyana, South America, Easter is kite-flying season. It is a national tradition that on Easter Monday families would spend the day outdoors enjoying a picnic and helping children to raise their kites in the air. I consider the sight of hundreds of kites dotting the sky throughout the day to be one of the most beautiful experiences of the Easter season. From an early age I learned to associate this event with the resurrection. Catechists used this local tradition as a symbol to help children understand in faith the biblical testimony that Jesus rose from the dead and that He is truly alive. While Easter is a Christian celebration, kite-flying is for everyone. On Easter Monday, social and political struggles are transcended as communities share in a day of fraternity, friendship and mutual goodwill. This cherished national tradition provides for the people of Guyana a glimpse of the reconciled unity and hope promised by the resurrection of Christ and articulated recently in Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti.    

The second event is the Holy Saturday liturgy during which the Elect receive the sacraments of Christian initiation. Having served on RCIA teams in parishes in Guyana as well as Trinidad and Tobago, I would say that there is no greater joy that night than witnessing the baptism of new members who were preparing for that moment for at least two years, in most cases. Their faces are usually filled with peace and hope as they look forward to life as Christians. Indeed, the newly-baptised often become much more enthusiastic members of their parish communities than life-long Christians. Their journey as neophytes continues throughout the Easter season as they move into the period of the mystagogia until Pentecost. The RCIA renews parishes. In my case, the recitation of baptismal promises became even more meaningful when made in the presence of new members who were an inspiration for a deeper engagement with the faith. The celebration of the sacrament of baptism is one of the preeminent signs of hope at Easter.    

Dear Easter, you beckon Christians to look to the future now, especially as the pandemic comes to an end. For the Catholic Church, it means celebrating to the fullest extent possible over the next year and a half, two very important milestones Pope Francis has asked us to observe. The first is the Year of St. Joseph which began on December 8, 2020. It marks 150 years since he was proclaimed patron of the universal church. The second is the launch of “Amoris Laetitia Year of the Family” on March 19, 2021 to mark the fifth anniversary of the publication of this apostolic exhortation. After a year of sheltering-in-place with family, with all its tension and struggles, joys and delights, it is fitting that our church should celebrate families in their triumphs and accompany them in their challenges. In addition, for persons who had to shelter-in-place without family, ‘Amoris Laetitia Year of the Family’ coincides with the beginning of their ability to be reunited after months of separation. This is cause for celebration. In cases where families lost loved ones and could not gather in their time of grief, the year also coincides with their opportunity to finally meet to comfort each other in community.   

The resurrection of Christ is the foundation of Christian hope. No matter what comes next the Easter event is the assurance that ultimately in Christ “all shall be well” (Julian of Norwich). Alleluia!

Happy Easter to all!


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Emmaus O’Herlihy is an Irish Benedictine monk of Glenstal Abbey, Ireland. Trained in graphic design, he worked as an Art Director in Los Angeles, U.S.A., after receiving his BDes from National College of Art and Design, Ireland. Currently a doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Theology in the University of St. Michael’s College, Emmaus is exploring ways that liturgical art advance the full, conscious and active participation of the assembly during liturgy.


A Reflection for Good Friday: The Triune God’s Solidarity with Those Who Suffer

Illumination showing the Gnadenstuhl motif from Die Dietsche Doctrinale
Jan van Boendale, c. 1374.

The primary ritual action of this Good Friday liturgy is the showing and veneration of the cross. Although everyone here is already familiar with how the cross symbolizes divine purpose, it’s worth remembering how Jesus’ violent and humiliating death by crucifixion posed an enormous challenge for early believers.

