The only true Theologians are the Saints

Last week, on February 25, the ITI had the great privilege of an evening lecture on the Prima Pars Quaestio of the Summa theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas, held by our Grand Chancellor Cardinal Dr. Christoph Schönborn. Before being appointed bishop many years ago, Fr. Christoph Schönborn, O.P. was a professor of theology and a very good one at that. Not only does the Cardinal have a vast teaching experience and many publications on his name, he is above all a teacher with a great love for teaching, who also has a deep knowledge of the great Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the patron Saints of the ITI.

Essential for understanding the call of the Christian in today’s world, and thus also the call of each of the ITI graduates, is the point the Cardinal started his lecture with: only the Saints are true theologians, because the Saints lived in full – rather than merely study and discuss academically – the Word of God and the teachings of His Church. They are our best teachers because we can see through their lives what it means in the daily realities of our broken world to live a life in Christ. The Saints did not hide from the world, nor despise it; they actively engaged with it and so through their living example of love, redemption and the overcoming of their human weaknesses make it possible for us to see what our call in this world is, and how to humbly pursue it. Theology, therefore, before anything else, should be pursued to serve. The Cardinal here spoke some vital and humbling words for all of us:

“The fundamental task of any science should be to serve, knowledge has to serve. If not, it becomes pride, it becomes dangerous, very dangerous, it inflates, as St. Paul says. Theology should serve the faithful, and (..) if you feel superior of the simple faithful, you are already on the wrong track. All the science you acquire through studying theology academically is to serve the faith of the faithful. St. Thomas always speaks about the vetula – old woman, a simple old woman. For St. Thomas she is the measure; we have to serve the faith of the faithful and of the simple ones. If your theology pretends to be superior of the faith of the simple faithful then you are already agnostic and not a Christian theologian.”

The task of Theology thus is to serve the Kingdom of God that is being established on Earth through the faith of the faithful. At the ITI we do this by forming the minds and the hearts of men and women that can engage with the world and show it the light of Christ in all its brightness. It easily becomes clear when we look at the great suffering all around us, near and far, how much a serving theology is called for to heal the many wounds and to give hope. As St. Thomas says: “..yet the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things..” It is the hope that lies in these highest things that Theology is called to provide to all people of all nations.

 

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A Turbulent World and the Call of the Christian

We live in turbulent times, and as Christians in Western nations we could easily fall into despair in the face of multiple sustained attacks on the foundations of our societies, whether it be the intensifying persecution and martyrdom of our brethren in the Middle East and many other parts of the world, the tsunami of policy efforts in our countries that undermine marriage and the family, or the now institutionalized disregard for the sanctity of human life in all its stages. Human life today is being quietly but effectively destroyed on an industrial scale never before seen in the history of mankind. As is the case with the ever growing persecution of Christians, the truth about abortion and its dramatic consequences is mostly left unmentioned. We merely call it: “freedom of choice”. Killing innocent human life has simply become a matter of free choice. Where is the moral outrage of the West here?

Despite these horrendous facts, Christ has already redeemed us and the world by his cross and resurrection, and therefore we may not despair. There is a great need however, for Christians to rise up and be heard, to be what Christ calls us to be: a sign of contradiction. This we are doing far too little as we tend to talk ourselves into saying it is not all that bad and that there is really nothing we can do. It is so much more comfortable, even within the Church, to keep focusing on our own little communities and problems and disregard the wider – and burning – world in which each one of us is called by the Gospel to be engaged. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has some harsh words for this attitude:

“In the consciousness of the Church (…), a massive narrowing has taking place. We look only at ourselves, we are concerned only with ourselves; we lick our wounds; we want to construct a nice Church for ourselves and hardly see any longer that the Church doesn’t exist for herself but that we have a word that has something to say to the world and that ought to be heard, a word that could give something. We are too forgetful of our real tasks.”

