I left school way back in June 1971. It still surprises me if I remind myself that I did not begin parish life in Holy Cross Parish until December 1982. So, between 1971 and the end of 1982 I was a student. Yes, for eleven and a half years! A mighty long time even if it did not seem so as it was happening. I was ordained, however, in June 1979 and continued with studies for another three years and more.
Given that over nine of those years were spent in Rome then there was a lot to be very thankful for in terms of life experience. I would hasten to add that, spending this amount of time as a student, was not my idea! We did what we did and where we did it because we were told to do so. It was the Archbishop who decided where you were going, what you were studying, when you would be ordained and, ultimately, how you would be deployed as a priest.
One of the inevitable consequences of being a student for that time, of course, is the fact that you end up with an awful lot of books – far too many to sit on your bookshelves in later life. Like any other former student, some of these were vital at the time in order to help pass exams but now are gathering dust. There are of course others which I still refer to regularly over forty years on.
Those who were our lecturers were, for the most part, members of the Society of Jesus – Jesuits – at the Gregorian University. For my last couple of years, our lecturers were the Benedictines at the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Liturgy at the monastery of Sant’Anselmo on the Aventine Hill. While it would be natural for them to be experts in their fields, there was another aspect to their lives which I found, and still find, to be most impressive.
Both groups of religious had, of course, taken on vows of poverty and so they operated really without any salary other than pocket money. Their lifestyle was simple and straightforward. They had very little in terms of personal property. For instance, they did not have a car. In Rome, of course, that was no bad thing!
Sometimes we would have cause to ask to talk through some aspect of their course or discuss an essay or something similar. Occasionally the setting for this would be their room which was nearly always a simple bedsit within the university buildings. Their religious community of course was also a part of the setup. I’m sure that it was not totally free of tensions or the presence of personal ambition and rivalry but to me they also represented a very powerful statement of the gospel in action.
They were people of intelligence and no little learning. Their lives were dedicated to their study and their teaching. At the same time, however, that was not the end of the matter. It was not a goal in itself. They powerfully presented to me the aspect of childlike trust which is called for by Jesus in today’s gospel. “I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.”
Their lives had a simplicity about them and certainly, on the outward side, displayed a real freedom from the material aspects of life.
So while we had much to learn from them on the academic side of things we also had the opportunity to take in another important lesson from them through their witness of life.
It surely is obvious that the church is never exempt from study and learning. There must constantly be, in the community of faith, the search to go further, to understand more. The present coronavirus crisis has brought us to spell out even more clearly just how important is education, the vary basis of economic life is to be found in prioritising school life for our children.
The Church also needs to have education and learning as a vital part of the basis of the life of faith. To suggest any different approach is naïve and mistaken. But again, this is never to be an end in itself. The more we discover and understand about God, the more we realise that our knowledge is limited and partial. The more we discover about God, the more we do not know. As we are called to continue down this path, we are invited to truly see ourselves as God’s little ones, God’s children, God’s beloved ones. The ones who trust the Lord when he says to us today “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.”
14th Sunday A
5th July 2020.