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Theology on fire in new series

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, December 1, 2005

Saint Mary’s senior and Missions Commissioner Jenny Robbins knew she needed to increase the amount of religious programming to coincide with the student body’s need for the development of a mature faith life.

When Robbins became Missions Commissioner she realized she would finally have access to the resources necessary to begin a monthly event that would give students the opportunity to engage in open religious conversation.

She worked together with the Board of Governance, Campus Ministry and The Center for Spirituality to introduce Theology on Fire, intended to spark religious dialogue amongst student and professors.

“[The event] will be programming based on Catholic theology, but is most definitely hoping to bring diverse perspectives together for a mutually enriching experience,” Robbins said.

Approximately 30 people gathered Wednesday night in the Cyber Café for the first Theology on Fire event, entitled “Whose Experience Counts in the Church?” The program included a lecture by Notre Dame theology professor Catherine Hilkert followed by open discussion.

Hilkert began her lecture by asking the audience members to reflect on who they feel has touched their own faith, an experience that has formed it, or where they have experienced the Church at its best.

She explained that the point of the self-reflection was to realize that all baptized persons represent the Church, and that the religious lives of so many have been enriched by an experience of work of another.

“We are all baptized,” she said. “We are all a part of the Church of Jesus Christ, which gives us the opportunity to live out His words.”

Hilkert stated several examples of religious people who worked to “better the world” through their heroic actions, specifically referring to four American Church women who were killed for their humanitarian work in El Salvador 25 years ago.

“They served as martyrs for the church,” she said. “Their witness has influenced women and men who continue to work against government and aid the people in these areas.”

Hilkert also raised the question of the tolerance of homosexuality in today’s Church. She related the story of the gay priest, Mychael Judge, who died in the Sept. 11 attacks after refusing to flee the devastation while giving last rites to dying firefighters.

“Do we not have witnesses [such as Judge] that are gay celibate priests?” she asked.

Hilkert also discussed the importance of dialogue, and events such as Theology on Fire, which she said strengthen and enrich people’s faith life.

“I think many church tensions result from the lack of structure from within to discuss difference of opinions,” she said. “We need to be able to exercise and listen to different voices for the Church.”

Hilkert also said she feels the role of the Church has become too centralized, and that it has regressed in openness and understanding and increased in exclusivity.

“You cannot teach if the people you are teaching aren’t open to learning and asking questions,” she said. “This is part of the problem of the Church.”

Robbins brought the Theology on Fire program to the College, rather than the Chicago-based Theology on Tap program, for she feels it incorporates the idea for openness in dialogue and inquisition of faith.

“Notre Dame has opted to take up [Theology on Tap], but we wanted to create our own program that would allow us to change the format to suit our needs and desires here at Saint Mary’s,” Robbins said. “In fact, this structure is drawing from the extremely successful, annual program Catholic Common Ground which we have every spring.”

“I feel it is very important to have dialogue with in the Church,” junior Allison Beyer said. “Discussions like tonight’s are the first steps to a positive change.”

Freshman Gracie Deery said she disagreed, as she felt the topics were too controversial and unnecessary for group discussion.

“I thought [Hilkert] did well with the topics, but deciding whose experience counts doesn’t matter,” she said. “It is important though to be able to discuss these issues without being put down.”

At the conclusion of the event, Hilkert emphasized the need to share views and experiences with others, remain open to new ideas and embrace service-learning opportunities.

“Understand and listen to people with different views on something you are passionate about,” she said.

Senior Sinnamon Wolfe agreed, and encouraged the audience to remain strong and confident in themselves and their views.

“Listening to other people requires strength and courage,” she said. “Open yourself to dialogue that opposes your views … have strength to stand up and say this is who I am.”

Hilkert encouraged the audience to attend future monthly Theology on Tap presentation and to remain open to the work that God has planned for them.

“When the needs of the world and our gifts intersect is where your calling is, which is very hard to discern,” she said. “We must remain open to God to have him show you the way