Announcing adult Catholic education class in Columbia

Have you ever found yourself during Mass wondering what something means as you listen to the Scriptures? Perhaps something the priest mentioned in a homily was unclear? Maybe you know you’re Catholic but you’re not sure why the Church teaches what she does on a number of pressing and important issues? Perhaps you want to be better able to explain to your friends what you and the Church believe? Or maybe you’re just curious.

Thankfully there is a solution arriving here in Columbia, Mo. Beginning on March 2, 2017, every Thursday night from 7:00 to 8:30 P.M. I will be offering an adult education, faith formation, catechesis, class, seminar, whatever you want to call it, and you are most welcome to attend. The class will be held in the Activity Building of Sacred Heart Church.

The course will be geared towards adults, that is anyone 18 & older. I hope that we will have both a mixture of college students as well as resident parishioners.

I am titling the course, “The Church in the Modern World.” That is both a reference to Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, as well as something broad enough for us to cover a wide variety of topics.

It will not be a linear course in the sense it will not be necessary to attend every week, you can come and go as you please. The topics will be announced in advance. I will also post readings and resources on this web site, though it will not be necessary to review them beforehand. Even if you can’t make it a given week, you’ll still have access to all of the resources found at this hub.

As for the topics, I have a working list of options found here. I am open to other topics as well, the first night I hope to have some form of balloting so as to see which topics people want covered first.

I look forward to seeing you on March 2nd, let me know if you have any questions. Please help me spread the word.

What is Fundamental Theology?

After finishing first cycle, and more importantly, getting ordained a deacon, the next step for me in the past few weeks has been beginning my new degree program, an S.T.L. in Fundamental Theology. One of the many questions I’ve been asked lately has been, “What is Fundamental Theology?” Well, a part of the reason for that question is that you don’t see it appear as a discipline in the United States very often, usually, it is an introductory systematic course. However, at a few universities in Europe it is considered an entire discipline within theology.

This semester I am taking six courses plus a seminar, the seminar is titled, “The Specificity of Fundamental Theology,” in short it is a survey of the major themes found within the discipline. For the first weekly paper we were asked to answer among a few questions, “How do you define Fundamental Theology?” It was meant to be a personal response as we begin this two-year long journey of study. I thought I would share that part of my paper here too, since so many have been asking. Though a warning, given the scope of the paper (there was another question and it was max. 1 page), in my mind this is an understandably limited definition, but hopefully it’s a start for the person asking the initial question:

What is Fundamental Theology?

In one sentence I would define fundamental theology in the following manner. Fundamental theology is the study of the credible presentation of revelation and faith in the modern world. Such a definition can be unpacked in order to expose the principal elements of fundamental theology. One arm of fundamental theology is the apologetic arm which seeks to develop a “credible presentation” to the “modern world.” However, the other arm of fundamental theology, the dogmatic arm, serves as its core and is found at the center of this definition, the theology of revelation and faith. By the study of revelation, fundamental theology seeks to understand the means by which God, “chose to show forth and communicate himself,” (DV, 6). Therefore, fundamental theology does not seek to understand all the contents of revelation but rather the whole of revelation including the relationship between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which, “flowing form the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end.” (DV, 9). By the study of faith fundamental theology seeks to study man’s response to God’s revelation. It is a response in which, “man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of the intellect and will.” (DV, 5). Therefore it is the responsibility of fundamental theology to analyze the relationship between faith and reason. This brings fundamental theology from its dogmatic aspect to apologetic aspect. This latter aspect of fundamental theology seeks to bring its dogmatic aspect into dialogue with the modern world. It seeks to analyze the signs of the times and then develop a credible presentation of revelation and faith, not necessarily to explain particular dogmatic truths of the faith, but why it even matters to believe in anything in today’s world, and more specifically to believe in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.

DV = VATICAN II, Dei Verbum.

Let me know if you have any follow up questions or if something is still not very clear in this brief description.

It is finished!

Today I finished my last final exam of the year, and with it, the entire S.T.B. It feels good to finally be done with this degree. I’ve learned and grown a lot, but now I’m looking forward to the S.T.L. Today I’m off to Boston to attend the Lonergan Workshop for the rest of the week. Next week I head to New Jersey and then Missouri to begin my summer assignment. Now that I’m done with exams and more importantly, studying for exams, I might be able to share a few more posts. The last two weeks there wasn’t too much to share as my time was spent studying and taking exams.

Last day of first cycle classes

Today was a big day for many of my classmates and I, we finished our classes for the so-called “first cycle” of theology which grants one a pontifical degree known as the S.T.B. Next year I will begin another degree for “second cycle,” which leads to an S.T.L.

Many of my classmates who came here from over 40 countries will not be returning. Many of them will be returning to their home countries or sent out on mission to begin new apostolates and ministries, sharing what they’ve learned here in Rome. Today was the day to say our goodbyes. We might run into each other during exams, but today was our last day all together after three years.

