Study wisdom, that you may give an answer to him that criticizes. (Proverbs 27:11)
God commands study. Lord Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better part. Because she chose to listen, to learn, to exercise her mind, to study. [Spanish]
Our Creator has equipped us with minds, made to know the truth. Our bodies need food and fluids, so we get hungry and thirsty. Likewise, our minds need the truth. So we want to know, we want to learn, we strive to inquire. Our natural desire to know the truth leads us, ultimately, to God. Everything comes from Him and leads toward Him.
But of course the Lord did not equip us all mentally in the same way. He does not command us all to study the same things by the same methods. To the contrary, He has arrayed His all-but-endlessly beautiful universe to attract our study in an all-but-endlessly vast array of ways.
He gave us each our own particular interests and takes on things. We all have different kinds of minds. Some people like reading more than others. Some people like tinkering with engines. Some people like cooking, gardening, sketching, architecture, psychology, politics, math, equestrian dressage, blue-grass harmonics. You name it.
All truth, all beauty, all healthiness and fullness comes from God. So the study of anything good and true leads to God. We individually study different good and true things, in different ways. But for each of us to come into his or her own, we each must study. To fully realize our potential, we must exercise and apply our minds in a humble, dutiful, disciplined, and focused manner.
Why? In Dante’s Inferno, the first thing that the poet’s guide says about the damned is: “They have lost the good of the intellect.” Heaven involves knowing The Truth fully, and resting in His utterly clear light. Hell involves losing the truth altogether and falling into the darkness of utter confusion.
God commands us to study. We can disobey, and go wrong, in two ways.
1. Because study requires strenuous mental effort, our lazy bodies rebel. It’s easier to doze than to read. It’s easier to eat dessert than to do experiments. It’s easier just to conform my shallow thinking to the same lame ideas that everyone else has, rather than seek wise counsel, engage in debate, and carefully form solid opinions of my very own.
Which Christian heroes do we most admire? The martyrs, of course. The martyrs throughout the ages have made it their business to seek the truth about God and to adhere to that truth with a deep certainty. A martyr’s well-studied conviction makes him or her fearless of death.
That’s what Mary did at Jesus’ feet: She courageously sought the truth about God. The truth to which she could cling with unswerving courage, deepening her knowledge by prayer and meditation.
So the first way we can go wrong in the exercising of our minds: failing to exercise them. Intellectual indolence. Becoming conformist mental couch potatoes. Cowards in the face of the difficulties involved in acquiring solid knowledge.
2. But there’s a second, equally dangerous trap. Namely: undisciplined, fruitless, shallow study—also known as empty curiosity. Minds running after trifles, fake news, or presumptuous over-statements.
Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to learn sublime wisdom. Grasping Jesus’ words required humble concentration. Because she did not hear idle gossip. She did not hear silly vignettes or sweet little romances. The Sermon on the Mount contains the most important wisdom ever imparted to mankind. But reading it isn’t exactly ‘entertaining.’ The gospels are no comic books.
Nor does it fall to us human creatures to study and learn everything. Mary never imagined, as she sat at Jesus’ feet, that she could learn things beyond the scope of her limited mind. We human beings take the most-important things on faith. We have great minds–compared to squirrels. But compared to God and His angels, even the greatest human geniuses know practically nothing.
Now, school kids of course think of summertime as a welcome respite from the rigors of study. But we adults cherish these months as an opportunity to follow Mary to the feet of the Christ. To put aside some of our usual workaday cares, sit quietly, and apply our minds to the truths that are worth living and dying for.