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I gave a talk about the YouCat last week. It was not so much about the history or content of the book, but more about Pope Benedict’s short letter to young Catholics that’s printed at the beginning as an introduction.

youcat_lg

There are some beautiful images used to explain why it’s so important for young people to know their faith. Pope Benedict is both affirming (“The youth of today are not as superficial as some think…”), and challenging:

This Catechism was not written to please you. It will not make life easy for you, because it demands of you a new life. It places before you the Gospel message as the “pearl of great value” (Mt 13:46) for which you must give everything. So I beg you: Study this Catechism with passion and perseverance.

You can listen to my talk here.

And here is the final part of Pope Benedict’s letter:

In the World Youth Days since the introduction of the Catechism of the Catholic Church—Rome, Toronto, Cologne, Sydney—young people from all over the world have come together, young people who want to believe, who are seeking God, who love Christ, and who want fellowship on their journey. In this context the question arose: Should we not attempt to translate the Catechism of the Catholic Church into the language of young people? Should we not bring its great riches into the world of today’s youth? Of course, there are many differences even among the youth of today’s world. And so now, under the capable direction of the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, YOUCAT has been produced for young people. I hope that many young people will let themselves be fascinated by this book.

Many people say to me: The youth of today are not interested in this. I disagree, and I am certain that I am right. The youth of today are not as superficial as some think. They want to know what life is really all about. A detective story is exciting because it draws us into the destiny of other men, a destiny that could be ours. This book is exciting because it speaks of our own destiny and so deeply engages every one of us.

This Catechism was not written to please you. It will not make life easy for you, because it demands of you a new life. It places before you the Gospel message as the “pearl of great value” (Mt 13:46) for which you must give everything. So I beg you: Study this Catechism with passion and perseverance. Make a sacrifice of your time for it! Study it in the quiet of your room; read it with a friend; form study groups and networks; share with each other on the Internet. By all means continue to talk with each other about your faith.

You need to know what you believe. You need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer. You need to understand it like a good musician knows the piece he is playing. Yes, you need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents so that you can engage the challenges and temptations of this time with strength and determination. You need God’s help if your faith is not going to dry up like a dewdrop in the sun, if you want to resist the blandishments of consumerism, if your love is not to drown in pornography, if you are not going to betray the weak and leave the vulnerable helpless.

If you are now going to apply yourselves zealously to the study of the Catechism, I want to give you one last thing to accompany you: You all know how deeply the community of faith has been wounded recently through the attacks of the evil one, through the penetration of sin itself into the interior, yes, into the heart of the Church. Do not make that an excuse to flee from the face of God! You yourselves are the Body of Christ, the Church! Bring the undiminished fire of your love into this Church whose countenance has so often been disfigured by man. “Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord!” (Rom 12:11). When Israel was at the lowest point in her history, God called for help, not from the great and honored ones of Israel, but from a young man by the name of Jeremiah. Jeremiah felt overwhelmed: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jer 1:6). But God was not to be deterred : “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak” (Jer 1:7).

I bless you and pray each day for all of you.

Benedictus P.P. XVI

You can thank me that I resisted calling this post ‘YouSing the YouCat’, even though I quite like it as a title…

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I’ve had great fun experimenting with “Logos 4″, the latest edition of the Logos Bible Software. It does everything you’d expect, and much more.

Just take my last search as an example. I wanted to look up Hebrews Chapter 12, so I just typed “Heb 12″ into the search box on the home page. Immediately, as a default setting, it opens up a set of windows displaying a vast array of tools and information to help you make sense of the scriptural passage: the English text in five different translations (there are many more to choose from), the Greek text together with all its variants (with an option of transliteration if your Greek is getting rusty), links from every Greek and English word to a set of dictionaries and concordances, numerous cross-references, biblical commentaries on the passage, handouts to photocopy for bible study groups, illustrations, and even a Wordle-style word-cloud to highlight which themes are coming up most consistently in these chosen lines. This is all before you have customised the page or used the drop down menus to link the scripture with your own preferred theological resources.

The danger, of course, is that you spend all your time racing down every exegetical rabbit hole you discover instead of reflecting on the Word of God itself, just as you can get lost in the footnotes and cross-referencing system of any printed bible. But this is a risk with any tool: that we become fascinated by what it is in itself rather than what purpose it is built to serve.

Here is the demo:

There is a profusion of bible software available today – some of it online, some of it downloadable. I can’t give an honest comparison of Logos with all the other packages, simply because I haven’t used many of them. My ordinary practice of bible study and sermon preparation still involves sitting down with pen and paper, an interlinear bible, and a pile of printed dictionaries and commentaries. It’s very old-school and pre-internet. But from my limited time spent with Logos I can say that it is attractively designed, easy to use, and delivers a huge amount in terms of everyday bible study and exegesis.

The other plus is that there is now a set of Catholic texts to supplement the largely Protestant cross-referencing system that Logos was designed for. So you can call up Catholic bible commentaries and Catholic translations (e.g. the Catholic edition of the RSV) to link with the scriptural texts, and you can also explore these texts in their own right using the same software. So you have a library of Catholic theology and some very sophisticated tools to explore it with.

