print this page

-A A +A

Archiving, witnessing, and discerning: the task of the theologian today

My career path as a teaching Catholic layman started with a two-year residence to Germany in 1988 to work on my dissertation on Nicholas of Cusa. Since then, it has involved a rather meandering, apostolic-like journey: Trier, Germany (1988–1990), New Haven (1990–1991), Dallas (1991–1993), Washington, DC (1993–2007), Chicago (2007–2013), and now South Bend (2013–present), with stops in Chile and Bogotá.

When I was in Washington, my principal task was teaching seminarians and lay people as well as training doctoral students. I also took on a series of night classes at the Apostolado Hispano in the diocese of Arlington. Dreary after a day of teaching graduate classes, I nevertheless gained energy from witnessing the eagerness of my students, who worked full day jobs, to study theology until late in the night.

In Chicago I taught in a program of Catholic Studies at an institution with almost 25,000 students. You will find a rather ordinary-looking shrine to our Lady of Guadalupe not far from there in the city of Maryville. On the three days of December 10–12 every year, about 100,000 or more people gather there to celebrate the Virgin’s feast. I organized a course around this event and took my undergraduates there to participate, observe, and reflect on what is deemed to be one of the largest religious events in the United States. It was an eye-opening experience for them, and for me.

It was hard to leave Chicago, but, after much discernment, I did so in order to collaborate with a new colleague, Virgilio Elizondo, in the training of the next generation of Latino/a theologians as a member of the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. I was eager to be part of this apostolate.

More recently, I was intrigued to discover a precedent for this apostolic journey in my career as a theologian. It lay in my descubrimiento (“uncovering”) of an archive taken from the early life of Gustavo Gutiérrez, OP (1928– ), a Peruvian philosopher and theologian regarded as one of the founders of liberation theology. He delivered his “Misión de la Iglesia y apostolado universitario (The Mission of the Church and the Apostolate of the University)” twice to several thousand university students who belonged to an organization called Unión Nacional de Estudiantes Católicos (UNEC), first in 1960 in Peru and then in 1962 in Uruguay. Gutiérrez was appointed in 1960 as the archdiocesan advisor in Lima to UNEC, which was closely allied to Juventud de Estudiantes Católicos (JEC). Both have their roots in the then new paradigm for Catholic Action: “see, judge, and act.” Gutiérrez was recently ordained and would come to study theology in Louvain, Lyon, and Rome, ultimately receiving a doctorate from the Pontifical Gregorian University in the same year that he first delivered this address. He had not yet been hired on a tenure-track or tenured position. (That did not happen until 2001.) A breath of fresh air animates this address. Its theme? That Christ sends the believer into the world to liberate the human person, that work in the areas of social, economic, and political relations are essential to the temporal mission of the Church in the world.

About eight years later, Gutiérrez collaborated with others in the CELAM meeting in Medellín to help to craft a vision of Latin American theology that was inspired to promote social liberation. Eleven years after the first address, he published a major work, Teología de la Liberación: Perspectivas (Salamanca: Sigueme, 1971). Yet, he had still not yet been hired on a tenure-track or tenured position—he wrote his text on the apostolate of the university 41 years before he was accepted by a university as a regular professor of theology. Today he is arguably the most famous theologian in the world.

What does your apostolado universitario look like?

I am recommending to you a rewritten process of the model of “see, judge, and act”: archiving, witnessing, and discerning. You have to undertake this process for yourself. My journey as a Catholic layman is probably configured in a different way than your own. I never got a seminary degree as such and was thrust into seminary teaching in Washington, DC. We are all implicated in an apostolado universitario, whether that is through a freestanding seminary or one affiliated with a university. Like Fr. Gustavo, we are all facing young people, and we are all heirs to diverse charisms. We also have our individual processes of discernment. My questions for you only you can answer: How do your job and your vocation relate to and/or complement one another? What does your apostolado universitario look like? Is there any trace of una teología del apostolado?


 This text is an abbreviated version of a presentation given at the ATS Roundtable Seminar for Newly Appointed Faculty in Chicago that ran from October 6–8, 2017. Christopher Rios, a PhD student at Notre Dame, assisted in abridging the presentation for this post.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
All comments to ATS blog posts will be moderated. ATS reserves the right to not post comments that are disrespectful, inflammatory, or irrelevant to the topic of the post or that are suspected to be spam.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.