Jessica Parsons, a current student at the Catholic Theological College, reflects on the experience of studying Theology.
I began studying Theology in the second semester of 2018. I had arrived at a place in my life where I felt called to listen to God’s voice in a deliberate and searching way.
I had never been to university and, as a mature age student, I had a lot of apprehension. I was also stuck with the logistical problem of living in regional Victoria. My husband’s daily commute to the city meant that I was unable to attend on-site classes at CTC and meet our family’s daily needs. To address this problem and to help me adjust to university study CTC’s academic dean, Dr Rosemary Canavan, allowed me to do my first unit online through Trinity College Theological School.
This unit was Introduction to the New Testament with Bishop Brad Billings. It took me right out of my comfort zone. I didn’t even know what an exegetical essay was! However, Bishop Billings was extremely helpful, and his constant, faith-filled encouragement helped me persist even when extreme self-doubt tempted me to quit.
In 2019 my husband arranged to work from home one day a week and this allowed me to study on campus at CTC. My first units there were in Biblical Studies and were coordinated by Father Kris Sonek. It was absolutely thrilling. Through studying the culture and history of the Ancient Near East and learning about different interpretive approaches to the sacred texts a new way of listening to God had been opened to me. In the following year I did an introductory unit in Catholic Theology with Father Kevin Lenehan. I continued to delight in all I was learning. I felt as if I were standing inside a vast, light filled jewel; like gazing up at the astonishing beauty of San Chapelle’s countless windows ablaze with summer light.
That’s not to say it was all smooth sailing. It wasn’t. It was hard and it still is. I struggle to express what I’m learning within the tiny word counts undergrads are permitted. However, those word counts are teaching me to sharpen my understanding by pushing it through an exacting filter. Writing essays in Theology is a process of rewriting, of condensing the language, sculpting the ideas, pulling strayed thinking back toward the essay question repeatedly.
In semester two of 2020, while studying the Gospel of Matthew with Dr Rosemary Canavan, I wrote an essay on the Matthean approach to the failing disciples. As I worked, I came to understand something I had only ever faintly perceived. Jesus is constantly moving towards us, reaching out to us in all our wretchedness, cowardice, blindness and inadequacy. In every moment of failure, the Son of the Living God meets us with an ever-intensifying invitation into the Divine Life.
Out of all the essays I have written it was this one which caused me to see that faith, gutsy, bold and unashamedly intimate, faith which can weep bitter tears under the gaze of Christ’s redeeming Love, this is the faith that saves. I also came to see that writing essays in Theology is, in its deepest aim, a disciplined and deliberate search for the voice of the God who loves us.
This year I am studying NT Greek with Father Anthony Dean. I am finding it incredibly hard. Approaching the Gospels in a language I can’t yet read seems to have hidden God’s voice in a silence I often find extremely disconcerting. However, there are moments (very occasional ones!) where the form a Greek word has taken shifts my understanding of a particular verse and I realise that it is in these periods of silence, both God’s and mine, where the listening really begins.
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