Ex Corde 2017 Talk 2
“There is a healthy tension, a reciprocity, between the ideal and the actual, what one says and what one does, theory and praxis — this is something always present in life,” said Fr. Martin Macasaet, SDB, SThD in Talk 2 of Ex Corde 2017 last November 23. Ex Corde is a lecture series that features the research work of DBCS professors.
Speaking before an audience composed of priests, religious, seminarians, and laity, the Research Director and Youth Ministry Director of DBCS shared some of the valuable lessons he learned while working on his dissertation entitled, Youth Ministry in the Filipino Catholic Church: A Theological-Empirical Study on the Ecclesiological Aspects of Filipino Catholic Ministry.
His work is essentially a “practical ecclesiology for Filipino Catholic youth ministry” done for the Archdiocese of Manila. Fr. Macasaet commented that when he did his research in the 1990s, he encountered a dearth in the publications he could use. “At the time the internet was just starting. Now, there are so many sources available it is difficult to catch up in one’s reading.”
While working on his thesis, Fr. Macasaet appreciated even more the fact that “between theory and praxis, theology and ministry, classroom study and field experience there is not really a contraposition but more of an interplay.”
He explained that “in this interplay, theology, or theory, seems to be left out, often being dubbed as irrelevant or not applicable to praxis or actual life.” Some of the indicators of this “imbalance” or the “bias or prejudice against theory” include the disdain people usually have against meetings and jokes that are often made to glorify praxis at the expense of theory.
The fact is the two really go hand-in-hand, this is why Fr. Macasaet not only used the image of the tug-o-war to visualize the healthy tension between theory and praxis, but also the image of a handshake to illustrate their balanced combination.
Fr. Macasaet explained that it is possible to talk of an implicit theology in praxis that needs to be discovered, expressed, systematized… something in germinal form that is waiting to be articulated. At the same time, theology can actually have an application (that is, actual ministry).
The theory-praxis interplay is clearly at work not just in ecclesiology and youth ministry, but in all our many other endeavors, he said.
Citing a concrete example, Fr. Macasaet mentioned how in Don Bosco Batulao, where he is currently serving as Rector, they are planning to compile, organize and sytematize all the retreat modules that were developed through the years and offer it in a Congress. But reflecting more on this project, Fr. Macasaet realized that an important part needs to be added: “We need to put the theological basis as well.”
An example the audience is familiar with is a course in theology where theory is usually the focus, and thus the professor should be mindful that the pastoral side is not neglected. “Whatever you teach, you should inject or extract the pastoral quality of what you teach. The practical dimension should be drawn out and not overlooked.”
During the question and answer portion, Br. Albino Fernandes, SDB inquired how students of theology can balance theory and praxis given that their classes are theory-heavy and practical applications are not necessarily given as they should be.
Fr. Macasaet responded by asking the students of Theology to confront this challenge themselves by testing what they learn in class in their actual ministry, stating that while professors have a responsiblity to discuss pastoral applications, students also have to do their part. This, however, commented Sr. Rose Agtarap, FSP, is not always easy given that theological studies are quite heavy and time-consuming. It is, she suggested, an attitude and commitment that needs to be inculcated among the students of theology given that many of them are also quite young.
Institute of Pastoral Ministry Vice-Dean Fr. Vicente Cervania, SDB added that we are now in the Age of New Evangelization, and so professors should always consider the pastoral application of their lessons. He noted that the pastoral side is important both in the theological synthesis that students of theology are required to make and in the praxis-oriented project paper that MRS students work on.
“We are also thinking of gathering DBCS graduates so they can share their experiences in the field. It is an opportunity for those who studied the theory, and are now practicing it, to evaluate what they learned,” said Fr. Cervania.
Fr. Macasaet ended his talk by quoting Pope Francis when he advocated a different theological approach: “Do not be satisfied with an office theology…. The good theologians, like the good shepherds, smell of the people and of the road and, with their reflection, pour oil and wine on the wounds of humankind.”
Maria Divina Solano is a graduate of Don Bosco Center of Studies. She is the Research Coordinator and Guest Professor teaching Theology and Spirituality of the Laity.