For the first time in my life I am no longer a student — in the formal sense, at least. Whether you’re starting a new year of school or trying to learn on your own, here follows a reflection from The Imitation of Christ (Thomas a Kempis). As the academic year begins, it’s important to keep in mind that God primarily asks us not to learn but to love:
Knowledge is a natural desire in all people. But knowledge for its own sake is useless unless you fear God. An unlearned peasant, whose contentment is the service of God, is far better than the learned and the clever, whose pride in their knowledge leads them to neglect their souls while fixing their attention on the stars… If your knowledge encompasses the universe and the love of God is not in you, what good will it do you in God’s sight? He will judge you according to your actions.
Studying may be your vocation right now. Everyone’s first vocation, though, is not to a specific role — to being a mother, a husband, a teacher, a writer — but to sanctity. You can dedicate all your labors to God, yet it’s impossible to do even that apart from prayer and contemplation. And if you’re studying hard but refusing to love those around you, your knowledge will avail you nothing in the end. More from Thomas a Kempis:
Remember, the more you know, the more severely you will be judged. So do not be proud of any skill or knowledge you may have, for such is an awesome responsibility.
It’s easy to forget this one. We are blessed in the 21st century to have the world’s library accessible to us on the Internet — whereas books were once accessible only to the privileged few — but how often we forget what responsibility comes with our learning. This is especially true in the spiritual realm: We who know what the Church teaches will be held all the more accountable for whether we obeyed her. One last quotation from Kempis to sum it up:
It is not wrong to pursue learning, for since it comes from God it is good as far as it goes; but it is far better to have a clean conscience and lead a virtuous life. Because some prefer to be learned than to be virtuous, they make many mistakes and produce little or no fruit.
If only people would use as much energy in avoiding sin and cultivating virtues as they do in disputing questions, there would not be so much evil in the world, nor bad example given, nor would there be so much laxity in religion!
On the day of judgment we will not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; neither will we be asked how well we have spoken, but how devoutly we have lived… They are truly learned who forsake their own will to follow the will of God.