The best example here is the Catechism. Open this and you have the text itself. Click on a scripture reference in the footnotes, and it opens a set of windows at the side with all the biblical tools to study that passage in context. Click on another quotation in the footnote, and it gives you the whole passage (and usually the whole sermon or book) from which the quotation is taken. It links to patristic sources, magisterial documents, writings of the saints, etc. – all there in front of you without having to go to the bookshelf or search the net. Just as one example: I was reading paragraph 1371 of the Catechism about how one aspect of the Eucharistic sacrifice is that it is offered for the souls of the faithful departed, and it quotes St Monica’s request to her son St Augustine that he remember her at the Lord’s altar after her death. And with a single click you open up in the box below Book 9 Chapter 11 of Augustine’s confessions with the whole quotation in context.

I am sure there is a lot more here that I haven’t discovered, but this gives you a feel for what the software can do. The downside is the price. I’m lucky enough to be using a review copy, but the basic Catholic software package is $249.95 (see exactly what’s included here) – which must be about £150 at the moment. It’s a lot for an individual user. But if you think of what it costs to buy a decent set of biblical texts and commentaries over a number of years, then it sounds a lot less. You are buying a library rather than just a piece of software. (The other plus is that you can use it on your iPad or mobile. This doesn’t help me much because – despite my high-tech credentials – I am still getting used to texting…)

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We have been back at Allen Hall for about ten days – a few days of induction and settling in, and then lectures started properly this Monday. It’s great to get stuck into the new year.

Sixteen new seminarians have arrived at Allen Hall – the largest intake in many years. Most of these are ‘first years’ beginning their formation for Catholic priesthood; one or two began elsewhere and are starting a new stage in their formation here.

I was going to entitle this post ‘seminary numbers increasing’, but then I realised that this is the same title I gave to a post at the beginning of the last academic year – which you can read it here. The good news about vocations seems to be continuing, not just here but in other seminaries as well.

 

The other bit of good news is that after much behind-the-scenes work our new website has just been launched. You can see a snapshot above, and if you want to browse around click here.

It looks fantastic. Yes, it’s a WordPress theme! I wish I could find something as crisp for the blog, but I can’t find anything that quite works for me on the free WordPress options. I feel I need a slight refresh – any ideas about blog themes are gratefully received.

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Yesterday on Radio 4’s Something Understood Mark Tully looked into seminary life, past and present. John Cornwell reflects on his experience in ‘junior seminary’ many years ago, and I try to explain what things are like today at Allen Hall. You can listen here – the programme is available online until Sunday 17th June.

St Joseph’s College, Upholland, where John Cornwell went to ‘junior seminary’

Here is the blurb:

In Something Understood this week, Mark Tully is intrigued by life in a Roman Catholic seminary. How are young men trained for the priesthood?

At Allen Hall Seminary in the busy heart of London, Dean of Studies and Formation Advisor Father Stephen Wang explains the need for his students to train for their pastoral role within the Catholic community. Seminarians at Allen Hall spend much of their time in local parishes, schools and hospitals preparing for life as a Diocesan priest. And yet it’s also crucial that they have the quiet, contemplative space they need to develop spiritually. They must become men of God and men of communion.

Mark explores the history of the seminary system, with readings from Anthony Kenny and Denis Meadows, and hears music written by ancient monks in isolation. He speaks to writer and academic John Cornwell, whose own time at Upholland Seminary in the 1950s left a strong imprint on his spiritual life. The Junior Seminary system he experienced from the age of 12 no longer exists, but John believes that there are still serious flaws in the way the Catholic Church trains its priests. He argues that seminarians are too separated out from the world and from the people they are destined to serve once ordained.

Ultimately, becoming a priest requires huge dedication – what Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe described as a ‘falling in love’ with God. Perhaps what is also needed is a balance, between the prosaic and the spiritual, between being within the world and being apart from it.

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To procrastinate:

to defer action; to put off what should be done immediately [Chambers]

It’s exam time in Allen Hall, so I’m guessing (without judging our seminarians at all!) that the demon of ‘procrastination’ is in the air.

Rebecca Ratcliffe writes about the daily struggle as a student to actually get down to things, especially with the internet staring you in the face. Some of the tips are useful for the rest of us non-students as well.

The spectre of the second term, with its attendant horrors of essay deadlines and January exams, is looming. But as we reflect on the negligible amount of work we completed over the Christmas break, let’s soberly consider our new year’s resolutions.

Pledges not to run up astronomical library fines or drink any more cans of Relentless have probably been sworn by students up and down the country. But this year’s promises will be dominated by the mother of all academic resolutions – to stop procrastinating.

The irresistible desire to put off until tomorrow what should be done today afflicts ooh, I don’t know, 99% of students? What I do know is that it’s by no means a new phenomenon – the term “procrastination” was first used in the 1500s. But it’s reached new heights among those battling the distractions of Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging.

If procrastination is the thief of time, the internet is its most insidious accomplice, delaying work one small click at a time.

