“Ask a Priest: How Can Faith and Theology Shape My Life?”

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Q: I’ll put this quote to you — “The religious problem grows worse each day because the faithful are not theologians and the theologians are not faithful.” How do we avoid these two opposite errors, and harmonize faith and theology for ordinary Christian life? I ask because this is what I struggle with at times. – J.N.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: While there might be some truth to that quote, it is a bit simplistic and overgeneralized.

Many generations of the lay faithful who weren’t theologians have had led saintly lives.

And there have been many theologians of profound faith (think of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John Paul II).

The quote has merit in that many people who don’t think very deeply about Scripture or things in the Catechism think they can mix and match (and mangle) Church beliefs and practices to suit their needs. A bit of solid theology might help them.

On the other hand, there are so-called theologians who seem like borderline heretics (or worse), probably because they lack a real interior life and spirit of faith.

As for your specific question: A good place to start is to feed your heart and mind and soul on solid food, and to reach out to help others.

This means dedicating time to prayer every day (good theology is done on one’s knees), having frequent recourse to the sacraments, doing works of charity, and looking for ways to evangelize the people around you.

It helps to have a steady diet of good reading. A few quick suggestions:

— Read a few numbers of the Catechism every day, or at least its Compendium.

— Youth Catechism (or YouCat), which can appeal to all ages.

— Browse the websites of Ignatius Press, Catholic Answers, Sophia Institute, Ascension Press and OSV for resources that interest you. We also regularly produce new courses on our own online classroom to help people keep deepening their knowledge of the Catholic faith.

— For a sobering overview of the world we face, check out Cardinal Robert Sarah’s The Day Is Now Far Spent.

— To help you pray, you might turn to these books: The Better Part, Opening to God and Time for God. Also, try out our free Retreat Guides.

It might help to find a solid, regular confessor to guide you.

With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you can be a prayerful theologian in your own right.

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