We have a word, Benedict says, The Word, and this is best heard and seen when Christians live out their lives among their fellow human beings, making it visible what it means to follow Jesus, the Son of God.  This is our real task, of which we are so often forgetful. The Word lived shows us the dignity of each and every human life from the moment of conception, it shows us the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage and the beauty of a family springing from it and holding together. The World lived is like a city on a mountain; it is visible for all. The task of the Christian is indeed to bring the Word to the world! This line of thought is continued by Pope Francis, who told the three million Catholic youth gathered on Copacabana Beach in the summer of 2013:

“Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.”

So what are we waiting for?

Here at the ITI, our aim is to form young men and women from every continent to answer this call to bring Christ everywhere, and to do so with conviction. We do this with a specific focus on strengthening Christian marriage and the family in our societies. Our alumni all over the world provide compelling evidence that the profound Catholic formation they have received here prepares them for this most important task of our times.

Let us also pray at the intercession of the 21 Coptic Christian Martyrs who were recently so brutally killed in Libya for their faith and who have now been beatified by Coptic Pope Tawadros II. That we all may be equally faithful to Christ as these men were.

The Copt New Martyrs

Christian Martyrdom and Our Response

These days the horrific images went all over the world of the beheading of yet another group of Christians by black-clad men, this time 22 Coptic Christians from Egypt abducted in Libya some time ago. They died calling “O God, Jesus Christ, Jesus my Lord”. They are not the first, and also not the last in a daily growing number of Christian martyrs in the Middle East and Africa at the hands of those for whom it is our duty to pray fervently for their conversion to Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Pope Francis, in an impromptu reaction to this event on Monday, said that “the blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a blood that cries out to the Lord.” It is therefore the Lord that we have to ask for intervention through his love and mercy. As so many Christian martyrs throughout the ages have taught us: hate can only be overcome by charity and forgiveness.

Our response to the daily growing threat from ideologically inspired  persecution and violence is not revenge, neither an ever more militant secularism, nor the rejection of religion in general. All this will only severely weaken us, something which our political elites still fail to see, even in the face of the crumbling order in our so-called “enlightened” democracies. As much as an army can only fend off the attacker when it is run through order and discipline and based on solid principles, so a culture can only survive and fend off those that aim at its destruction when it is embedded in a moral order and unchangeable principles that are like the roots of a tree that give water and nourishment whilst offering an anchor in times of heavy storms. Our answer today therefore must be to live he Gospel in full. Living the Gospel starts with prayer. This centuries’ old prayer by St. Francis of Assisi will be a good start:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 AMEN

At the ITI, we already pray daily for our persecuted Christian brethren around the world, and for their persecutors as well. We will intensify this effort, as we will be asking students to devote a special weekly Holy Hour for this intention. We will also pray especially, as Pope Francis has asked us to do, for our Coptic Christian brethren, and all Christians, in Egypt.

May the souls of our martyred fellow Christians rest in peace, may their families receive consolation, and may those that killed them see the light of Christ the Savior.

More information can be found here:

http://www.aleteia.org/en/world/article/islamic-state-carries-out-mass-beheading-of-christians-5774719080988672

http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/article/their-blood-cries-out-to-the-lord-says-pope-francis-of-beheaded-copts-5858854269091840

http://www.asianews.it/news-en/For-pope,-Copts-killed-in-Libya-simply-for-the-fact-that-they-were-Christians-33478.html

2014-06-19 11.05.04


The Mosaic Floor

This week, as the new semester started with a votive Mass for the already passed feast day of our patron Saint Thomas Aquinas, we all had the opportunity to for the first time see the marvel of the recently completed mosaic floor in the Byzantine Chapel. This has been a project made possible by the students themselves, some of whom have worked diligently during the semester break to complete the meticulous work of hand-laying the individual stones.

During Mass, our Chaplain Fr. Juraj Terek noted that this beautiful floor represents very accurately the many members of the ITI: students, staff and benefactors, all being part of the Universal Church and serving and supporting it with their individual gifts and dedication.

As so often in the history of the ITI, the mosaic floor represents a miracle of how much can be achieved with little means but much dedication from many people.

Come and see!