But fear not, dawdling scholars, there is help out there. Firefox extensions are an easy way to curb stray clicking: LeechBlock can block distracting websites from loading during specified time periods – you could set it to make Facebook available only between 6 and 7pm. And the desktop program RescueTime can provide a breakdown of how you have spent your time online.

Here are some tips she has plucked from the seasonal crop of self-help books:

Remind yourself of past successes.

You will procrastinate less if you boost your belief in the relevance of your work and your ability to succeed, according to Dr Piers Steel’s book The Procrastination Equation.

Shut out the world with some noise reduction headphones.

Perfect for anyone distracted by noise, say Pamela Dodd and Doug Sundheim’s in The 25 Best Time Management Tools and Techniques. And if your flatmates are still refusing to turn the heating on, they can double up as ear warmers.

Don’t miss out on a good night’s sleep.

A clear head is the key to a better memory and academic success, says Lynn Rowe in How to Beat Procrastination – and you’ll save money by cutting down on cans of the aforementioned Relentless.

Move.

If you feel yourself getting distracted, do something physical like standing up and stepping away from your computer screen, Michael Heppel advises in How to Save an Hour Every Day.

Just get started.

“A job begun is a job half done,” Timothy A Pychyl reminds us in The Procrastinator’s Digest.

Well go on then.

I haven’t looked at all these sites yet. RescueTime sounds terrifying – let us know in the comments if you have tried it…

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The BBC were at Allen Hall recently, not with a film crew, but to take some still photographs for a slideshow about seminary life on their website. You can take a look here.

A view from the garden - one of our photos, not from the BBC

If you have dipped into this blog now and then, and wondered what Allen Hall looks like on the inside, the slideshow is certainly worth looking at. There are some stunning photographs. It’s amazing how a decent camera and a photographer with a good eye can make the most ordinary corner seem interesting or alluring. And it’s equally amazing how many seminarians were engrossed in their studies in the library when the photographer happened to be coming by…

There are also three interviews strung together to make a short commentary over the slides. The Rector of Allen Hall Mgr Mark O’Toole, first year seminarian Damian Ryan and fifth year seminarian Martin Plunkett talk about the challenges of becoming a priest today.

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What’s the point of studying obscure topics in the arts and humanities when there seems to be no practical purpose or economic benefit for the students themselves or for the society that funds them? Six years ago the then Secretary of State for Education, Charles Clarke, was happy to suggest that public funding should only support academic subjects of ‘clear usefulness’.

Nigel Biggar wonders what universities are for, and gives a beautiful reflection on the poverty of this kind of utilitarian assessment. He explains the importance of the moral education that takes place when we study histories and literatures, religions and cultures, theologies and philosophies, music and drama:

One valuable gift that the arts and humanities make is to introduce us to foreign worlds: worlds made strange by the passage of time; present worlds structured by the peculiar grip of unfamiliar languages; worlds alien to us in their social organisation and manners, their religious and philosophical convictions.

Introduction to these foreign worlds confers a substantial benefit: the benefit of distance from our own world, and thereby the freedom to ask questions of it that we could never otherwise have conceived. In foreign worlds, past and present, they see and love and do things differently. And in reflecting upon that difference, it might occur to us from time to time that they see and love and do things better. So, one precious contribution of the arts and humanities is their furnishing public discourse with the critical resources of an understanding of foreign worlds, resources vital for social and cultural and moral renewal — a renewal that deserves at least an equal place alongside scientific and technological innovation.

He develops this idea and says that it is not just about appreciating other worlds and other people but understanding how to relate to them. This is ultimately a training in virtue:

The arts and humanities not only introduce us to foreign worlds, they teach us to treat them well. They teach us to read strange and intractable texts with patience and care; to meet alien ideas and practices with humility, docility, and charity; to draw alongside foreign worlds before we set about — as we must — judging them. They train us in the practice of honest dialogue, which respects the “Other” as a potential prophet, one who might yet speak a new word about what’s true and good and beautiful.

A commitment to the truth, humility, a readiness to be taught, patience, carefulness, charity: all of these moral virtues that inform the intellectual discipline into which the arts and humanities induct their students; all of these moral virtues of which public discourse, whether in the media or in Parliament or in Congress, displays no obvious surplus. All of these moral virtues, without which this country and others may get to become a “knowledge economy”, but won’t get to become a “wisdom society”.

And public decisions that, being unwise, are careless with the truth, arrogant, unteachable, impatient and uncharitable, will be bad decisions — and bad decisions cause needless damage to real institutions and real individuals.

What I’m saying, then, is that in addition to providing talented individuals with the opportunity to grow their gifts and find a social role to exercise them; in addition to producing qualified applicants for positions in legal practice and in public administration; in addition to training the labour-force to man a high-tech, service-oriented economy; and in addition to generating new scientific knowledge with technological or commercial applications, universities exist to form individuals and citizens in certain virtues — virtues that are not just intellectual, but are also social and political.

It’s no surprise that he turns to John Henry Newman for inspiration. It will be interesting to see whether Newman’s ideas about university education get any new publicity when his beatification takes place in September.

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