Going deeper into the mystery of God

I recall when I was participating in college orientation as a freshman (a few years ago), one of the speakers made the statement, “Don’t let the books get in the way of your college education.” Needless to say, it got my attention. However, it didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t being given permission to fake my way through the academics of college. It was a statement reminding us that our development in college not only included our intellect, but also our human and Spiritual development.

Intellectual development certainly is an important part of any institution of learning, whether elementary, secondary or higher education. Yet, in all these areas of education, human formation is also important. As we learn to think in the classroom, we need to learn how this thinking helps us in other areas of life. 

About 20 years ago, the Vatican issued a document called “The Presence of the Church in the University and in University Culture.” It states “The university was, in its earliest stages, one of the most significant expressions of the Church’s concern.” Why is this the case? Well, because we realized early on that wisdom was gained not only through intellectual formation, but also in our human and Spiritual Formation. Our appreciation for art, beauty, goodness and holiness serve as powerful motivators for the human person and help us remain true to who we are and help us to grow in our knowledge of who we are. In addition, the more we seek truth, beauty, goodness and holiness, the more we are drawn into the mystery of God Himself. As I mentioned in a homily a couple of weeks ago, learning is a religious activity. 

Human and Spiritual formation teaches us to apply the principles of critical thinking to other areas of life, including, by the way, faith. Without the use of the intellect, faith devolves into myth and legend. St. Paul says that in his first letter to Timothy, “Avoid profane and silly myths. Train yourself for devotion” (1 Tm 4:7).

The Vatican document warns us that if we remove faith from our learning, universities are in danger of becoming simply work training centers.  “The faith that the Church proclaims,” the document reads, “must penetrate the human intellect and heart” otherwise we lose sight of who we are and can lose the motivation for discovery; of ourselves as well as the arts and sciences.

Last week at UMass Dartmouth, our chancellor, Dr. Divina Grossman, announced our strategic plan for the next five years. It is a plan that is meant to help UMD become more relevant to our students and the region. If you were to look over the goals of the plan, you would notice that one of the goals isn’t as academic- or research-oriented as the others. This is because the university recognizes what this article has been saying: we are about the development of the whole person.  Grossman quoted Blessed John Henry Newman in her introduction of the plan. Cardinal Newman called the university “a seat of wisdom, the light of the world.” 

Translation: Learning draws us deeper into the mystery of God.

Anchor columnist Father Frederici is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and Chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

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