Aquinas Institute of Theology

The Medicine of Mercy: Preaching on Addiction in the Field Hospital Parish

In the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, statistics related to the ongoing crisis of addiction in the United States hit record levels. Those statistics include drug overdose deaths, rates of substance use and misuse, and alcohol-related fatalities. Some Christian denominations and individual congregations, including a handful of Roman Catholic parishes, have sought to respond to the suffering experienced by those in active addiction through intentional ministries of care, support, and community. Yet preaching on the topic of addiction—and the hope found in recovery—remains rare in churches on Sunday morning. This thesis explores the complex and confounding realities of addiction, its causes, and multiple pathways to recovery, while articulating an urgent and salient call for Roman Catholic priests and deacons to address the crisis of addiction in their midst.

The primary ministerial intervention for the thesis consisted of a one-day workshop for Roman Catholic priests and permanent deacons in Minnesota. Pre-workshop interviews were conducted with two cohorts: ten priests and permanent deacons in active ministry (Cohort One), and ten practicing Catholics in recovery from addiction (Cohort Two). The interviews considered whether preaching on the topic of addiction and recovery was taking place in Roman Catholic parishes around the country and what might be most helpful or harmful for people in recovery or in active addiction to hear from preaching in their parishes.

Chapter 1 introduces the thesis project overall.

Chapter 2 considers addiction theologically, focusing on three areas of study: sacramentality; sin, grace, and the unconditional love of God; and trauma-informed or trauma-sensitive theology.

Chapter 3 explores the importance of story, specifically in the salvific and life-giving tradition of twelve-step storytelling and in the inductive practice of narrative preaching in the style of the New Homiletic.

Chapter 4 provides a detailed exploration of addiction, considering clinical diagnostic criteria, neurological and sociological research, and current trends regarding the prevalence of stigma and challenges to achieving recovery for many. The chapter also considers multiple pathways to recovery, including twelve-step programs focused on abstinence, harm reduction strategies, and natural recovery methods.

Chapter 5 reports on the ministerial intervention and provides key findings from the research conducted.

Chapter 6 considers next steps and offers final conclusions.

A Light Shines in the Darkness: Preaching the Logos for an Anxious World

Michael Andrew Meyer D.Min.
The world is experiencing a dramatic increase in the incidence of anxiety; yet, preaching is largely silent. Drawing upon the Psychology of Meaning and the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel, this thesis project developed and tested a preaching methodology to respond to the significant increase in anxiety in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, by addressing the sense of meaninglessness that often causes or aggravates anxiety.

Chapter 1 presents the project’s genesis, its ministerial context, and the magnitude of the problem it seeks to address. An interdisciplinary framework built upon the Psychology of Meaning and Dr. Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy in Chapter 2 lays the groundwork for the highly sacramental christology of meaning rooted in Jesus Christ as Logos that emerges as the project’s theological framework in Chapter 3. These concepts find natural allies in the dialectical and sacramental theological imaginations and the undeniably Scriptural genre of testimony, the project’s homiletic foundations presented in Chapter 4.

A preached retreat, held on November 13, 2021, served as the project’s ministerial intervention and tested its hypothesis before twenty-one adults living in the Diocese of Metuchen who experience anxiety. Chapter 5 discusses the retreat in detail and the qualitative and quantitative data obtained through the insider, outsider, researcher multiple data-collection technique used in the intervention. These data, discussed in Chapter 6, support the hypothesis that preaching meaning in Jesus Christ, the Logos, offers a pastoral response to the significant increase in anxiety by countering the sense of meaninglessness often associated with this condition. They also provide fertile ground for further research and inspire the future uses of the findings and observations that conclude this work.

Preaching Missionary Discipleship: A Homiletic Response to Declining Participation at Risen Christ Catholic Parish in Denver and the Catholic Church of the United States of America

Eric David Zegeer D.Min.
This thesis proposes an acronym consisting of seven essential characteristics for the exercise of preaching in the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy that considers the statistical data of the decline of Catholic Sunday participation in the United States while being informed by the theology of missionary discipleship in Catholic teaching.
Chapter 1 provides an introduction that contrasts the actual decline of American Catholics in the participation of the Sunday liturgy with the Church’s teaching on missionary discipleship.
Chapter 2 provides a comprehensive explanation of the Catholic Church’s teachings on the vocation to a life of missionary discipleship of every baptized Catholic in the context of stages or steps of spiritual growth that lead to a fully lived baptismal calling.
Chapter 3 looks at the statistical data of Catholic participation available since the scandals of child sex abuse came to light around 2002. It considers the impact it has had on the Catholic Church in the United States as a whole as well as some specific generations.
Chapter 4 offers an in-depth explanation of the acronym “BREATHE” and how each characteristic of that acronym should inform our preaching. It also loosely corresponds each letter to the seven different stages of growth toward missionary discipleship.
Chapter 5 and its subsequent appendices provide the statistical data of one Catholic parish where the acronym was implemented in a five-week preaching exercise to reach the most Catholics possible in that one setting. It then considers the response and how that aligns with the statistical data found in chapter three.
Chapter 6 offers conclusions to the thesis overall and a recommendation of how to move forward while acknowledging the limitations of this one exercise and the importance of an overall plan to form and send the average parishioner into the world to bring more souls to Christ.