Advent Reflections for the Family

Strengthening the family has, from the very beginning, been essential the work of the ITI and many of its graduates. In keeping with this tradition, graduate Maruška Healy (2005) has written a wonderful guide for families about how to bring the celebration of Advent into the home. Steeped in theology and drawing from the great Advent traditions of the Church Maruška gives a beautiful witness for the domestic church on the USCCB Marriage web site. You can see for your self here!

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“Our Lady of the Sign”

Seeing With Other Eyes

It seems that the season of dancing is beginning here, and just the other weekend a group of students had the opportunity to go to a ball in Innsbruck, a town about four hours west of our little Trumau. The fellow-students who invited us are brothers who have had the privilege of spending many winters in Innsbruck. What was so remarkable about this visit to Innsbruck with them was how much their eyes were opened to the privilege that they had unwittingly been immersed in for years.

Innsbruck is a town tucked away in the beautiful mountains of northwestern Austria. They are craggy and soar straight up into the sky, and what made it all the more significant was that there was more than one member of our party who had never seen a mountain before. As you can imagine, this was utterly awe-inspiring for them. They were gazing, motioning and gasping at the beauty that surrounded us. For the brothers, who had been going to this scenic location ever since they were small boys, it was striking. They began to look around as well and say to one another, “I never noticed before—this place is incredible.”

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A view of Innsbruck.

At one point when the group of us was taking a wander through Innsbruck, one of the brothers even pulled out his phone to take a picture of a mountain which he had been “seeing” since he was a kid, saying in an awed voice, “wow, that is really beautiful.”

This event captures something I experience over and over at the ITI, the value of community for making me recognize beauty. Sometimes it takes the eyes of another to wake me to the beauty of something that is so everyday that it no longer strikes me. Perhaps it is simply that when you share with another, it forces you to slow down and see through their eyes, which makes the sharing itself a great gift.


Students, Stones and the Gifts of God

Let us place a stone for you.

There is a light burning in an un-renovated room of the Schloss.  Students trickle in and out at all hours of the day and night.  Some come to look and they stay to work.  They stay for hours discussing their studies, talking and singing. But what are they doing?

It started as a joke and a dream.  Fr. Juraj Terek, the Byzantine Chaplain at the ITI, was surveying the ugly concrete floor of the Byzantine chapel in the Schloss and trying out different types of stone tiles.  A student from Slovakia, Ondrej Vlcek, was with him.  Ondrej said, “What about doing a mosaic floor?”

Fr. Juraj quipped in return, “and who will do it?  You?”

“Yes, I can,” was Ondrej’s response.

It has always been like that at the ITI.  When there is a need at the ITI, a student will arise who has a gift; a talent to supply that need.  One has a gift for decorating, another for choir music, another for recording sound or taking photos, another for gardening, and yet another for organizing. Most of the work on campus is done by students.  For the Byzantine chapel renovations, students knocked down the walls to reveal the original arches for the space.  All the iconography in the chapel has been done by ITI alumni, so it is fitting that the floor will have the same quality.

Ondrej was trained in mosaics by a priest in Slovakia who had studied under Reverend Mark Rupnik, SJ.  The technique the students are using was practiced in Ravenna.  Ondrej spent the summer of 2014 getting donations of stone for the project – stone which is as international as the ITI.  Stone which is in different colors and from places like China, Italy, and Brazil.  Ondrej was excited when he spoke about the stone from Cappadocia (today’s Turkey).  “The same Church Fathers that we study at the ITI could have looked or stepped on this stone!”  As the Church Fathers are a foundation in the Faith for us, so these stones from Cappadocia will be a foundation in the Byzantine Chapel.

Fr. Juraj and Ondrej discussed and planned a design that would unite the artwork with the life of the ITI – a life of academics and prayer.  The design takes into account the fact that the Byzantine Chapel will be dedicated to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

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An ITI student works on a mosaic under Ondrej’s instruction.

