You might not think you’re a theologian. But if you’ve ever tried to answer the questions, “Who is God?” or “Why does God matter?” then you’ve done theology.
These big “meaning of life” kinds of questions often lie beneath the questions seekers and catechumens ask us, and our job as RCIA ministers is to answer those kinds of questions in a way that makes sense for them in language seekers and catechumens can understand. But don’t reach for your copy of the Summa or the Catechism just yet.
What is theology?
Theology is different from other academic disciplines such as philosophy, biblical studies, or religious studies even though theology overlaps with them in many ways.
- Theology incorporates many philosophical questions and methods
- Theology looks to the Bible for insights into God’s identity
- Theology includes an awareness of the historical and sociological development of what people believe about God and how they live.
Yet the biggest difference with theology is that the theologian is striving to know God, not simply study God.
The earliest Christians had an intimate, direct knowledge of God in the Risen Christ. Their personal encounters with Jesus and what they observed when he walked and ate with them became their lens for understanding who God was and how they were to live in the world. Their personal relationship with Christ gave meaning to their lives when they were being persecuted and martyred for their faith.
And their response of faith to the questions of their day gave them further insights into the mystery of God.
Knowing about vs. believing in
However for people like us, thousands of years after Christ’s Ascension, how do we know God whom we have never observed with our own eyes?
Here is where the gift of faith comes in. In faith, we can know God not as an intellectual pursuit but in the same way we know love, or loss, or joy, or disappointment. Faith is what differentiates theology from academics. The theologian is first a person who believes in God and has a relationship with God. That faith and love compel the theologian to want to know more about God, especially who God is for us in this particular time and place.
Saint Anselm described theology as “faith seeking understanding,” and what we are trying to understand is not a doctrine but a person—God. The demons who recognized Jesus understood the doctrine of the Son of God (Mt 8:28-34), but the man born blind believed in him (John 9:1-41).
Interpreting the signs of the times
Faith allows the theologian to serve as a translator who stands “on the boundary” between our profound experience of the mystery of God and the real-life human situation in which we live. The theologian stands in the middle to “co-relate” the border between the divine and all of humanity’s deepest questions.
When the theologian focuses too much on the divine, she risks making theology a discipline of doctrinal fundamentalism or historical archaeology.
On the other hand, if she concentrates only on the human question and longing, then theology becomes counseling or political science or simply my own spirituality.
Between here and there
RCIA ministers stand in this middle. We bear the great responsibility of translating, interpreting, and helping the catechumens and candidates see the world in which they live through the eyes of faith. When we do this, we make the mystery of God no less mysterious but all the more knowable.
What do you think?
How do you see yourself as an interpreter of faith? In what ways do you translate ordinary experience into the mystery of God for the catechumens?
1 thought on “Why your RCIA process needs a theologian…and why that’s you”
In August I decided to encourage our new inquirers to look for “God moments” in their lives. I shared a couple I had, and then asked them to start looking for them and we would start out each session sharing our “God moments”. The next week one man said that two days before he had come into work feeling very grouchy. When his coworker didn’t do his job right, he was very cranky with him. He said that right after that he remembered he was supposed to be looking for “God Moments” in his day. He said he couldn’t believe how peaceful he felt at the end of the day because he had spent the rest of his day looking for “God moments”. The sharing of “God moments” each week has really helped the catechumens and candidates grow in their relationship with God, and the sharing seems to get deeper by the week. I also started this yesterday during the dismissal rite with the 8th grader who became a catechumen. I actually think I got the first idea from someone who wrote into your website this summer. What a difference it is making in our RCIA process. Thanks again for all that you are doing for us!