God is looking for us. He wants us to be saints. When we become conscious of this, we can feel a certain vertigo, imagining what He might ask of us and how we would possibly do it. While some individuals have been asked to accomplish certain truly admirable deeds, far greater numbers have achieved holiness by heroically fulfilling ordinary duties. That is, by doing what they had to do rightly, for love of God.
Likewise – in reality – for a child, a teenager, a young adult, even a grown up, this is given in a context of study. Until we finish college, it’s the duty which takes up most hours in the day. Even so, after that, don’t people continue to pursue to self-improvement and increased knowledge with workshops, specialized courses, post-grad studies, masters degrees, etc.?
When we open our eyes to this truth – i.e. that doing my homework on time, putting effort into revising, neatly finishing a project, etc., draws us towards the holiness that God hopes for us – some reactions come up. The first is to be joyful since, although it might not come automatically, it’s not so complicated! The second is to be filled with anxiety or to get desperate because of a misunderstanding (or mistaken) perfectionism, condemning ourselves for not highlighting correctly the titles for an assignment (or some other minutiae). In order to avoid the latter reaction, I’d like to offer some suggestions that could help put things into place.
1. Study is a mode of being
St. John Bosco, the great saint of the youth, recommended: “Cheerfulness, study, piety. This is the grand program. Following it, you will be able to live happily and do a lot of good for your soul”. He wasn’t wrong when he taught that intellectual formation is linked to spiritual formation. How is this so?
Let’s remember that a saint is one who fights to live the virtues heroically. Isn’t study the ideal way to grow in the virtues?
To develop this point, I think I can illustrate some of them: we learn patience, which comes hand in hand with persistence, by daily putting our efforts into achieving future fruits; generosity, by polishing our talents to donate them afterwards; humility, by not desiring to be flattered or to stand out if it isn’t to give greater glory to God, when we offer Him our good grades… and our not-so-good ones too (which could come our way even when we put forth all our efforts); fortitude, by overcoming the weariness of studying or foregoing a fun activity in favor of finishing an assignment on deadline; perseverance, by setting new goals when the initial goal is accomplished (or missed); fraternity, by helping others, although it implies budgeting our study time and trying to use it better, in order to help or explain something to a classmate; hard work and discipline, by establishing an order and a method, and striving to keep it; serenity, when we could get desperate or cry when things don’t work out as we hoped, by abandoning ourselves with trust in God’s hands; responsibility, by attending to the commitments we set for ourselves; long-suffering, by striving in the task and in our objectives, both at the start and at the end; justice and sincerity, by not copying, plagiarizing or cheating; temperance, by establishing a balance between rest, study, piety life, family life, etc.
Study is also an opportunity to grow in the spirit of penance and mortification, by suppressing music or the most comfortable places (the couch or bed), by avoiding opening the fridge every time you read one page, by leaving aside the phone or signing off of social networks, among other things that could affect your study time. This is only a brushstroke, since each one of us can discover and rediscover shades of our day-to-day and our study in which we can improve.
2. But it isn’t an end in itself
When talking about putting forth all our efforts to achieve a certain human perfection, we could deviate from the road. If this happens, we’ll fall on two faults. First, vanity. Presumption, disordered ambition, selfishness, pride, thinking ourselves better than we are… etc.
If we realize – or others make us see – that we are absorbed by an academic fanaticism which, moreover, brings with it a certain pedantry or unhealthy pride, we could pause and ask ourselves: “What am I seeking after? My own glory or God’s?”
Second, and worse, we could get bitter for not trusting God. Do we truly believe that God expects from us, imperfect creatures, to do everything perfectly? Or worse, that His love depends on how many A’s we get? I’ll remind you of two things: His love is unconditional. He wants us to make every effort, but if putting the means, we don’t achieve the goal we set for ourselves, He won’t love us any less. The other thing: nothing can turn out completely perfect. Besides… perfect for whom? What is the parameter we’re using?
What we look for – what we shouldn’t lose sight of – is giving glory to God, loving Him more, using our talents, forging virtues, doing apostolate, etc. Disciplined, fruitful study is not the one that brings the best grades, but the one that helps us to love God more.
To steer clear of both these risks, I give the same advice: before starting study, make a brief offering. When we offer to God what we’re about to do, we’re telling Him that it is for Him. But, if we deviate, there is only one solution: rectify. “Sorry, God, I forgot that I was trying to please You, and I started to look for myself”. There it is. We can, again, offer what we have in hand and redirect / refocus our study.
3. Nor is it the most important mode
Saint Josemaría Escrivá, the saint who said that “one hour of study, for a modern apostle, is an hour of prayer” and also that “if you are to serve God with your intelligence, for you studying is a serious obligation”, didn’t stop to add: “it’s okay if you put that endeavor into study, as long as you put the same endeavor in acquiring interior life”.
Maybe it’s obvious, but I believe it bears repeating, that although it’s okay to strive to study enough hours, complete duties, etc., we mustn’t give second place to the Christian life; we can’t stop doing our prayer with the excuse “but I’m turning my study into prayer!”.
In that case, it would be a sign that we’re not prioritizing our relationship with God. And if that’s the case, we couldn’t be trying, in our study, to love Him more. It would be an incoherence, like the one that is usually reproached to parents who, for wanting to buy more things for their kids, become physically and emotionally absent, immersed in work.
When we prioritize the spaces to be with God (prayer, Mass, rosary, spiritual lecture, etc.) the subsequent study “pays” more, humanly and supernaturally.
4. And we’re not alone
The academic formation we strive for is not for the sake of inflating our brains with information overload. We should try to be better (humanly, supernaturally and intellectually) for others and for God. When we study, we’re doing and preparing ourselves for a fruitful apostolate.
The apostolate we do today is found when we help a peer with something that’s troubling him, when we patiently explain a topic again, etc. Also when, for the communion of the saints, we offer the study of the subjects we don’t enjoy so much, for the souls in purgatory, for an intention we ask intercession for, etc.
“The studious is the one who takes others to what he has understood: the Truth”, said the great St. Thomas of Aquinas. This means, besides what I previously said, bringing to them the good example and good advice. It’s a good opportunity to talk about a virtuous and happy life.
And the future apostolate is the one we plant: we prepare ourselves to be good professionals, who can positively influence our environment, in the community, in society, etc.
Advice for when you get distracted
It’s natural to get distracted, feel tired, bored, etc. When you feel that your brain is drifting off to the Moon, you can renew the offering of study you did initially (“Lord, I offer this to you once more”). It can also help to have a small crucifix by your materials, that way from time to time you look at it, turning that look into an aspiration of prayer and a renovation of your original intent.
And for when you’re tired
Rest is also important. Never study in a way that you neglect and resent your health. It’s convenient that you organize your study so that your sleep and rest are optimized. When you’re rested, you can work more and better.
And for when you get discouraged
You’re a son or daughter of God. Child of a Father who doesn’t ask for results and who won’t leave you without dessert if you’re behind. Considering this (divine filiation) won’t change your grades, but the meaning you can interpret from the entire exercise.
And for always, and at all times
The Annunciation is usually represented with the Blessed Virgin studying the Sacred Scriptures. I imagine that Baby Jesus learned them by listening to His Mother and to good St. Joseph. I think of my own experience, when I didn’t understand certain subjects and I asked my mom. Likewise, you can ask Mary Seat of Wisdom for help, to study well, in a way agreeable to God. Ask Her to teach you how to imitate the virtues She lived in her daily life.
This post originally appeared here for Catholic-Link Spanish. It was translated into English by Maria Isabel Giraldo.