Crucifixion was an intentionally brutal and humiliating form of capital punishment in the Roman empire that was administered to rebellious slaves, enemies of the state or leaders of insurrection. Because of this, Robin Margaret Jensen’s study on the significance of the cross in the history of Christianity begins with, what she terms, the ‘Curse of the Cross.’1 She refers to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in which he writes that for Jews awaiting a kingly messiah, it was incomprehensible that this messiah would be crucified since crucifixion signalled a cursed death; for Greeks, a crucified god was, to put it simply, ludicrous. Such a death was contrary to logic and scandalous.2

The early Church’s response was to embrace the paradox of Christ’s death; to preach of Christ crucified and proclaim that such a form of death represented both the most intense expression of Jesus’ humility and the clearest indication of his glorious identity.3

Nevertheless, it took almost another three hundred years for images of the crucifixion to become commonplace as the identifying marker of the Christian faith.4 Even today, images of the crucifixion remain challenging—and I don’t mean to suggest those occasions when contemporary artists reinterpret Christian iconography. Images of the crucified Christ engage our imagination, they tease out the significance of the events of Christ’s death: It is not enough to recall that Jesus died but to reflect upon how he died.

In the Pauline epistles, arguably the earliest testimonies to the place of the cross in Christian theology, Paul explains that those who count themselves wise or who seek more positive signs will judge any celebration of the crucifixion to be a kind of madness.5 What’s more, it’s the kind of madness that has multiple sides to it. One side to this madness can be identified in the accompanying image (see illustration). It reflects the theme that the Dominican community in Toronto has chosen for this year’s Triduum: the Triune God’s solidarity with those who suffer, especially those victims of violence.

The image shows an illumination from the 14th century that depicts what would, by the 16th century be termed the Gnadenstuhl motif.6 Translated as Mercy Seat or Throne of Grace, the German term refers to this trinitarian motif to underline the significance of identifying the Trinity as present in the death of Christ. In her study of the Incarnation through an aesthetics of vulnerability, Susie Paulik Babka writes that among those images that attempt to translate difficult and abstract concepts into visual expression, this motif invites Christians to consider that the darkness which accompanies us in times of catastrophic suffering, and especially at the moment of our death is nothing less than “the dwelling place of God.”7

An initial glance at the illustration is enough to show that this motif involves a trinitarian dynamic centred on the passion of Christ. God the Father is usually seated (sometimes on a throne), and supports the dying or dead Christ. The Holy Spirit, represented as a dove, is most often positioned between the Father and the Son. In seating the figure of the Father on a stool or a throne, this motif subtly alludes to Old Testament references to the mercy seat “understood as the point of contact between God and humanity; the locus of divine presence on earth,” …the critical point of mediation between heaven and earth.9

In the composition in this image, symbols of the four evangelists surround the diamond shape within which the Father holds the horizontal beam of the cross onto which Christ’s body is nailed. Whether or not an actual cross is present, “the unifying thread of nearly all the works of art that utilize [this] motif is the theme of unity between heaven and earth in the passion of Jesus…”10

The Holy Spirit, symbolised as a dove in flight, is a “vital part of the composition.”11 Positioned between the Father and the Son, the wings of the dove touch the Father’s lips and the head of Christ, acting as a bridge between the first and second persons of the Trinity. By echoing the shape of the cross, the figure of the dove emphasizes the Spirit’s dwelling with Christ, becoming what Jurgen Moltmann describes as “Christ’s ‘companion in suffering’.”12 Jesus’ experience of catastrophic suffering effects all three divine persons: The “tenderness of the relationship between the Father and the Son,” a bond preserved by the Spirit, “is somehow comforting” even while it reminds us of the suffering of the tortured.13

This image highlights something of both the ordeal of human suffering and the depth of Divine witness to it. Babka writes that “just as heaven and earth join to praise God in the liturgy, … heaven and earth join to mourn the death of the Son in solidarity with all who suffer catastrophically.”14 As an image of God, the ‘highest being,’ the Three in One, the Gnadenstuhl motif subverts any understanding of God as abstracted from our own experiences of isolation or illness, humiliation, brokenness, or pain.15 The cross is “the event in which God takes the absurdity of catastrophic suffering into God’s life and being” ; the triumph of the cross affirms the depth of God’s solidarity with the ordeal of suffering, with all who suffer.16 The “emotionaland theological impact of this image …occurs in an aesthetics of vulnerability” that challenges indifference to the suffering of others.17