Now students, under Ondrej’s direction, are working to put each stone in its place to build the floor.  “The mosaic floor represents the ITI,” said Fr. Juraj. “It represents the students, faculty, and all those whose work, prayer and gifts come together to make the ITI as a whole.  Each person who comes to the ITI gives of himself, as God calls him, and all our gifts together make the ITI what it is.  It is like seeing a picture of God’s grace in action.”

Let us put in a stone for you – or for anyone you want to commemorate.  Your donation of €100 will be put towards student financial aid (each year we need to raise €1.9 million in financial aid) and a student will place a stone for you.  To donate, visit www.iti.ac.at and the giving pages.  You can also see photos on this page:  http://www.iti.ac.at/news-events/photo. We hope to have the floor installed by the end of January 2015, so if you are in the area before then, come and see the mosaic work in progress or place a stone yourself.

Then, each day during the Divine Liturgy, as the priest walks on the mosaic floor and brings the gifts to the altar during the Great Entrance, you too will be remembered in these words:

“May the Lord God remember in His Kingdom…the noble and ever-memorable founders and benefactors of this holy Church and all you Christians of the true faith, always, now and ever, and forever. Amen.”

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The Greek word ‘Kyrie (meaning ‘Lord’) is depicted on one of the finished segments of the moasaic.

Bliss and Adventure in God’s Plan

Reflections of a Student from the Studium Generale Program

The International Theological Institute, located in the quaint metropolis of Trumau, Austia, where the wise meet the wiser, foreign mingles with familiar, and, above all, where the creature encounters the Creator in a new and real way more and more each day. Sounds a bit fantastical, huh? Well, it could be because I am inclined to lean a bit on the dramatic side of the personality spectrum; nevertheless, I think I still stand justified in my somewhat idyllic description of my current locale.

It’s worth a chuckle to me now when I think back to when I first heard from a current ITI student about the Studium Generale program, and to recall my initial reaction of laughing it away as an impossibility. There were several factors that attributed to my hesitation: International (far from all things familiar in America. I admit it, I’m a wimp), Theological (am I really up for something like that? I mean, what if the people are so smart you can’t even hold a coherent conversation with them? You just never know.), Institute (that just sounds scary? Yeah, I got nothing). To this day I still can’t pinpoint what it was exactly that changed my mind. I suppose it was the fact that although I doubted its actualization, I never dismissed it entirely, which is key for hearing what God wants us to do, right? Welp, again, God had a much more exciting plan in mind and. . .Tadah!. . .here I am! (queue applause) And what a tremendous blessing coming here has been for me!

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The author and the rest of the Studium Generale Class of 2014.

 

In the end, I decided to come for the Studium Generale program for personal enrichment. It’s not a degree program, so that’s rather the point of the course, I believe. The year thus far has been filled with classes ranging from philosophy, economics, anthropology, and scripture (just to name a few), a rich community life (I’m constantly surrounded by accents…oh, sweet bliss!), and travels! One of the unique things worth noting is that the community is comprised not only of students my age, but also of families with young children, as well as religious and priests. This aspect is such a wonderful addition to the campus. It is the full life of the Church in all her vocations.

Speaking of the life of the Church, I can’t leave out the strong spiritual life offered me here. Daily Mass is offered in the Novus Ordo form (English or German), the Extraordinary Form, or the Byzantine Liturgy (which I have fallen in love with!). All of these options. Everyday. Don’t forget about adoration and rosary every day, then Akathist and confessions every week. Can life get any better? I submit that it cannot!

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Icon of The Presentation of the Child Jesus from the Byzantine Chapel.

 

Then, to add adventure to bliss, let’s take a moment to recall that I’m in Austria. European travels just became extremely more realistic. Within a three month period, I’ve already had the opportunity to travel to Rome, Venice, Bratislava, and, of course, Vienna. Heck, I don’t have to go farther that the mundane streets of seemingly insignificant Trumau to be enchanted! There’s just something about experiencing —no, living—in another culture and continent that serves to enlarge your entire world-view perspective.

Basically, add these three elements together, classes, international community, and a rich liturgical life, and what else can I do but recommend American Airlines? Really. I can’t say it enough: God is good!