Sunday, 22 April 2012

A year gone by

It's time for a brief report on my academic year:

  It has already been 8 months that I have left my beloved Montreal for Toronto and a life of studies.
I've expressed time and time again how and why I was reluctant to embark upon even more studies.
Maybe a part of me still is, but in general, I have no regrets, and am in fact very appreciative of the learning and the growth that has taken place over the past year and figured it would be a good time to look at some of the learning that has taken place this year.

 In my first term, it was Bernard Lonergan -great Canadian Jesuit  theologian of the 20th century- that challenged, and confused me, but also forced me to accept a much broader understanding of my faith and this journey we're on. What excited me about him was that he not only challenges his readers and constantly pushes the envelope in terms of main stream thinking about theology, but he has an uncanny ability to piss people off as well!! The reason for this is that he asks people to examine their  framework from which they operate, revisit how they see the world. In some ways,  he forces people to re evaluate their world view..and this angers people sometimes. One of my classmates was rather setin his liberal interpretation of the world, that he was offended that Lonergan used a hierarchy of ideas/values in his system.  Bernard takes ideas like culture, science, development, and faith, and places them in terms of importance, with of course, faith being at the top. This offended my  liberal friend because he believes in a world where nothing should be ranked above anything else, where everything is equal.  A little naive, but a lovely sentiment just the same! .

 People like this dude were not the only folks who weren't big fans of Berny. I used a quote of his in a discussion  with an Atheist. The quote was a reflection Lonergan was making about Science and a the scientific method he uses to tackle theology:

" If we assume the universe is meaningless-  a mere collection of inert dead matter- then we also assume that we can expect to find no ultimate meaning. Even scientific inquiry about the universe loses its value and significance. On the other hand, history has shown that a belief in the ultimate order and intelligibility of the universe promotes scientific inquiry."

  You can see why this would enrage any atheist, and my  friend was no different. To this day, the individual is still angry about this quote, and what he considers as Longeran's distortion of science. I am in no position to defend Lonergan or to defend his spiritual view of science since I'm neither a scientist, nor a formed theologian (yet!) fact, I  barely understand the guy at all, which makes me even less qualified to defend what he's saying. But what I do understand is that through his book 'Methods in Theology' he is trying to offer the world a very useful method with which one can understand truth and reality in a more intellectual way. Non Christians would be shocked that an adherent of the Catholic Church would be using a theological method based on reason, but he does...and goes beyond the norm of logic. He doesn't just seek for truth that can be proven with facts..he seeks to deepen his understanding of facts, and to discern how can he live his new truths in his daily life. It's complex, heady stuff that I can barely understand, but that still inspired me a lot this year.

  In the non theological realm, there was other courses on Ethics, and Pastoral practice which are crucial courses for one interested in Pastoral ministry like me. However, this past term, the major highlights were 3 fold:
1) A course in Spiritual direction with one of the Gurus in the field, another Jesuit. I learned a lot from him, but was mostly challenged in my efforts to write papers for him. I was one of the few Catholics in the classroom, and the only guy, so it made for an interesting wonderfully diverse environment filled with people that were eager to turn to faith, to help people find answers to their problems in the world!! One of the lessons I learned here was that the reason why many broken people of our world turn to religion is not because they're weak,  but because the secular world  either doesn't care for them, or has no answers to their problems, other than prescribing pills or labelling them as 'crazy'. As this wise man who taught the class would probably say 'we're all a little crazy inside. The sooner we all realize this, the better the world will be'.

2) Origen. Yes yes, Church father Origen. The same guy that was condemned by the Church  as a heretic and is still seen by many as having heretical ideas. I do agree that some of his ideas may go against what the Church teaches today. But there are a few things to consider when we're looking at Origen:
a) We must remember  that when he was writing and thinking about the faith,  the Church was still in its phase of experimenting and trying to figure out its central doctrine was.  So many silly things were said in this process. Not all of it would  be retained by the Church, but that doesn't make the person saying them a heretic, at least, not in this stage of Church History.
b) Heresy aside, Origen is one of the most influential figures in Catholic History, as he not only help establish the central doctrine of the Church, but was also able to respond to many attacks on Christians from various sources, and thanks to his incredible academic skills, was able to read the Hebrew bible in its original language, and bring a whole new interpretation to the text by using his knowledge of the language and using an allegorical interpretation of the Bible.

It's that latter part that I mostly encountered in my patristics class this year.  First off, his influence from the Greek world caused him to be less literal in his biblical exegesis, and more focused on allegorical. He obviously has limits as to where he uses allegory. He doesn't see the story of Christ for example as allegorical, but he sees certain parts scriptures as better understood as an image for something else, or a material image of something more abstract -thus, an allegory.. This is controversial at times, because there are many who prefer to read the Bible more literally. But the problem is we can't always do that with scripture. There are moments when his type of exegesis - bible study- reveals more truth about the passage than a literal reading could do.  Furthermore, his ability to work with Hebrew gave him the ability to read scripture from a rich new perspective. So much so, that I find myself tempted in studying Hebrew next year.

3) Perhaps the real inspiration to my wanting to learn hebrew comes from  my class on Wisdom literature.  A few things happened in this class. The Professor, a Jesuit became my Mr Keating -the proff from Dead Poets Society. But also, the subject matter was quite intense. What makes Wisdom literature so potent for our time is that all the authors -from Job, to Proverbs; from Wisdom to Ecclesiastes- struggle with their faith and are quite open about their anger towards God. The language used is incredibly relevant for the people the people of the 21st century.   It was so wonderful to see this Wisdom come alive in class.

 And THAT was the highlight of my semester: In January, I started taking some medicine to help me deal with my sleeping disorder. Within a week of when I started, I began to feel an impact. My focus was increasing, I yawned less. But it was in this particular class that I experienced the most magnificent experience I had ever experienced in my life: In a two hour lecture, with a 10 minute break in the middle, I didn't get bored a single time. I didn't lose focus. I didn't day dream. I was 100% concentrated on what the Prof was saying...and I could feel the verses of the text come alive. At one point during the class, I realized that I had not lost my concentration one bit, and I came rather close to shedding tears of joy. My entire life, it's been the same story. I fall asleep during movies, talks, classes, I lose focus, I get bored. Whatever.  That's always been with me, and I assumed it always would be. Suddenly there was a different story being told. Suddenly, I was attentive and hungry for more.

 Hopefully, that will continue into next term! I know there's still much work to do with my focus, my presence to people...I'm working on it. One day at the time, with God in my heart and on my side, I'm working on it!

blessings to you all!

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