By offering us a glimpse of both human frailty and divine grace, this image alerts Christians of the need to maintain a vigilance to the suffering ‘other.’ In venerating the cross, we are not only called to behold Christ in his great act of love and respond with veneration to the symbol of the way he died. When we kiss, bow or genuflect to the cross, we also commit ourselves to seeking Christ in the ‘other’ who suffers. We testify to what this image’s depiction of the Trinitarian presence at the moment of Christ’s death encapsulates: that God becomes incarnate where there is catastrophe; that by fully sharing human suffering in a humiliating death, God invites us to “stake our subjectivity” in the suffering of Christ, of the ‘Other,’ the Christ who suffered and died on the cross two thousand years ago, and the ‘other’ whom we identify as Christ suffering in the present.1 And in this is our hope, because we are ‘followers of Jesus’ whose death on the cross did not end in failure but in Resurrection—the definitive revelation of Jesus as Son of God, the second person of the triune God, and the conclusive reassurance that belief in the risen Jesus correlates with our deepest experiences and our ultimate hope for renewal.


1 Robin M. Jensen, The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2017), 1.
2 Ibid, 4-5. Although Jensen writes that “Paul’s focus on the mode of Christ’s execution emerges most fully in his letter to the Galatians [when he] “acknowledges the fact that Christ’s death on the cross was an obstacle to belief in Jesus as Messiah,” (Gal. 5:11), she adds that “Paul employs the cross in a more metaphorical sense” in 1Cor. 1:19.
3 See, for example, 1 Cor 1:23, where Paul writes “we preach Christ crucified…”
4 See also Jeffrey Spier, Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 227: “…there is a rarity of depictions of the crucifixion in Early Christian art. The image is entirely absent from the catacombs and sarcophagi in Rome and does not become common until the Byzantine period [during] the late sixth century.” 
5 See Justin Martyr and 1 Cor 1:18-25. Also Robin M. Jensen, The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy, (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2017) 1, 5.
6 This illumination is found in the Die Dietsche Doctrinale by Jan van Boendale, c.1374. The word Gnadenstuhl is thought to originate with Martin Luther’s use of the term in his 16th century translations of Exodus (25:21-22) and Hebrews (4:16) which refer to ‘mercy seat.’
7 See Susie Paulik Babka, Through a Dark Field: The Incarnational through an Aesthetics of Vulnerability (Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2016), 225.
8 The most familiar probably being Masaccio’s Trinity at the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, c.1427.
9 Babka, Through a Dark Field, 207, (who also refers to Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel, 204-205).
10 Ibid, 196.
11 Ibid, 204.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid, 225.
14 Ibid, 196.
15 Ibid, 194.
16 Ibid.
17 Ibid, and 192.
18 Ibid, 225.


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Samuel Ojiefo Ejeregbe was born in Nigeria but spent most of his adulthood in the United Kingdom. He holds a First-Class Honours degree in Law from the University of Buckingham, with legal mini pupillages in London and Internship in New Jersey. U.S.A.. He also attended Allen Hall, Archdiocesan Seminary of the Archdiocese of Westminster, London UK, where he was awarded a Diploma in Philosophy from the Pontifical University of Saint Patrick in Maynooth, Ireland. He was awarded a scholarship from the Sir Christopher Ondaatje Scholarship Board for a master’s degree in law as a specialist in Financial Services Law and graduated with Distinction. He is currently studying for the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree at the Faculty of Theology in the University of St. Michael’s due for graduation in Fall 2021. He loves playing tennis, cooking and theological discourse.


Readying Ourselves for Palm Sunday

Extreme close focus photograph of a palm leaf against a light grey background. The palm fronds reach upwards from the bottom right corner of the image.