Dieu Tran D.Min.
Peter Dieu Tran, M.A., D.Min. Aquinas Institute of Theology, Saint Louis, Missouri, 2021.

This doctor of ministry thesis is an attempt to contribute to the preaching mission in Vietnam. Dealing with the problem that many Vietnamese preachers face (Chapter I), this project proposes that preachers use proverbs and folk poetry in their preaching. Before trying to put this preaching method into practice, this thesis looks at the theological framework (Chapter II), the homiletical foundation (Chapter III), and a brief study of Vietnamese proverbs and folk poetry (Chapter IV). Chapter V details the ministerial intervention of this project and the interpretation of its outcomes. Chapter VI reviews the overall project and the next steps for my research.


William Hisker D.Min.
The research study explores the theological and social-psychological forces that discourage the preaching of the prophetic message of the Gospel. The study was conducted with seventy-four volunteers and six permanent deacons in the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The study used a combination of quantitative and qualitative surveys and interviews. The hypothesis explored was whether or not the use of narrative techniques, specifically Narrative 4 story exchange would be useful as a technique for preparing congregations to be open to the challenges presented by Catholic social teaching. Additionally, the research sought to determine whether or not the six deacons who participated in the study would find narrative a useful technique in their preaching and evangelization efforts.

Participants completed an empathy profile before viewing one of seven different videos produced by the United States Conference of Bishops on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person; the Call to Family, Community, and Participation; the Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; Rights and Responsibilities; Solidarity; Care for God’s Creation; and the Dignity of Work. Participants were asked to rate the videos and indicate how often they heard preaching of the subject matter of the videos. Participants were also given the opportunity to participate in a Narrative 4 story exchange. Participants were then asked to complete the Interpersonal Reactivity Index a second time to see if there was a statistically significant change in their empathy profile. In addition, participants were asked to evaluate their experience with the story exchange. While there was no significant statistical change, as measured by the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, the interviewees demonstrated a high level of approval for the story exchange as a vehicle for improving the empathetic response of a congregation and as a useful technique for use in the preaching of Catholic social teaching.


In Southeast Missouri, where Catholics are a minority, the challenge of diminishing participation and reduced membership requires an intentional engagement of the inactive members and the unaffiliated within the community. Unfortunately, many members of the laity do not have the awareness or skills to evangelize. In a rural community, the challenges seem more significant due to limited personnel and resources. This thesis project aims to equip the laity with the skills and tools to evangelize inactive Catholics and the unaffiliated. It will involve growing in prayer, study, generosity, evangelization, and the discernment of their charisms. With the benefit of social media engagement like Facebook live stream, an opportunity to engage and evangelize is available for our rural parish community. The resources from experienced lay evangelists in evangelization and social media engagement will provide a template that can enhance the development of a program on evangelization for my rural parish community. To test the effectiveness of these resources, seventeen participants engaged in a nine-week program to learn how prayer, study, generosity, evangelization, the discernment of their charisms, and teamwork can prepare them for evangelization. This thesis engaged the inactive Catholics and the unaffiliated in rural Southeast Missouri by using Facebook live stream as an evangelization tool. The focus of this project is thus reminding active Catholics of their responsibility to evangelize and how utilizing a familiar social media portal like Facebook can enhance the process even in a rural community.


Linus Aniekan Umoren C.M. D.Min.
Before the Second Vatican Council, it was commonplace to think that the new churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America were pastoral communities. However, following the missiological breakthrough of the Second Vatican Council, the Church of Christ, which is by nature missionary, is fully present in all legitimate local assemblies united with their pastors. Today, Africa, Asia, and Latin America have the largest Christian communities and produce an increasing number of missionaries. Nevertheless, the contemporary global migration and the resulting multicultural societies challenge the priestly formation of these new missionaries.
To confront this contemporary challenge, the Congregation of the mission (The Vincentians), Province of Nigeria realizes the need to develop a formation curriculum that emphasizes the overall human development of the candidates for the priesthood and ensuring that preaching and mission in multicultural settings is a priority.
Therefore, this study undertakes an examination of the current formation curriculum concerning how it promotes the self-awareness of the missionaries and their ability to understand cultural differences. It examines postcolonial theories regarding the self-awareness of priests. Furthermore, it studies narrative preaching to the extent that it benefits multicultural preaching.
Moreover, the research establishes that adequate preparation for multicultural preaching needs a reframing of the Vincentian formation. This process will ultimately link the human formation of the priests to the missiological purpose of preaching in multicultural settings.
Consequently, this study recommends rethinking the formation program and the formation faculty. It provides a framework and practical suggestions for an extended and improved curriculum in forming the Nigerian Vincentian priests.


