“Transforming How We Learn & Grow in the Faith”: An Interview with Simone Rizkallah
St. Josemaria Escriva wrote: “Each of us should study the faith seriously, rigorously — all of which means theology… Our desire to advance in theological knowledge, in sound, firm Christian doctrine is sparked, above all, by the will to know and love God. It likewise stems from the concern of a faithful soul to attain the deepest meaning of the world, seen as coming from the hands of God” (Christ is Passing By, no. 10).
In this interview, the St. Josemaria Institute speaks with Simone Rizkallah about her academic and professional experience in theology and education, and how she is helping women and men today to study and know the Faith and to deepen their relationships with Jesus Christ.
Simone Rizkallah is the Director of Program Growth for Endow Groups. Her graduate degree is in Theological Studies with an emphasis in Systematic Theology from Christendom College. Her undergraduate studies and professional background include marketing communications, media, radio, and theatre before discovering her passion for the Faith and the call to evangelize through teaching and speaking.
Q: Tell us about your personal journey towards what you describe as the discovery of your passion for the Faith and the call to evangelize through teaching and speaking.
Simone: The Latin phrase, “Duci Manus” (to be led by the hand) comes to mind when I consider my personal journey. Even as a young child I have been captivated by religion and the “problem” of truth. When I became a young adult, I met a woman who gave me three prayers to the Holy Spirit and encouraged me to pray them every single day of my life. For this reason, I credit the Holy Spirit with leading me step by step and allowing me to take the skills and experience I learned in the secular world and translate them into the work of “professional” evangelization. God has surprised me and I am grateful!
Q: You currently serve as Director of Program Growth for Endow Groups. What is Endow Groups and what are the programs that you are helping to advance?
Simone: John Paul II taught that “woman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church.” Endow equips women to recognize and cultivate her God-given genius by creating study guides and organizing women into small group communities to study the greatest minds and saints of the Church; especially the female doctors of the Church like St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena! We have over 20 study guides and each Endow Group is approximately an 8-12 week commitment since the majority of our studies are divided into eight chapters. So with some flexibility it’s about one chapter per week. Also, there’s no homework! The study guides are designed to be read out loud together in the group. Fun fact: Endow is an apostolate officially recognized under Canon 113 of the Code of Canon Law!
Q: For women and men, how can small group study help to transform the way we learn and grow in our faith? What are your tips for someone interested in starting or joining a group?
Simone: The Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37) includes the intellectual life. Loving God “with all your mind.” Man is also a social being. Authentic transformation can’t exist without a community: “No one lives alone, no one sins alone, no one is saved alone.” (Benedict XVI) Anyone who has been part of a small group study can testify to the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional fruitfulness. My biggest advice is if you can’t find a group to join, do not shy away from starting your own group! Pray to the Holy Spirit to send you souls or help you recognize the ones right in front of you who are also in need of a small group study.
Q: As a teacher, what are your recommendations to someone interested in studying theology for everyday life to begin? What guides or questions are useful for going deeper, for conversation and discussion?
Simone: I recommend delving into the writings of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. At his core, he is a teacher. And with a few exceptions, his books are surprisingly relatable! I recommend beginning with his short book What It Means To Be a Christian. It was a favorite of my high school students in the senior year theology curriculum. Of course, I also strongly recommend Endow study guides. (Men are also welcome to use our study guides and do!) The guides make accessible the theological inheritance of the Catholic Church. In each study guide you can expect to read the primary source (the actual text of the encyclical or writing of the saint), then a secondary source (a theologian explaining or commenting on the text for comprehension) followed by a “Bringing It Home” section which brings theology to everyday life circumstances including discussion questions you can use for private reflection or discussing in your small group. For online resources, please consider the Institute of Catholic Theology and the Institute of Catholic Culture.
Q: How have your life of faith and prayer deepened through your study and work? How has it helped you to know and love God [more] in your everyday life?
Simone: St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that you cannot love what you do not know. Knowledge is key. My work has allowed me the privilege of studying great ideas and the teachings of Mother Church. Delving into the richness and beauty of our philosophical and theological inheritance has given me a deeper love for Christ and a wonder at His generosity: “Who is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8)
Q: Simone, thank you so much for your time and for sharing all of this valuable information with us. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us? Where can our readers learn more about all of your initiatives?
Simone: If anyone reading is interested in considering Endow for either self-study or starting a group, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org Studies for middle and high school groups are available as well. Lastly, please feel free to visit my blog at www.culturalgypsy.com where you are welcome to send me prayer requests!