Of course, I have a theory, that for those who give their lives in service to the Church, there is no such thing as “goodbye,” only “see you later.” I don’t know when I’ll see some of my classmates again, but with all of the events that take place in the Church, you never know when you might just run into someone again. Even if it’s 30 years from now, it’s still, “later.”

That still didn’t make certain parts of today somewhat sad and difficult in saying “see you later,” to so many good friends whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know these past few years. When people ask me what I like most about studying in Rome, my first response is always my classmates at the university and the seminary.

Here’s a photo of the group of us after one of our classes this morning.

Many of my classmates gathered together for a photo on our last day of classes.
Many of my classmates gathered together for a photo on our last day of classes.

Field trip and refugee presentation

On Wednesday we took another field trip for my class on Catholic social doctrine. The last time, we visited the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice. This time we visited a center for helping refugees, known as, “Centro Astalli.” We received a tour of their facility and learned about their programs. They serve meals, teach Italian, and provide medical and legal assistance to refugees who find themselves in Rome. After visiting the facility that seeks to respond to the crisis of refugees on a local, pastoral level, we made our way to a classroom for a presentation. The presentation was on the work of the international organization, Jesuit Refugee Services. The organization seeks to respond to the crisis on an international level. They have facilities like the one we visited in Rome all over the world. They also help to get people out of dangerous situations and provide legal assistance. Lastly, they also seek to work against some of the root causes that have created the crisis. Given that the Jesuits were already over the world when Jesuit Refugee Services was founded, they were able to establish an international network. Different countries, including the USA, have other organizations associated with the nation’s episcopal conference. When I worked at CNS, in the USCCB building, I had the opportunity to meet many people who worked with Migration and Refugee Services at the USCCB.

This was not the first time I have attended a workshop/conference/presentation on refugees. However, this time there was a different feel to the experience. That difference was created by the crowd, my classmates. In the past when I attended presentations of this nature, in the USA, all or at least, the overwhelming majority, of those present came from America. This time it was very different, as I’ve mentioned before there are approximately 140 students in my class who come from around 40 different countries. The woman leading the presentation spoke of various situations in different countries around the world, whether they be countries dealing with conflict, or countries where refugees were arriving. All of these situations and conflicts touched all of us in very different ways. That is to say as she rattled off countries, there was often someone from those very places. It made conflicts and difficult situations that often seem so far away, much closer. Instead of several thousand miles away, they were just two rows in front or behind me. What a blessed learning experience indeed.

Thank you BBQ

This spring I will be finishing my three year course of study known as ‘First Cycle” which results in the ecclesiastical degree, S.T.B. I have been working towards this degree at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Seeing that we are at the end of the three years, my classmates and I decided to invite all of the professors from the core classes throughout the course of the three years to come for a dinner at the North American College.

Naturally, we decided to go for a somewhat American theme. Therefore, I was asked to take over the BBQ duties. I cooked pork shoulder for 11 hours and pork ribs for 6 hours. I also grilled some vegetable skewers. Other classmates provided great help in preparing potato salad and cheesecake for desert.

What made this evening so entertaining and memorable was the opportunity to interact with so many of our professors in a new context. Our professors come from so many different countries, cultures and backgrounds. They are both men and women, consecrated religious, diocesan priests, and laity. Normally we only get to see one professor at a time, and normally, they are lecturing while we sit, listen and take notes. In this context, there was more than one professor present, and it was a more social setting. Everyone seemed to have a very good time while enjoying both the food and the company.

One of the plates served for our dinner with the professors.
One of the plates served for our dinner with the professors.

Field Trips are still fun

Even at 25 years old, in my 19th year of formal education, I must admit, field trips are still fun. Today for my class on the Church’s social doctrine, we got to do just that, take a field trip. We visited the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. We were treated to a lecture by the secretary-archbishop of said council. He talked about important global economic themes in the recent documents, Caritas in Veritate and Evangelii Gaudium. A layman who works for the council also presented to us the council’s most recent text on the relationship between energy sources and justice. No it wasn’t the zoo, a museum or the science center, but it was still a fun morning. It provided a nice change of pace and a way to see how it is that the principles learned in the classroom are being applied in the life of the Church.

Introducing Pope Francis: Responding to Crisis

This evening I was able to give a talk to the parish on Pope Francis. There was a great turnout, especially for a summer weeknight. It was a great opportunity for many people from the parish to get together and share a meal, and then after the meal, I spoke on our new Holy Father.

The first half of the talk is very similar to my post on the experience of the papal transition this spring.  The second half of the talk I propose three steps that one can find across the many speeches given by Pope Francis thus far.

Below is a link to a .pdf of my prepared talk. Much like our Holy Father, I tended to veer off of the text, particularly in the first part when I was telling stories. However, when it comes to the more substantial part, about the content of his preaching, I stayed closer to the text with some variations here and there.


Reflection on Fr. Augustine Tolton and the Priesthood

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am now in the summer exam period. Unlike the United States, here exam period is not one week, but three. Our exams are all comprehensive and all 10 minute oral exams.

