On April 10, 2014, Pope Francis, in speaking to representatives from Roman Pontifical universities, said:
“Philosophy and theology enable us to acquire the convictions that structure and strengthen intelligence and enlighten will…but all this is fruitful only if it is done with an open mind and on one’s knees…A good theologian and philosopher is open, or incomplete in thought, always open to the ‘maius’ of God and of the truth, always in development…
And the theologian who does not pray or does not adore God ends up sinking into the most repugnant narcissism. And this is an ecclesiastical sickness. Narcissism in theologians and in thinkers is harmful and repugnant.”
While there is a lot in that quote, I would like to reflect specifically on the call to be a theologian or philosopher on one’s knees. When I started my courses at Holy Apostles College and Seminary (HACS), I was nervous for more than just how long it had been since I had last been in school. In the past five or six years I have gone from being a poorly catechized cafeteria-Catholic to a Catholic faithful to the Magisterium seeking any bit of knowledge I could find. This conversion changed everything in my life and there are days I simply marvel at how God works. What surprised me most was how much I had learned to trust God and to rely on Him, how I had gone from having no concept of what grace is to daily praying for it. My faith was rooted in my heart and the more I learned the more in love I became with Jesus Christ and His Church.
Which leads to one of my main reason for nervousness as I began my first semester at HACS last fall: would taking an academic approach to my faith lead to my falling out of love with it and to it taking up residence in my head, never to be something I marveled at again? Combine a husband and home to care for, a two-course semester, a full-time job in ministry, and a marathon to train for and I had more than my share of things on which to focus. How would the relationship with God fare that I relied on so deeply? Where would learning all of the history and methods of moral reasoning lead? I choose a quote from Pope Paul VI as my signature on my HACS email, to remind myself of this love: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” And so it began.
It was not long before reading the gospels became homework; contemplative reflections became required readings; my commuting time of praying the rosary became listening to moral theology lectures; my daily Mass during lunch became catching up on discussion boards; and my husband was making himself dinner. It was easy to get swallowed up into the items on my to do list and to place all that I was learning into the “grad school” box of my life. And soon after that, after a session with my spiritual director in which I lamented feeling disconnected and far from God, that I was charged with thirty minutes of silent prayer per day – no small goal for an extrovert to attain.
However, it was in those seemingly stolen moments between a run and homework, between reading and dinner between work and time with my husband, those moments that never have added up to a full thirty minutes per day, that I was finally able to make the connections. That the love of God and the Church that was firmly within my heart and the knowledge of the theology and philosophy that was being crammed into my head were finally able to meet in the middle. Daily Mass became more than just a quiet escape from the busyness of diocesan ministry; it became a place to hear the Gospel that I had been studying and to allow those reflective readings to settle in to my heart. Suddenly, the stories I had been hearing since childhood had so much more meaning, so much more depth to them, and I longed to learn more. The knowledge I was gaining was teaching me how to fall in love with my faith in an ever-deeper way; it was drawing me to my knees like nothing else had. The more I learned, the more in awe I became. When I tried to remain academic in my courses, I struggled and became easily frustrated. I felt disconnected from the material and unintelligent compared to my classmates. But when I allowed my prayer life and my academic life to meet, and I allowed my connections and course interactions to flow from this meeting, I found the material made more sense and I was less frustrated.
And then I read the quote above from Pope Francis and it all started to make sense. Theology and philosophy done only in my head, standing on my own two feet left me relying on my own power and grasping for God. When I let it draw me to my knees, I was able to place myself, the creature, in the presence of my Creator and acknowledge my need for Him. From my knees, I could only open myself to receive Him and allow His Spirit and Grace to work within me. Certainly, there are still moments of frustration and wondering if any of it will make sense, but now there is the understanding that I need only ask and seek in order to find Him, and through prayer I will do just that.
Pope Benedict XVI said, “The Church fathers knew that prayer, properly understood, was nothing more than becoming a longing for God.” Theology and philosophy done standing up on my own power may lead to knowing a lot about God. Theology and philosophy done on my knees in prayer learning to become a longing for God will lead to truly knowing Him.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.