The COVID-19 pandemic, without any shred of doubt, made the annual Lenten observances move so fast due to restrictions in public worship, with many following with online liturgy.  Despite a limited number of people—10—allowed to attend public Masses—and with all the restrictions—we have journeyed through Lent with a monastic spirit. Whatever the case, it is certainly a Lent that we will always remember! Perhaps now we can reflect upon all the many and rich symbols that we associate with Holy Week and Easter. So, let us begin by reflecting on the signs of Palm Sunday that would lead us through the Easter Triduum to celebrate the resurrection of our Blessed Lord. 

As a teenager, I always braced myself for Palm Sunday prior to Easter celebrations because of the lengthy readings. I got exhausted standing whilst the Narration of the Arrest, Trial, Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ was read, though moving to hear. I quietly wondered why the long narration when we were marking the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. I felt it should be called Passion Sunday. The drama group of my local parish, St. Patrick’s Sapele, made it even more special as an adult would ride on a donkey with palms, depicting the triumphant entry of Christ.

What I quickly noticed from Palm Sunday was the very fact that the people who applauded Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, shouting “Hosanna” and words of adoration, within a week, would be crying, “Crucify Him.” Previously, our Lord had deliberately avoided popular acclaim, even fled, but this, upon entering Jerusalem, he accepts. Seeing him on a donkey, those around him remembered the words of the Prophet Zechariah, “Exult O daughter of Jerusalem, behold your king is coming to you and riding on a donkey” (Zec 9:9-10).

Pope Benedict XVI explained that the prophecy of Zachariah relates to Jesus: He is a king who destroys the weapons of war, a king of peace and simplicity, a king of the poor and he was clearly not building any revolt against Rome. Riding on the borrowed donkey, Jesus made a humble entry into the city of Jerusalem whilst the crowds surged at him and scattered their garments on the floor and waved branches, a poignant moment that foretells that this triumphant hero will be dealt with like a criminal and killed. Palms do have a symbolic gesture, a sign of victory. On Palm Sunday thankfully with the increased numbers for public worship, hopefully we can be able to go out to meet Jesus, carry the blessed palms, joyfully sing out our hosanna and join in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

But our joy soon turns to utter sadness as, holding our palms, we hear the narrative of Christ’s passion. We realize, once again, that his triumph, his true victory, will come through the Cross. We know, as Jesus did, how Holy Week will eventually end. We know that joy will turn to sorrow and back to joy. We know that through the sufferings of Christ, followed by his resurrection, good will surely triumph over evil. We know that many today are fatigued and may be going through mental challenges triggered by the continuous lockdown caused by COVID-19 but we are assured that it will not last forever and we shall, God willing, return to normalcy in no distant future and healing to those suffering.

What is customary on Palm Sunday is the opportunity to take our palms home, a subtle reminder of victory, that no matter how long the darkness may last, brightness will come and joy will be overflowing. Let us not forget that it was on the Cross that Christ conquered. So, as we begin Holy Week with Palm Sunday, let us keep our eyes on the Cross; Christ is with us always till the end of time.

Palm Sunday is a robust time to reflect on what Jesus has done for us; it is not just some distant story or something remote from us. It is about what God has done for us; it is about our salvation and our life. We are not just passive spectators, or listeners: all that we recall on Palm Sunday (and during Holy Week and Easter of course) is about what Jesus has done for us. This is such a hopeful message as we continue to try and do our best in this strange and difficult situation that we face at the moment in a pandemic.

The opening address on Palm Sunday Mass expresses this very well: “with all faith and devotion, let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city for our salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the cross, we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life.” Amen.

I wish you, your loved ones and families a Blessed Palm Sunday.

I call you blessed.


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Photograph of Michael Fahey, S.J. standing next the late Dr. Margaret O’Gara in her academic robes.

Michael Fahey, S.J. pictured with the late Dr. Margaret O’Gara

The University of St. Michael’s College is mourning the death of former Faculty of Theology Dean Michael Fahey, S.J., a man described as a perceptive theologian, an astute mentor and an exemplary leader and administrator.

Fr. Fahey died Friday in Massachusetts.