William W. Eckert D.Min.

Eckert, William W., MAPS, DMin, Aquinas Institute of Theology, Saint Louis, Missouri, 2021.
Chapter One begins to address an issue with preaching that does not fully integrate the experiences of the community with the Word of God. The chapter covers a brief overview of liturgical preaching, the problem with creating grounded preaching, and the unique qualities of deacons as liturgical preachers in addressing this problem with the guidance of theological reflection.

Chapter Two introduces theological reflection as practical theology and a preaching preparation tool that encourages a dialogue between human experience and Church Traditions (Sacred Scripture, liturgy, beliefs, and teachings).

Chapter Three offers adult education and curriculum development to teach theological reflection as an effective tool of preaching preparation.

Chapter Four explores the current state of preaching within the Archdiocese of Seattle. It includes a summary of conversations with the homiletics and theological reflection instructors in the current deacon formation program. Then, the chapter presents the heart of the project: creating a new unit for the homiletics curriculum in the deacon formation program in collaboration with a small cohort of diocesan deacons.

Chapter Five presents the final version of the new unit for the homiletics program, which was presented to the Archdiocese of Seattle (the Vicar of Clergy, the Director of the Deacon Formation Program, and the homiletics instructor).


Todd Arthur Peperkorn D.Min.
This thesis answers the question of whether there can be a Lutheran sacramental imagination for preaching. It begins with an overview of the history of preaching in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), especially since the move into English in the 1920s. This history traces how the LCMS has largely adopted the New Homiletic, but has not reflected critically on how its own theological hermeneutic integrates with the New Homiletic, and what relationship this may have to sacramental preaching.

Beginning with definitions of a dialectic imagination and a sacramental/ analogical imagination from David Tracy and Mary Catherine Hilkert, it examines the roots of the sacramental imagination in the works of Edward Schillebeeckx, particularly his early book, Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God. It then compares this with the writings of Richard Eslinger, Hans Boersma, and Graham Hughes.

Next the thesis attempts to reconcile a sacramental imagination with a Lutheran hermeneutic. The most successful attempt for this has been in the writing and work of Lutheran Gordon Lathrop. While there are some concerns regarding a dialectic counterbalance, a Lutheran sacramental imagination that takes both the distinction of Law and Gospel and the place of grace begins to emerge.

The ministerial intervention was a seminar for a group of pastors from the LCMS. It involved questionnaires, sermons, and interviews both before and after the seminar. The seminar included modeling sacramental preaching and taught the practice of “Preaching Partners” as a way of connecting the preacher to the the congregation.

It concludes by determining that more work needs to be done on defining a Lutheran sacramental imagination, that Preaching Partners is an excellent method for building both pastoral relationships and in creating a collaborative spirit in preaching, and that Lutherans will benefit from more interaction with non-Lutheran preaching and scholarship.


Deborah Ruth Zeni MD D.Min.
This thesis research work on best practices of preaching arose out of the researcher’s passion for providing catechists with the means of nurturing a ‘falling-in-love’ with God experience for young children through proclaiming gospel as encounter.
Based on evidence that catechists lack formation in best practices of preaching, the researcher designed and implemented an educational initiative in a multi-site, multi-participant intensive formation program. The researcher used a homiletic grounded in the Paschal Mystery, which located God’s gratuitous and gracious actions on humanity’s behalf as the focus of preaching—giving gospel-power—to any form of preaching carried out during the study.
Within a unique form of pastoral ministry called the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS), employing a qualitative methodology, a constructivist epistemology, and a field-based action research design, the researcher effectively utilized various educational approaches to develop and assess participant competence in preaching using a comprehensive assessment program, and iteratively improving their learning and teaching preaching praxis using program evaluation tools.
The research shows that the curriculum successfully demonstrated that the comprehensive preaching model, which integrated five best practices of preaching for proclaiming the Word with children into the study’s conceptual framework, worked to develop the competence of catechists as preachers of the Good News. Additionally, the research showed that the intervention enabled and empowered the participants to find their preaching voice to speak of God acting mercifully, giving everything, loving unconditionally in the here and now as they experienced God doing in the scriptures.
As such, five best practices of preaching can be used as an effective framework for formation of catechists and educators for teaching preaching as encounter with children and sharing in a happening of grace through the proclamation of the Word.
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