This semester we had a professor who threw my classmates at the Gregorian and I for a little bit of a twist. The course is on the Sacraments of: Ordination, Matrimony, Anointing and Reconciliation. We had to do a unique assignment that would turn into a great opportunity to share our cultures.

The assignment was to compose a short simple reflection on the life a person who has lived in our country in the last 150 years. The reflections were to be no more than one page and were to tie a quote from the figure to some of the theological themes we have discussed in class. We then had to get together in pre-determined groups of three to share and discuss our persons of interest. The groups were set up by the professor so that each of the three students came from different cultures. I was in a group with a young Italian lay woman and a Croatian seminarian. We had a great discussion.

I chose Fr. Augustine Tolton, the first African-American priest, who was baptized in my diocese.

I thought I’d share my reflection here too.


Servant of God, Fr. Augustine Tolton was born as a slave on April 1, 1854 in Brush Creek, Missouri. His slave owners were Catholic and allowed him to be baptized. In 1862, after the death of his father, Fr. Tolton escaped slavery along with his mother and siblings. They resettled on the other side of the Mississippi river in Quincy, Illinois. Young Augustine worked in factories, but loved Mass, eventually he got a job in the rectory so he could study under the priests. He himself wanted to be a priest, but was rejected by every U.S. seminary and many religious orders. Finally, he was accepted by the Propaganda Fidei, getting ordained in 1886. He believed that he would be sent to Africa to minister and evangelize. In a surprising move he was then sent back to Illinois to serve black Catholics until he died of heat exhaustion while visiting the sick in 1897. He was the first African-American priest.


The Catholic Church deplores a double slavery – that of the mind and that of the body. She endeavors to free us of both. I was a poor slave boy but the priests of the Church did not disdain me. It was through the influence of one of them that I became what I am tonight. I must now give praise to that son of the Emerald Isle, Father Peter McGirr, pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Quincy, who promised me that I would be educated and who kept his word. It was the priests of the Church who taught me to pray and to forgive my persecutors… it was through the direction of a Sister of Notre Dame, Sister Herlinde, that I learned to interpret the Ten Commandments; and then I also beheld for the first time the glimmering light of truth and the majesty of the Church. In this Church we do not have to fight for our rights because we are black. She had colored saints – Augustine, Benedict the Moor, Monica. The Church is broad and liberal. She is the Church for our people.” [1]

Theological Reflection

The circumstances of the death of Fr. Tolton are a powerful expression of the sacrificial priesthood, a total giving of self for others. He died bringing the Eucharist, anointing and confession to the sick and dying. This makes it quote easy to see the intimate connection between the priesthood and the Eucharist, Christ gave up his life man, Fr. Tolton gave up his life for his parishioners. He also speaks of the importance of the Church. In the above quote one can find the vocational aspect of the priesthood, that is that God frees us from slavery of sin, but calls us to do his will. This is seen in the life of Fr. Tolton, a freed slave who makes a promise of obedience to the Church. A man who thought he would be sent to Africa, but was sent back home to a much more hostile environment, and by obedience, he went. This is the great paradox of this man’s life. In this way he unites himself with Christ who is God, who humbles himself not only to become man, but, “taking the form of a slave…becoming obedient to death, death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7-8). Fr. Tolton demonstrates how one can find true freedom by following the will of God, and obediently serving his Church. It is obvious in this text that the has a great respect for the Church, in which demonstrates the closeness of the priest with the Church, with the people of God, the mystical body of Christ. His reverence shows the priest is always united to the Church, through prayer and sacrament. The text also expresses the importance of the priest’s role of teaching. Fr. Tolton was grateful for the teaching of an academic subjects that he received from priests. However, this also another kind of teaching referenced, not an instruction of academics, but rather an instruction of the heart. He notes that it is from the priest that he learned to pray and forgive his persecutors, who were many in his time. Thus the priesthood is also an instructing the faithful in how to grow in their relationship with God through prayer and the forgiveness of their persecutors.

Here is the prayer we can all pray for Fr. Tolton’s Cause for Canonization.

O God, * we give you thanks for your servant and priest, Father Augustus Tolton, * who labored among us in times of contradiction,* times that were both beautiful and paradoxical. * His ministry helped lay the foundation for a truly Catholic gathering in faith in our time.* We stand in the shadow of his ministry.* May his life continue to inspire us * and imbue us with that confidence and hope * that will forge a new evangelization for the Church we love.

Father in Heaven, * Father Tolton’s suffering service sheds light upon our sorrows; * we see them through the prism of your Son’s passion and death.* If it be your Will, O God,* glorify your servant, Father Tolton, * by granting the favor I now request through his intercession * (mention your request) * so that all may know the goodness of this priest * whose memory looms large in the Church he loved.

Complete what you have begun in us * that we might work for the fulfillment of your kingdom.* Not to us the glory,* but glory to you O God, through Jesus Christ, your Son* and our Lord; * Father, Son and Holy Spirit,* you are our God, living and reigning forever and ever. Amen

Prayer found on

1. The quote can be found on pg. 22 of the Biography found here.