The Talk on Tenth

Father Raab ('93) Answers the Call
Former Marquette Student Government President Serving Higher Power at Saint Meinrad 
It's been a little more than 25 years since Christian Raab graduated from Marquette. He didn't know it at the time, but his academic journey was just getting started. And while his list of educational accolades runs deep, Raab's spiritual odyssey has taken him to new heights. 

Shortly after receiving his master's degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University in 2003, Raab entered the Saint Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. He was officially ordained as a priest six years later.

Raab spent the next five years in the nation's capital, studying at Catholic University. It was in the shadows of the Washington Monument where he earned his doctorate in sacred theology. 

Currently, he serves as assistant professor of systematic theology at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. Marquette caught up with its former student government president to talk about church, a day in the life of a monk, and how a French class taught by Mrs. Remijas in the early '90s is still paying dividends nearly three decades later. 

MQTT: What does a typical day look like for you at Saint Meinrad?

FR. RAAB: Saint Meinrad's grounds are divided between the monastery and the seminary. I live and work in the seminary so my daily routine is a little different from that of the monks who live in the monastery. I try to wake up around 6 AM, have coffee and do some personal prayer and reading until 8 AM when we have morning prayer in common. 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 PM 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 my work, I teach sacramental theology and serve on the formation staff of the seminary. As a formation dean, I frequently have meetings with students, bishops, vocation directors, and other formators. I also do some writing.

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 twenty-eight 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.

MQTT: In your opinion, what does the Catholic Church need to do to continue to grow and  thrive?

FR. RAAB: I like what Pope Francis said when he stated to a meeting of Argentine bishops: "A  Church that does not go outside of itself will sicken." I think a lot of our problems are a  result of not focusing on the Church's mission and of losing sight of Christ at the center  of our mission. We get overly focused on ourselves and on institutional maintenance. The  clergy have been particularly guilty of this, and it is at the heart of the crises we have had  in recent years. A Church that focuses on prayer and worship, fellowship, service, and  evangelization, rather than on its own reputation and on the financial bottom line, will be  renewed.

I think we also need to remember that the Church has no life outside of her members and  that includes the laity. There is a temptation to think of the Church only as the clergy or  as the Vatican. When we do that, we can start to become quite passive in our role in the  Church's life and mission. To all, but especially to young people, I would say, "ask not  what your Church can do for you, but what you can do for your Church." The answer to  that will depend on the person. We need people who are very serious about building  Christian families. We need people who are serious about acting as Christians in the work place, in the arts, in the sciences, and in the political arena. Of course, we need priests  and religious as well. What unites all of the vocations is a call to be what Pope Francis
calls "missionary disciples," a people serious about prayer, community, the moral life,  and evangelical outreach in word and deed.