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Why Theology?

Given how much bad theology there is and how often it seems to corrupt people’s faith, you might wonder, “Why study theology at all?”  Even many Catholic parents and students seem to think that studying theology is a waste of time.  “My child goes to Mass and prays regularly. Studying theology will probably just undermine his faith.”  And if you’re a devoted Catholic adult who goes to Mass and Confession regularly, why would you need theology?

A student said to me one day, “Professor Smith, I learn so much more about God watching a sunset over the lake than I do from any theology class.”  I always find it touching how much faith students like this have in me, convinced I won’t grade them down if they say things like this – something the person teaching that theology course might take offense at.  But my response was “Of course, you do!”  In theology class, we just talk about God. But God speaks to us in and through Creation. That’s why the Book of Genesis pictures the act of Creation as God speaking.  God says . . . and it is.  But now we need to learn to see God everywhere in Creation, especially in the faces of the poor and disabled.

Fine, but we don’t need to read books filled with a lot of complicated stuff to learn that, do we?  So why not just watch sunsets, work in soup kitchens, and go to Mass?

Those are good things, but most of us who teach theology know something that other people often forget.  People, especially kids, ask questions.  I was reminded of this the other day when my colleague, a brilliant and yet disarmingly sweet Dominican sister, gave a talk on the Eucharist.  She mentioned that when she was teaching middle school kids, they would ask questions like “What would happen if a mouse got into the Tabernacle and chewed on the Eucharist?  Would he have chewed on Christ’s Body?  Would he have Christ inside him?”

Anyone who has spent time around kids knows they love questions like this.  What happens after you die?  Do angels really have wings?  If you come out of the confessional, and while you’re kneeling in prayer, your mind wanders and you have a bad thought about a girl, do you have to go right back in and say, “Forgive me, Father, I have sinned. It’s been two minutes since my last confession?”

Sometimes kids ask such questions not caring much about the answers, but sometimes a lot depends on them getting the right answers. I know a young woman who met with a priest every two weeks for years trying to get answers to her questions. He just didn’t have the theological training to give her what she needed.  When she finally got to her first theology class in college, she realized that this professor also wouldn’t be able to give her the answers she needed, so she asked around and transferred to the class with someone who could.

Read more at The Catholic Thing 

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