The life of a modern monk

Christian Raab

MICHIGAN CITY — For Marquette Catholic High School grad Christian Raab, the typical day in the life of a monk is simple and structured. 

"I try to wake up around 6 a.m., have coffee and do some personal prayer and reading until 8 a.m. when we have morning prayer in common," he said about where he lives and works at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. "We have a work period until 11:30 when we break for Mass followed by lunch. In the afternoons, we work until evening prayer at 5 p.m. followed by dinner. In the evenings, I recreate, which involves activities such as taking our German Shepherd for a walk, talking with friends or students, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, and doing some leisure reading."

For work, he teaches sacramental theology and serves on the formation staff of the seminary. As a formation dean, he frequently meets with students, bishops, vocation directors and other formators, as well as performs some writing.

He conducts his daily routine in the seminary. Monks in the monastery live a bit differently, he said.

According to Marquette, Raab, a former student council president there, graduated from the school in 1993. He then received his master's degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University in 2003, and entered the Saint Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. He was officially ordained as a priest six years later.

He also spent five years at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., earning a doctorate in sacred theology.

Currently, he serves as assistant professor of systematic theology at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. 

Recently Marquette interviewed Raab about his life after high school.

MQTT: When did your passion for theology begin and how did your time at Marquette influence your decision to pursue it?

FR. RAAB: I guess I have always enjoyed learning to some degree. It was during my college years that my interest shifted from asking more practical questions of how to make the world a better place to a deeper question about what truth is in the first place. I have since become convinced that unless we have a good sense of how to answer the latter question, we will never be able to answer the former, or at least, our answers will simply do more damage to the world we seek to help. I started out pre-med in college but switched to a major in history and religious studies. I was looking for answers I still wasn't sure how to ask, and I was at a secular university so the exploration of religion was done in a sociological rather than theological way. Nonetheless, I underwent a pretty big conversion during my college years, read a lot on my own, and became a high school theology teacher after graduation. I knew I still had some considerable gaps in my understanding of Catholic theology, so I pursued a graduate degree in pastoral studies at Loyola University Chicago. After that, I joined the monastery at 28 and began my seminary education. It was really in seminary that my passion for theology was finally fed, and I began to imagine I may enjoy a career as a theology professor.

I can say that my time at Marquette influenced my decision to pursue theology because it influenced my decision to become a monk and a priest. Marquette has a very fond place in my heart because of the community we had there. I would say that as a student I really fell in love with my community of peers and that was one thing that sewed seeds of a desire to ultimately serve the Church in my vocation.

MQTT: Looking back at your time here, was there one or two teachers/staff members whose inspiration still resonates with you?

FR. RAAB: I am forever grateful to Mrs. Meer for teaching us how to write research papers. I had no idea at the time how invaluable that skill would be for me when I arrived at college, and it continues to be invaluable for me as a professional theologian. Mrs. Meer was also very encouraging of my writing, pulling me aside and telling me she thought I had a talent in that area. That kind of encouragement was really important. It gave me confidence. I also benefited a lot from French class with Mrs. Remijas. As it turns out, one of the theologians I have done research on wrote a lot in French, and I thankfully got good foundations in that language at Marquette. I am grateful for all my teachers, but what I learned from those two seems to have the most bearing on what I am doing now.

The other staff member I feel particularly indebted to is Jeff Kohler who was my soccer coach for three years. I was a terrible soccer player, but my soccer memories are some of my favorite from my Marquette years. Coach Kohler was a good example of a family man and a man of faith. He led our team with strength and gentleness and thus was a good example of leadership. He could challenge you without humiliating you, and he found ways to affirm even a terrible soccer player like me. He was also mature. He let us be idiots without acting like one of us, and when he made a mistake he apologized. The soccer team was a positive experience of community for me, and Coach Kohler was a big reason why.

MQTT: What advice would you give to young men and women who may be thinking about studying theology/spirituality after Marquette?

FR. RAAB: I guess my first response to this is that everyone should want to study theology after Marquette. Many people wrongly conclude that their years at Catholic grade school and Catholic high school mean that they now know what the Church teaches and that they now — sigh of relief — don't need to pursue theology any longer. In my view, this is a big mistake. The mysteries of God are deep and inexhaustible. We can always learn more. If our faith is alive, we will want to learn more. If we are in love with someone, we will want to learn all we can about them. This is what theology is when it is done right. It is an opportunity to contemplate and learn all about one whom we love. If you are attending a Catholic University, there will probably be a theology requirement. Don't begrudge it. Embrace it. You may discover that you want to go deeper either formally or on your own.

My second thought is to recommend double majoring or minoring in theology. I say this because theology is not only for those who have careers in theology. We need accountants and doctors and politicians who are also well-formed theologically, and not just priests, religious, and lay ministers. Besides that, there are not many good-paying jobs in the field of theology and so it is good to have something else in your toolbox. Even if you do end up with a career in theology or in the church, having a background in an ancillary field will only enrich you and make you more well-rounded.

Finally, if you really think you might go onto either seminary or to become a professor of theology at some point, make sure you take some philosophy classes as an undergrad. Trying to do theology at the higher levels without a good background in philosophy is like trying to do physics without math.


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