Fr. James Mallen enjoys his dog Monsi
Halifax — When Father James Mallon adopted Monsi from a local animal shelter years ago, he never expected his shepherd mix pup would inspire theology lessons.
“I’d take him out for a walk and he’d do something and a Scripture passage would pop into my head,” Mallon said. For example, he’d notice Monsi straining on his leash so hard he was choking himself and Mallon would remember how St. Paul wrote about how “we strain forward and we forget what lies behind.”
The priest would see Monsi (short for monsignor) running in the park, “full out” and experience such joy watching him. He would think to himself, “If I get such pleasure watching my dog being a dog, I wonder how much God gets pleasure in our being who we’re supposed to be.”
Mallon began incorporating Monsi’s behaviour into homilies. For example, when he was trying to train the dog to stay out of certain rooms of the house, the priest realized that’s how we treat God.
So he preached on that. “We want God in our lives, but we control him. We decide which rooms we’ll allow him in,” he said.
When Monsi ate two whole chickens, bones and all, and had to have surgery as a result, Mallon contemplated how “sin is like that.”
“It’s not just breaking rules, it’s doing something that hurts us,” he said.
Now Monsi is the star of a new video series entitled Dogmatic Theology. The series uses his doggy lessons to kick off a more serious discussion of theology that incorporates Mallon’s talents as a preacher, the teaching gifts of Atlantic School of Theology dogmatic theologian David Deane and the stories of various individuals who share their personal testimonies.
The video course of eight 45-minute sessions, now available via dogmatictheology.ca, is the latest offering of the Halifax-based John Paul II Media Institute that Mallon founded in 2005 to begin training young Christians in electronic media production.
The Dogmatic Theology video series is the second video series the Institute has produced. A big fan of the Alpha Course, a 10-week video series on the basics of the Christian faith that includes a meal and a time of fellowship, Mallon created a followup for Alpha that he dubbed Catholicism 201.
The new Dogmatic Theology series is meant to be run like an Alpha course, perhaps including a meal or time of refreshment and fellowship, the video and a discussion time afterwards.
“We feel it’s really unique,” Mallon said. “We’re called to this new evangelization. We’ve got to bridge the culture and whether we approve of it or not, our culture is dog crazy, pet crazy.”
While the short segments involving Monsi kick off each segment in a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek way, Mallon says those who watch can expect to be challenged.
One woman who bought the course privately has told him she has found it disturbing because it goes so deep, he said. “It’s really rocking me,” she told him about the talk on forgiveness.
“It’s very substantial stuff,” he said.
The course also includes a 140-page manual that includes the Scripture references, quotations and questions for discussion, prayer or personal journaling.