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Closing the door of ignorance

How education can inform our faith

Learning for some people can be arduous and even unpleasant. I was visiting my nephews recently and could sympathize both with them and their parents. The adults kept at them to “go and do your homework!” They moaned. Eventually, after the moaning died down, they got to their study. While it may not seem so at the time, such discipline is good for the soul. It contributes to curing the deadly disease we call ignorance.

We all suffer from this affliction. We are limited. Yet while we realize we cannot “know it all,” we also realize we need to know many things for our good and the good of others. Ignorance can be dangerous, even deadly.

Consider the ignorance of young teens regarding sexual activity. I have spoken with a few who had sex just once and became pregnant. They told me they did not know that could happen with just one encounter. Another young person contracted a sexually transmitted disease. He did not think it could happen to Him. Sadly, many seem ignorant of how such behaviors affect not only the body, but even more the soul.

There was another young person who was being convinced to have an abortion. She was told that what was in her was just some tissue and she should not worry. There was no child yet. Her ignorance of the simple facts of biology allowed her to be a victim of a lie.

Fortunately, ignorance is what Christ our teacher desires to dispel. Jesus established his church to destroy ignorance and error through its proclamation of the truth of Jesus Christ. We have the gift of 2,000 years of saints who lived the faith – 2,000 years of liturgy, creeds, prayers, doctrines and dogmas. We also have numerous expressions of our faith in the church’s living members in every corner of the world who draw their life from Jesus. Through all these, the radiant light of Jesus shines.

All such expressions reveal the activity of learning that has overcome the deadly foe of ignorance. Yet the work goes on until the end of this world. Every age must learn anew. No wonder God constantly reminded his people to remember. No wonder Jesus established the New Covenant at the end of his life and told us to “Do this in memory of me.” Remembering takes study, prayer and living the faith, but it has a great power to dispel the evil of ignorance.

Spiritual fitness requires us to know our faith. We need to dig into the sacred Scriptures as though they were a sand box.

One way I became more motivated to learn the faith was to think about Jesus and his own experience of learning. Even Jesus went to school.

When visiting Nazareth and many Galilean towns some years back, I saw how each village had its own synagogue where the young people and adults of the village went to learn their faith. Jesus would have attended such a synagogue like everyone else. Of course, Joseph and Mary would have been his first and constant instructors of the faith. Parents have a huge role in dispelling ignorance. Truly, the home is the first school of faith for all of us.

Another place Jesus went to learn was the Temple in Jerusalem, as early as age 12. As the Gospel of Luke says “Jesus, for his part, progressed steadily in wisdom and age and grace before God and men. (Luke 2:52) When Jesus began his ministry, he taught in the synagogues and temple.

Interestingly, a similar pattern of teaching has existed in the church from the beginning. Local parishes throughout the world have served as centers of learning for their community, much like synagogues in Jesus’ day. Historians show evidence of parish schools dating all the way back to the second century.

Those seeking entrance into the church (catechumens) learned their faith through catechetical instruction from the bishop. Priests, deacons and catechists were also involved in these cathedral schools. Cathedrals are churches so named because they hold the bishop’s chair or cathedra. The chair is a sign of the teaching office of the bishop. Every diocese has one cathedral church, and through the ages, cathedral churches established schools for the faithful. Often these schools would train young men to be priests, or serve in the church in some way.

As the church grew, monasteries also became important centers of learning. Many great saints were educated through monastic schools. Some scholars have even claimed that such efforts actually saved Western civilization. (How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill; How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods) Later on, universities and colleges were established.

Before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his Apostles to go out and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them and “teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.”(Matt 28:20) Through the ages, the church has done just that in numerous ways.

 

Spiritual Exercise:

This month, we will ask the Lord to dispel our own ignorance with his wisdom and light. To begin, pick one aspect of the faith or practice of the church, or even some current social issue you feel you know very little about. It is very possible for us to be ignorant of our ignorance! One quick cure for this is to go through the creed or catechism and ask yourself “Do I really understand what this means?” Gather some information about the topic you feel ignorant about and bring it to the Lord. Begin with the sign of the cross and acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is our teacher.

Pray: Father, you are the source of all knowledge, wisdom, and light. Send your Spirit upon me that I may come to a deeper knowledge of my faith. You infused this gift of faith in me at baptism. Deepen my faith so I may hold more firmly to it. Broaden my faith so my love and awe may grow all the more. Help me to hold fast to the truths you have revealed in Jesus Christ, and to seek to understand what you have revealed and why you have revealed it. Dispel my ignorance and replace it with a new understanding and love for you. I know that I “don’t know” so much, but let what I do know draw me ever more to love you. Amen.

After praying this prayer, meditate and read the material on that which you would like to grow in knowledge of and let yourself be drawn to considering what you do not know. Ask Jesus to explain things to you. Think about it. Do not be afraid to admit your ignorance to him. ... Study more and get a book to read or a tape to listen to. In all things, let your meditation lead you to God.

End by praying the Creed or the following prayer of praise.

Prayer of praise to the Holy Trinity inspired by Saint Symeon the New Theologian

Praise to you, O Lord, who in the beginning created us in freedom.

Praise to you, O Lord, who endowed us with reason and free will.

Praise to you, O Just Father, who in your love has desired to have us for your very own.

Praise to you, O Holy Son, who for our salvation became human and died on the cross for us.

Praise to you, O Spirit of Life, who has enriched us with your spiritual gifts.

Praise to you, O Lord, who has brought us to know your divinity.

Praise to you, Lord, who has made us worthy to join with the angels in praising you.

Praise to you, O Lord, for you have dispelled our ignorance and given us light.

From every mouth, let praise rise up to you –  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On the heights and in the depths, let there be praise to the Holy Trinity, on earth and in heaven, from beginning to the end of time, world without end. Amen.