How to Study Theology (and not quit your day job)

When considering the possibility of taking some theology classes, or even pursuing a degree, it’s often the objections that hold sway rather than the movement of the Spirit. What can you do with that? Do you have a back-up plan?  Isn’t that a waste of money?

The pressure to do something practical that will lead to employment is immense.  And yet, our hearts are restless…The desire is there, but the justification is sometimes hard to come by.

Those who take the plunge give a wide variety of reasons for doing so – some quite specific, others barely communicable. Here are three reasons you might be considering the formal study of theology.

You work for the Church in some capacity and want professional development.

Whether you are a catechist in a parish, a permanent deacon, or a vice-chancellor of an archdiocese, continuing formation in the faith is crucial.  No ministry is minor. Though advanced study may or may not mean an increase in salary, it will bring an increase in confidence and a deeper relationship with Christ.

The beauty of theology is that its subject matter is infinite.

You’ve recently come to a greater appreciation of your Catholic faith and feel the need to know more.

Conversion is a powerful thing. When your faith is awakened, you crave a deeper relationship with the Lord and a greater knowledge of His revelation. Your desire to live your faith in your home and professional life is strong, but the know-how is lacking. Even twelve years of Catholic school is not enough!

The personal encounter with Jesus sparks a desire to learn everything possible about Him.

You feel God calling you to something, but you don’t know what it is.

When asked why they decided to study theology, so many students say that they really don’t know-they just felt that God wanted them to do it. Theology students range from traditional-age college students searching for their vocation to retirees looking to grow in the faith and serve in their parishes. The diversity among students is as great as within the Church herself.

So, you are feeling the call to study theology, but you can’t leave your employment. Or move to a new city. Or go into large debt. It is just too impractical. But wait – there’s more! It is, in fact, possible to study theology and not quit your day job! Here’s how.

The Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology program makes it convenient and affordable to earn a theology degree, or just take some classes. The program is completely online offered in a self-paced environment with monthly start dates and offers the lowest tuition of any online Catholic theology program.

The college offers an array of programming, including a Master of Divinity, Master of Arts degrees in Pastoral Theology, Sacred Theology, and Advanced Diaconal Studies, a Bachelor of Arts in Theological Studies, and a variety of certificates in Catholic theology at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate levels. For the neophyte, a non-credit course on The Catechism for Catechists is a perfect beginning.

New certificate programs in Black Catholic and Latino Catholic communities prepare pastoral ministers serving those populations, both of which are changing as they grow. Once predominantly African-American, the Black Catholic population now includes many refugees from Africa, making the population very diverse. Likewise, the Latino community is representative of a number of Spanish-speaking countries, each with a unique culture.

Mindful of both the ecumenical and ecological mission of the Church, Saint Joseph’s College has recently partnered with Gratz College of Philadelphia, to offer a joint Graduate Certificate in Jewish-Christian Studies starting March 1, and with the Laudato Si Institute in Granada, Spain, to provide an International Certificate in Christianity and an Integral Ecology starting April 1.

The Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Program is rooted in, and professes fidelity to, the teachings of Jesus Christ and the doctrines and heritage of the Roman Catholic Church, seeking to combine faith with reason in the pursuit of academic excellence. Its faculty exemplifies its philosophy that effective ministry requires a solid theological foundation, grounded in solid Catholic doctrine, with a deep spiritual and pastoral orientation.

Every faculty member has received the mandatum from the bishop of the local Diocese of Portland.

So here is the fourth reason to study theology-because you can!

The Gospel tells us to “be not afraid” to “go by another way!” Studying theology may be the road less traveled, but it is one that is spiritually enriching and has practical applications for our work, both in the Church and in the temporal world. Saint Joseph’s College is a guide on that road, and we’d like to invite you to walk with us.

The choice to study theology may not get the enthusiastic nod from family and friends. It will require humility, and even a small martyrdom. It is “another way,” and an often unexpected one. But it is a path you do not walk alone-the SJC community accompanies you.

