My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Musings of a Soon-to-be-Christendom-Graduate

     It’s been a little over 3 ½ years since I set foot—for the first time—on the campus of Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.  I fell in love first with the beauty of the campus, the beauty of Christ the King Chapel, and, more slowly, with my fellow classmates.  It took a while before I fell in love with the professors, because as a scared freshman, I did not go to office hours (something reflected in my grades).

     Then Sophomore Year happened, and I began going to office hours, primarily for help with my Old Testament Exegesis paper, and for help with English papers (O the horrors!).  By the end of the first semester of Sophomore Year, I was beginning to realize just how much the professors of Christendom College were an integral part of this school.  One of them, who directed my Senior Thesis last semester, became my mentor through the difficult days of Sophomore Year and Junior Year.  Another had basically adopted me Freshman Year, opening his heart and home and his family to me.

     Junior Year also saw me in the professors’ offices frequently, and I began corresponding with an emeritus theology professor via Facebook messages, as I wrestled with the problem of suffering—a problem brought to my attention in the Spring 2011 semester when two of our chaplains left in one week, and our beloved History Professor found out he had cancer.  The problem of suffering continued to dog me, and I tried to seek an answer to it in the topic I chose for my Senior Thesis: “Redemptive Suffering in the Theology of the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.”

     Now it’s Senior Year.  Last semester I completed “a scholarly piece of writing which culminates the student’s four year immersion in those arts that are called liberales (free) because they equip a person for the kind of life that is worthy of a free human being.”[1]  The Senior Thesis is viewed by many as the most stressful part of their college career, because it is a roughly thirty-page project that takes an entire semester and much revision to complete.

     The Thesis was stressful, but at the same time I enjoyed it greatly.  After all, I got to spend three months very close to the thought and writings of the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose cause took a huge step forward in December with the closing of the diocesan investigation into an alleged miracle by the Archbishop.[2]

     I concluded my thesis by putting forth Sheen’s view of suffering as the conclusion to the problem of human suffering: “Although suffering will always accompany men as they journey through this earth, they can find the answer to the perennial question of suffering in Sheen’s presentation of love and the Cross of Christ as the solution to the problem of suffering.”

     Now, the second semester of Senior Year has begun.  Graduation will happen in 2 months.  This looming milestone means that I must devote serious time and thought to Planning for Life After Christendom.  That entails resume-writing, job-hunting, and learning how to drive.  (That last item will occur whether or not I have the motivation to make it occur, because of the drive and encouragement of a wonderful History Professor.)

     The other thing floating around in the back of my head is the question: “What are you going to do to carry out the mission statement of your beloved college?”  The mission statement of Christendom College, taken from Ephesians 1:10, is “Instaurare Omnia in Christo” (To Restore All Things in Christ).

     It was the motto of Pope St. Pius X, and it should be my motto.  I know that, at least on an intellectual level, but interiorly, I’m too scared to go out and preach the Faith.  O, I know, the Faith is best spread by example (“Preach the Gospel at all times—If necessary, use words,” attributed to St. Francis of Assisi), but my laid-back, phlegmatic, shy nature shrinks from the thought of going out into the world and spreading the Faith by my example.

     What if I mess up?  It’s a good thing that words only need to be used “if necessary,” because I freeze when put on-the-spot about religious matters.  I’m very good at putting my foot in my mouth.  What I learned intellectually in the past 3 ½ years has not been digested, assimilated.  I retained it long enough to spit it back on the test (not perfectly, but just well enough to scrape by with a C+ or a B…I am a prime example of Professor Jenislawski’s “deciduous knowledge”), and then it fled from my memory.  I can explain the Trinity very simply, but I couldn’t tell you for the life of me why St. Augustine’s De Trinitate was so influential in the development of Trinitarian thought…even though I wrote a sort-of essay on that topic for a Marshner midterm last Spring.  I know the basic points of Christology (Jesus Christ is one Person with two natures, human and divine), but I couldn’t explain all the nitty-gritty details that we studied in De Verbo Incarnato last Spring.  And please don’t ask me about John of the Cross or  Teresa of Avila…my semester of Ascetical and Mystical made me feel like I was beating my head against a brick wall learning about the Dark Night of the Soul and infused contemplation…can we please have a semester on prayer for beginners?  From a practical viewpoint, too?

     Speaking of practical thought or philosophy…  I am a very practical person: I want to know why something is studied, and how to apply it to my everyday practical life.  And yet I majored in a subject, that according to Thomas, “ is speculative rather than practical because it is more concerned with divine things than with human acts, though it does treat even of these latter, inasmuch as man is ordained by them to the perfect knowledge of God in which consists eternal bliss” (ST Prima Pars, Question 1, article 4, respondeo).

     I have enjoyed studying theology in the 9 classes that I took for my major: Vatican II, Sacraments, Pauline Exegesis, Ascetical and Mystical Theology, De Verbo Incarnato, De Deo Trino, Mass in the Roman Rite, De Revelatione, and Mariology.  Even though each class had its own challenges—such as the overwhelmed feeling I had in Ascetical and Mystical, or realizing in De Revelatione that my Latin is terrible—I enjoyed them.

     Now, I am taking my final undergraduate Theology class: Theology of the Body.  To my joy, it is very practical, and even helped me understand something that I never really understood in my Freshman human nature class (because I didn’t go to office hours), namely, that physical realities reflect spiritual realities.

     That last is a topic for another blog post; this one is much longer than I had originally intended it to be.

     God Love You!

                [1]Christendom College Undergraduate Bulletin, 2010-2011.  Accessed March 6, 2012.

                [2]Michelle Bauman, “Investigation Concludes on Alleged Fulton Sheen Miracle,” Catholic News Agency.  Accessed March 6, 2012.

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