Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Sept. 13, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
“Well, ya learn somethin’ new every day,” my childhood neighbor was fond of saying. His Kentucky twang gave the comment an extra special punch, too. I enjoyed listening to him speak, and still remember several of the pithy phrases which he freely shared from his years of “down-home learnin’.”
A phrase which one of my high school classmates used to use all the time was not so pleasing to the ear. For example, after the teacher, or one of us, his classmates, would make a brief comment about some point of news or information, this character was prone to exclaim, “I didn’t know that!” We wanted to throttle him, screaming, “Of course, you ‘didn’t know that’; that’s why we told you!” And, to make matters worse, Roger (not his true name, of course) would utter his phrase with a haughtiness that seemed to indicate that he knew everything (or thought he did). He acted like he had just collected the last missing bit of knowledge that somehow had deigned to escape his horizon of wisdom. His mannerism drove us nuts!
I haven’t thought of Roger for years. But he came to mind this past month as I was doing some preparation for the coming school year at our parish school. One of the elements in our school’s philosophy statement is to create “life-long learners.” I chuckled to myself as I read that: Roger K. would not have survived here. He already had lived his life and knew everything! I wonder if by this stage in his life he has come to realize that learning indeed is a life-long challenge.
And not just in the secular world of education. A desire to learn is one of the chief characteristics of the true disciple of Jesus. A disciple is a learner, one who is not afraid of admitting to ignorance of the ways of God. Jesus taught the Twelve Apostles and hundreds of other followers about the Kingdom of God. Contrary to popular portrayal, Jesus was not a carpenter, but a teacher, a rabbi. In his day – as well as our own – those who held positions in the rabbinic tradition did more than share information about God. I can just imagine my classmate Roger driving Jesus bananas with his “I didn’t know that!” every time He told a parable or gave an instruction.
Knowledge of the Kingdom of God is unique. It is far richer and far more important than classroom knowledge or what my old neighbor would have called “book learnin’.” Indeed, catechetical instruction and good theology have their place of importance, but only if they lead the disciple to a deeper and more committed relationship with God.
Not without reason are those who follow Jesus described in the Gospels as disciples (learners). And in like manner should we consider ourselves so. We are learners, too – life-long learners.
How often do we hear nowadays, “There is just so much I don’t know about my Faith.” The statement is true, but I often sense it is said with a sense of exasperation and self-inflicted guilt – as if “head knowledge” itself were the measure of faithfulness to Christ. Orthodox catechetical knowledge and solid theology are important aspects of our Christian walk – I will be among the first to champion that! – but we cannot forget that the heart of Jesus yearned for people to come alive in the way of God’s Kingdom, not just be able to describe it at the end of the day in an exam.
Even a cursive reading of the Gospel stories reveals the fact that the disciples of Jesus just didn’t get it when it came to the ways of God. They were slow to learn. Are we any different? It takes a life-time to learn God’s way for us. In the end, it’s not how much we know but how we live that matters most. As we send our children off into another school year, perhaps it would be good to recall that there is much we ourselves don’t know – in our hearts, as well as in our minds – about the way of God, and begin this new school year with a humble sense of needing to be learners, too, one and all.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)