Carmina Chapp and Ann Koshute teach theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Programs.
(Note: This article first appeared as sponsored content on Crux.

“What in the World is a Catechist?”

Today is the memorial for St. Charles Borromeo, a patron saint of catechists. St. Charles charles borromeowas a bishop during a period of confusion in the history of the Church. He was the archbishop of Milan from 1564 to 1584 while the Protestant Reformation was still young. But St. Charles sought to teach the truth. He was instrumental in the creation of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, what would later be called the C.C.D. In order to teach the Faith effectively St. Charles believed that it was incumbent on Catholic Christians to live the Faith that they were preaching. During a famine in Milan he is said to have fed about 3000 people daily for three months (Lives of the Saints 364). On the memorial of this great saint let’s reflect on what Pope Francis can teach us about being a catechist.

In a Mass to celebrate catechists, Pope Francis described the vocation of a catechist as someone who keeps the memory of God alive. The catechist invites others to reflect on God’s presence in their lives. The pope stated,

“A catechist is a Christian who puts this remembrance at the service of proclamation, not to be important, not to talk about himself or herself, but to talk about God, about his love and his fidelity – to speak and to transmit all that God has revealed, i.e. the teaching of Christ and His Church in its totality, neither adding nor subtracting anything” (Pope Francis, Mass to Celebrate Catechists 2).

The catechist speaks about God. You might be thinking: “No, really? Thanks for the tip!” But how often do we invite others to encounter the living God? “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,” is the simple kerygmatic message that Pope Francis proposes (Evangelii Gaudium 164).

This brings us to the second point of what Pope Francis said. A catechist does not add or subtract anything from the teachings of Christ and His Church. A catechist will often have to teach on sensitive issues; the issues cannot be ignored. The pope has spoken out publically on many hot button issues. While speaking in the Philippines the pope warned about “ideological colonization.” He went on to warn: “The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life” (Pope Francis, Speech for Meeting with Families, January 16, 2015).

The pope was calling to mind that marriage is between a man and a woman, a point he raised again in his homily at the opening Mass to this year’s Synod of Bishops. The pope also has described the importance for husband and wife to be open to life. “Openness to life is the condition of the Sacrament of Matrimony. A man cannot give the sacrament to the woman, and the woman give it to him, if they are not in agreement on this point, to be open to life,” he said in an in-flight press conference. But Pope Francis also quipped that Catholics do not have to “be” (insert: breed) like rabbits to be “good” Catholics. Rather they should exercise “responsible parenthood” (cf. Humanae Vitae 16; CCC 2368).

After his visit to the US, on his flight back to Italy the pope reaffirmed “…a sacramental marriage is indissoluble. This is not something the Church can change. It is doctrine; as a sacrament, marriage is indissoluble.” Finally, in the pope’s 2015 encyclical, he stated: “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion” (Laudato Si 120). We are not being consistent if we express a desire to care for the environment but do not respect human life from conception until natural death.

Pope Francis has taught these Church teachings as we would expect any pope to. He has also surprised many people by his desire to speak and live the truth in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15), something St. Charles did well. From these two men we learn to have compassion for the people we catechize.  This means that we will “suffer with” them (Latin compassio) and accompany them on their journey:

“I remember when Saint John Paul II said: ‘Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time’ (John Paul II, Address to the Members of Italian Catholic Action, 30 December 1978). The Church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock: ‘For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren’ (Heb 2:11)” (Pope Francis, Homily at Mass to Open Synod).

The catechists and the rest of the Church’s faithful (CCC 3) must serve as that bridge to an encounter with Jesus Christ. It’s essential to “meet people where they’re at.” But we don’t leave them there. We accompany them on the journey as we respond to the universal call to holiness together.

St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us.

Edward Trendowski teaches marriage and family ministry courses at Saint Joseph’s College Online.