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of Michael Fahey, and I offer my condolences to his family and to his religious family, the Society of Jesus,” said Interim Dean John L. McLaughlin. “As an MDiv and then PhD student during his two terms as Dean I experienced firsthand his exemplary leadership. He was tireless in promoting the faculty and students.”

Dr. Anne Anderson, CSJ, former president of the University of St. Michael’s and herself a former dean of the Faculty, concurred.

“Dean Fahey left an indelible legacy at USMC. He was enormously proud of the Faculty of Theology and its scholarship,” she said. “He was also an astute mentor for many students, quietly requiring excellence, while he made connections and opened doors that launched many talented young theologians into to the world of academe. His perceptive analyses of theological perspectives will be missed both locally and internationally.”

Dr. Michael Attridge, who teaches systematics at the Faculty, recalled his first encounter, in 1992, with Fahey. Attridge was in the Elliott Allen Lounge when Fahey approached and introduced himself. The following week, Fahey asked if Attridge would like to do some research work for him.

“He was working on a paper on the post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Christifideles laici” and wanted me to generate a bibliography. Over the next several months, I did so, meeting with him weekly,” Attridge remembered. “He taught me how to search the library catalogue, to think about keywords and also to look for those words in other research languages… He taught me to go to the shelf in the library and look at the books around the volume I was interested in to see what else was there. He showed me the importance of studying the footnotes and bibliography to see what other works might be useful. And finally, he taught me how to use non-traditional indices like the Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses. At the end of the four-month project, I produced a bibliography of 200–250 entries. He then asked me to redo it as an annotated bibliography and showed me how to do that. I realized then that I was not doing the bibliography primarily for him, but he was showing me how to do research.”

Fahey then supervised Attridge’s MA thesis on the Eucharist in Anglican Roman Catholic Dialogue and served as a reader on Attridge’s doctoral dissertation.

Fahey, who made major contributions to the study of the theology of the Eastern Church, and to the ecumenical dialogues between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox and Anglican churches, was also known for his kindness, and his care of students was legendary.

“At conferences, doctoral students (not just his own) often found themselves being introduced and their academic abilities extolled to senior scholars, even if we didn’t realize until later the professional stature of some of those people,” McLaughlin recalled. “At the same time, he offered annual workshops back ‘home’ on what initially seemed mundane matters, such as how to organize your first CV or what to do and what not to do at a ‘job dinner’; once again, it was only later that we realized how important these little things would be as we entered into the job market.

“I regularly heard from my fellow students about his attention to their progress through the doctoral program, providing careful and detailed feedback on their work in progress, preparing them for their dissertation defence, and providing glowing recommendations as they applied for various positions. Even after he left us for Marquette University, he continued to be involved with St. Michael’s, serving as an external examiner for doctoral defences, cheerfully offering advice to faculty and students, and always quick to respond to any request for help. He did all this while maintaining his own high academic profile, through his many publications, conference presentations, invited lectures and as editor of Theological Studies.”

As General Editor at Theological Studies, he was known for helping young theologians develop their thoughts and their writing style.

“He took great care with those who submitted articles for consideration and was proud of the fact that even the ones who were rejected, thanked him. He loved to tell the story of one person who wrote: ‘Thank you. That’s the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever received,’” Attridge said.

Fahey led a full and fascinating life. A graduate of Boston College and of the University of Louvain, he held a master’s degree in Romance languages from Fordham University, a licentiate from Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., and a doctorate in Theology from the University of Tübingen. He was talented cook, an accomplished linguist and a dedicated traveller.

In a June 2005 editorial in Theological Studies, Fahey recounted studying systematic theology in the late 1960s with Professor Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) at Tübingen. (Fahey also studied with Hans Küng.)

“In the ensuing years when I would meet Ratzinger, whether in Rome, Toronto, or elsewhere, I would remind him of the earlier Tübingen days,” Fahey wrote. “He would inevitably respond something like: ‘Ja, ja, das war lange her!’ which I took to mean: ‘a lot of water has flown over the dam since then!’”

