Best of the Week 2019-2020: Excellence in College Prep
STUDENTS CORRELATE LITERATURE AND FILM WITH THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS TO EXPAND THEIR SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING
As the first semester draws to a close, students in their Theology courses are taking the time to reflect on what they've learned, how it applies to their own mindsets and beliefs and how it connects them to one another and the rest of the world. In Mr. Owen Williams '13 Paschal Mystery course, sophomore students have concluded their lessons on the Old Testament by analyzing a passage from J.R.R. Tolkein's The Fellowship of the Ring and the animated Pixar short film Piper and drawing connections between the characters and the people involved in the Old Testament covenants. "The major themes of the covenant lessons is rooted in the idea of authentic relationships," says Mr. Williams. "They remind us that God desires so deeply to enter into relationship with humanity, even in the midst of our brokenness. Scriptural figures like Noah, Abraham, Moses and David have all struggled in ways we can relate to, like a lack of self-confidence and the reality of sin, but God does good work through them and the same is true for us. I chose the 'Council of Elrond' chapter from The Fellowship of the Ring for students to read because it depicts an unlikely hero in Frodo Baggins. He's small in stature, but incredibly courageous in his willingness to deliver the ring to be thrown into Mount Doom. This story connects well with most of the Old Testament covenants in that each one wasn't necessarily the most obvious choice. Piper has a similar connection, but more in terms of openness to growth. Piper starts out following the crowd, but eventually faces a deep fear for water in order to accomplish a goal. There was a good amount of fear in Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, but they all opened themselves up to growth in order to overcome fear to do God's will. I use literature, music, art and film quite often to provide a space for them to see the connections for themselves. This makes class really fun, but it also teaches a good lesson about the beauty of theology: it connects with so much of what is going on in their other classes."
By choosing two different forms of media to relate the Old Testament covenants to, Mr. Williams helped his students to resonate more personally with the concepts and theological perspectives they were learning. To go one step further, Mr. Williams assigned a reflective paper for his students to write based on three topics: hope in the midst of suffering, what it means to be a human created in love, of love and for love, and what impact relationships have on identity. "This paper is really an opportunity for my students to express what they believe and why they believe it - one of the central skills we're working to build in theology. I'm always working to be incredibly clear to my students about the relevance of theology in their lives," says Mr. Williams. "Formation of the mind and heart together is at the core of the St. Edward experience. This paper asks students to demonstrate strong writing ability, but perhaps more importantly, it asks them to reflect on meaningful questions that will contribute to their formation as men with much hope to bring to the world."
Theology at St. Ed's provides students with an opportunity for them to grow spiritually and intellectually, to seek understanding in their own faith, and to learn about others' beliefs and how to appreciate different perspectives. "Life outside of St. Ed's is going to give our students so many opportunities to have meaningful discussions on matters relating to theology and its connection to society," says Mr. Williams. "When students finish any of the courses I teach here at St. Ed's, I want them to leave with strong skills in describing what they believe and why, a deep understanding of their belovedness, an abiding knowledge of the central truths of Catholicism, and a sincere appreciation for varying perspectives. I think this is really the gift that theology provides to our students: a firm spiritual foundation, rooted in the Catholic tradition, and a strong openness to and appreciation for others' beliefs."