INDIANOLA, ST. CATHERINE - Parishioners Kay Portillo (left) and Marilyn Slater take notes at St. Catherine Parish in Indianola while pastor Father Thomas McGuire leads a study session on Pope Benedict XVI’s teachings on the Church Fathers. This is the the latest in a series of study sessions he has hosted at the parish. (SNR photo courtesy Ronda Graff))
INDIANOLA (SNR) - Every Sunday evening in Lent, a group of parishioners of St. Catherine Church in Indianola gather to study and discuss Pope Benedict XVI’s teachings on the Church Fathers. It’s the latest in a series of study session hosted by Father Thomas McGuire, pastor.
“They want to grow in their faith,” Father McGuire said.
In the nearly three years that he has been pastor of St. Catherine Parish, he has led three study sessions. The first was focused on the Bible timeline. There were 24 sessions in all. People got a lot out of it, but the long commitment was a bit burdensome.
Shortly before Advent last year, a group of parishioners approached Father McGuire about doing another study, so they could keep learning. They specifically asked to study the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
Father McGuire admitted that this was a text he had typically avoided.
“I had never really studied it in depth myself,” he said. “But I wanted to study it with them... The pope says if we want to understand liturgy, we should read the book of Revelation.”
He acquired a study guide with DVD and texts so they could learn about this mysterious book together. It turned out to be an eye-opening experience for all the participants.
“It was nothing like what I thought,” said Ruth Sughroue, who is a convert to the Catholic faith. “I’d always heard a lot of stuff (about the Book of Revelation) that really wasn’t true. It was very interesting.”
The study did indeed help them understand the liturgy better, as well as shedding light on the Advent readings that come from Revelation.
Father McGuire said that the education they gained was beneficial in another unexpected way.
“I realized that we were getting a better understanding of the very early generations of the Church, when the apostles and the successors who followed them were trying to figure out how we are supposed to use this gift that Christ has given us (meaning the Church),” he said. “How do we protect it, how do we make it thrive, how do we teach people?”
The study was so fruitful, Mrs. Sughroue noted that each session would last longer than the one before. When the last session ended, “Nobody wanted to go home. We wanted to stay there and learn more.”
Soon afterward, members of the group were approaching Father McGuire with another idea for a study: early Church history and the Church fathers. He found the idea appealing as well, because he’d never done an in-depth study of the Church fathers himself.
“I only remembered one book, but when I was on the internet, I found out that the pope had talked about the Church fathers,” recalled Father McGuire.
The talks had been collected in a book published by Ignatius Press.
“The chapters are short, but they are rich,” Father McGuire said.
Not only that, there was a companion study guide written by Mike Aquilina, vice president of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology in Steubenville, Ohio, author and occasional guest on EWTN and KVSS Spirit Catholic Radio.
Father McGuire ordered the books and scheduled the study for Sundays in Lent. Conven-iently, Mr. Aquilina’s book is divided into six historical time periods, so it made sense to use one section for each Sunday.
With two sessions completed, the group is being introduced to saints who helped forge the early Church.
“I hope they will learn how the faith really does come to us from the apostles and their preaching,” said Father McGuire.
This particular study is intellectually challenging, but the participants are eager to read and discuss what the Church Fathers wanted to teach us.
“We’re trying to learn more about the Church,” Mrs. Sughroue said. “If you’re going to be Catholic, you need to know the background of your Church.”
Currently, there are no concrete plans about what the group will study next, but everyone wants the Sunday night sessions to continue.
“Everybody can learn,” maintained Mrs. Sughroue.” You’re never done learning.”