• Fr. Paul MacNeil

Habit 3: Study (7 Habits of Effective Catholics)

Our young people in elementary school in Ontario take a standardized test in numeracy and literacy (EQAO). I remember having a conversation about this at a table with some catholic administrators at a trustee convention (in a former life I was chair of the Niagara Catholic District School Board). Just to make conversation, I brought up the possibility of doing some kind of similar testing for religion in our Catholic schools. I was mocked -- "what would we test them on? The rosary? How well they could construct a prayer corner?" I was moderately insulted and a bit hurt by that - after spending 8 years in seminary formation, there's a lot more to the knowledge of our Catholic faith than that (although I would never underestimate the power of the rosary!) Here is a list of some of the courses that are typically taught in a seminary (this one is from Mundelein in Chicago, St. Augustine's in Toronto only had one semester online at the time. At least that's all I could find. Here is the link to Mundelein and St. Augustine's:)

  • Scripture: Greek, hebrew, pentateuch and histories, Johanine literatrue, Gospel of John, Pauline literature, Homiletics 1, homiletics 2, introduction to psalms and wisdom, prophets, theology of the psalter, psalms, word of God and liturgy, romans and corinthians, liturgy and the new evangelization;

  • dogmatic theology: doctrine of the priesthood, fundamental theology, Christology and soteriology, doctrine of the trinity, anthropology, grace and eschatology, sacraments in general, sacraments of initiation, sacraments of healing and vocation, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, ecclesiology a nd mariology, theology of holy orders, Holy spirit, soteriology, Christology, Christology of Benedict the 16, priesthood and ministry, yesterday and today, global theologies, eucharist as sacrament, theological resources for preaching;

  • Moral theology: fundamental moral theology, medical ethics and suffering, sexuality and vocation, reconciliation, fathers and mothers of the desert, christian marriage, christian meaning of suffering, gospel of life, readings in catholic moral theology;

  • spiritual theology: spiritual direction, spiritual theology, prayer and the life of the spirit, obstacles to evangelism;

  • Church history: formation of catholic tradition, medieval and early modern history, modern church history, American church history, fathers and mothers of the desert, special topics in christian life and thought

  • Liturgy and music: principles of sacred liturgy, liturgical chant, 1 and 2, and 3, liturgical leadership, mass practicum, rites practicum, liturgical ministry in the Polish community, liturgical ministry in the Spanish community;

  • Department of theology and canon law: theological reflection on catechesis and the family, pastoral care and counselling, ministry and parish processes 1 and 2, and 3, pastoral internship, parish skills, clinical pastoral education, parish administration and leadership (role of the pastor), missiology and culture, canon law 1, 2, canonical preparation for marriage, advanced pastoring of multiple parishes (1 and 2)

On the other hand…. what happened to us? Most of my 12 classmates left the priesthood in the first 5 years. In my 23 years of priesthood, most of it has been wave after wave of scandals. I love this question a Jesuit priest I know was asking about some of the nonsense we were hearing from our brother priests - not even anything scandalous, just unwise and self-centred: "What Gospel are they reading?" What Gospel am I reading? I better make sure it's the right one or my life is going to be very difficult. So here is pope Francis speaking about the importance of teaching our faith and how to do it:

“On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over."

What is the first proclamation? It's what the early disciples talked about to their friends whey they were asked who Jesus was. All that theology I took in the seminary means nothing if I don't get this initial proclamation right. It's called "Kerygma" if you want the technical Greek word for it. Here's how pope Francis describes it:

“Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you.”

Simple. Typically when we talk about "Kerygma," there are only four points to remember:

  1. God loves you

  2. Sin is real and very painful

  3. Jesus is the only ultimate answer to sin.

  4. And now he is living at your side everyday to enlighten, strengthen and free you. You can commit to Him and your life will be not only better, but actually saved.

All the theology I learned in the seminary was good stuff, amazing in fact. I would encourage anyone to explore it, our catholic intellectual and spiritual tradition is amazing. But, as St. Paul says, "If I don't have love I'm just a noisy gong." If I don't preach the Kergyma, I'm wasting everyone's time. I conclude with one of my favourite quotations from Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Evangelium Gaudium:


“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”.” (3)

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