At one point, famed Canadian Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan lived in the same residence and Fahey would speak about Lonergan pacing the halls of the residence, muttering to himself, “It’s all there. I know it’s all there,” Attridge said.

He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from St. Michael’s College in 2005.

In 2006, Dr. Attridge and Dr. Jerry Skira of Regis College published a festschrift in honour of Prof. Fahey entitled In Gods Hands: Essays on the Church & Ecumenism in Honour of Michael A. Fahey, S.J.

“Prof. Fahey’s legacy continues to carry great weight at St. Michael’s, both for the measure of his scholarship and for his care for his students. We offer the Jesuits our deepest condolences,” St. Michael’s President David Sylvester said

The Faculty of Theology liturgy of Wednesday, March 24 at 1:30 p.m., will be offered for Fr. Fahey. A Zoom link will be available via inquiry@usmctheology.utoronto.ca.

“With the passing of Michael Fahey, the Church and the Academy have lost a leading scholar, and St. Michael’s has lost a good friend,” McLaughlin said. “May he rest in peace and may his memory be a blessing.”

In 2020, Sister Penny McDonald celebrated her diamond anniversary of her entrance into the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. After obtaining a BA at St. Michael’s, her main ministry until 1995 was in education, as a secondary school teacher and administrator. Sister Penny realized her need to deepen her theological understanding for her work with students and in the field of vocational discernment, and was awarded a Master of Divinity degree at St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology. In 1995, Sister Penny moved from teaching to volunteering at St. Michael’s Hospital in the HIV clinic. Later, she directed the Drop-In, a place for women who were homeless or under-housed. For the past 14 years, Sister Penny has worked at Providence Healthcare as a volunteer in the Adult Day Program. The joy and satisfaction of serving in one of the original ministries of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Toronto, and of being part of a welcoming community of compassion, hope, and healing, has been source of joy. 


“Listen to what life is asking you”

Close focus photograph of a lavender flower against a green and pale pink background.

On Thursday March 13, 2020, I returned home from Providence Healthcare, where I have volunteered for 12 years in the Adult Day Programme (ADP), a programme for people who have dementia and are living at home. The following day I received an e-mail informing me that all volunteers were suspended until further notice. When I left Providence Thursday I had no idea that I would not be returning on Tuesday to be with the club members and staff.

I am a Sister of St. Joseph of Toronto, and the Charism of our Community is reconciliation and service of the dear neighbour. It is a challenge for me to accept that loving my neighbour is to stay home, to wash my hands, to wear a mask. In contrast, Our Foundress, Sister Delphine Fontbonne, arrived in Toronto in 1851 with three other Sisters in the midst of the Typhus epidemic and took on the management of an orphanage on Jarvis Street. For these Sisters, loving the dear neighbour meant living with the orphans, establishing schools, planning the House of Providence, which would accommodate hundreds of poor seniors, the sick, and immigrants. Sister Delphine died on February 7, 1856. She had stayed with a woman who was alone and distraught, and she had tended to the sick Sisters in her Community.

Today, of course, I want to be with the club members and staff of the ADP, and I await the day when the COVID-19 pandemic will end. Until such time, in the words of Dr. Ted Dunn, as expressed in his book The Role of Meaning-Making in Transitional Times, I “listen to what life is asking me.” I find purpose and meaning in being aware of the suffering in our world, following the news and world events, entering into committee work carried on with Zoom, sorting and organizing and packing, exercising, praying, gardening, reading, listening to music, crosswording. For this moment in time my life is changed. I believe the change is not forever!            

This year our Congregation is celebrating God’s goodness to us for 170 years. It is our prayer that we be healers and show the compassionate face of God to our dear neighbour. March 8 is International Women’s Day and I thank God that I belong to a Community of women—a Community that dates from 1648 in France. I live in the Grace of all the women who spent their lives in service of the dear neighbour without distinction and in fidelity to our call to continue the mission of Jesus “that all may be one”.


Source: Ted Dunn, PhD The Role of Meaning-Making in Transitional Times


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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.


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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.


Read other InsightOut posts.

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.