Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: End-of-the-Semester Stuff

It's been the usual whirlwind with end-of-the-semester business. My students with their term papers for the Experience of Grace course have been asking for last-minute meetings, and those have been great fun for me as I get to glimpse previews of what they are doing with the various books that they selected for their more independent project. I had a follow-up meeting the other night with the student doing the work on Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy, and it was exciting to hear her argue a particular thesis that she wanted to pursue, emphasizing more than I ever have that the text is particularly Van's take on the relationship, and not his and Davy's, no matter how much he intended it to be, nor how much he uses her own words and perspectives as recalled in his memory and in their journals. While it is obviously his work on one level, she was making it especially clear in terms of the writing of their story as part of the working out of grace in Van's own life, as well as talking about how reading the book is then itself an experience of grace on another level. She was particularly analyzing this experience of grace in Rahner's terms of recognizing creation itself as an act of God's grace, and then God's subsequent initiatives as a distinct form of grace, all of which just had me incredibly pleased in being able to see a student who – despite being so relatively new to the subject, which is one of the most complicated in Christian theology – was already able to start engaging in some sort of multi-dimensional analysis of the subject, while simultaneously drawing upon some understanding of first-tier thinkers in the Tradition.

Similarly, I had a long talk the other day with a student from last semester who has become a major in the department, helping him fill in the historical gaps on the development of Marian piety in Catholicism from its fairly minimal roots in the New Testament. That expanded into discussion of what he was thinking of doing with the major, with his taking part in Sr. Terri's summer program in Rome studying New Testament and Early Christianity (which experience I quite envy), and then fielding questions from him about teaching theology and what impact it has in my own spirituality when God become my "job." We have a number of really good students coming up in the major now, and when I went out Friday night with Tim and Minoo, Mari, and Terri to a bar to play some ping-pong (which Tim and Minoo were complete ringers in, and utterly dominated us through the night, with me being the worst and losing every match except the double round I played with Minoo as my partner), we were all talking excitedly about these young majors. The program, like the university, is still bouncing back from Katrina, but everyone is eager to do as well by the students as we can, and it is encouraging to be surrounded by professors who are that pro-active and positive.

Along with lots of student time, I've been having to think through some of the upcoming Fall semester as well. Before putting in my book orders, I had to check out a few new texts. I'm teaching two sections of Catholicism and two sections of Jesus Christ again, just as I did last autumn. I think I've got a good balance of books for the Catholicism course now, but the Christology class needed a few tweaks, still. I used Gerald O'Collin's Christology last time as my principal theological text, but that turned out to be a little too advanced for the students. They made it over the humps well enough with my help, but it was too much of a struggle for beginners. So this coming year I'm going to try out Christoph Cardinal Schonborn's God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology, and see if that manages to keep the balance better for being digestible by undergrads and still being a serious theological text. It's still a serious piece of theology, and that's always tough for undergrads since hardly any of them have any philosophical or theological education to speak of in our intellectually malnourished culture, but I'm hoping that the "applied spirituality" component in Schonborn's approach will make the book more digestible for them, although I'll still definitely have to help them over the humps.

For my text that functioned more as a spiritual text, I went with the first volume of Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth. I rather liked that, as its "theological exegesis" style gave us more time in reading the source material of the Gospels together (and thus some effective "review" of texts we had already looked at), so this coming semester, I'll have the students read the second volume of the text, which was just released, and which follows Jesus through Holy Week, from the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. That'll give me the chance to experiment with that portion of his text in a classroom setting, and give me a sense of the whole project, and of what I find most useful to use with students in the future. So I spent a good portion of this weekend going through those two books, finally getting to my copy of God Sent His Son, which Mom had conveniently given me for Christmas this year. (Thanks, Mom!)
Tags: benedict xvi, books, christology, class-grace, class-jesus christ, grace and freedom/nature, loyola, rahner, students, teaching, theological notebook, vanauken/a severe mercy

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