Why Learning Complements Our Faith

Garrett muses on how the faithful should not fear learning, but learn to employ it.

“For although correct conduct may be better than knowledge, nevertheless knowledge precedes conduct.” – Charlemagne, De Litteris Colendis

This is a quote from a letter written by the Emperor Charlemagne, who ruled over much of Europe for much of the 8th century, to Baugulf of Frida, the abbot of a monastic community. A towering figure who came to the support of the popes, Charlemagne was also extremely interested in the topic of education, and in the ability of the Catholic Church at the time to educate people (keep in mind that these were hard times with low literacy rates). In this letter, the Emperor expresses his desire that churchmen should feed the minds of the people as well as their souls:

“[…] bishoprics and monasteries entrusted by the favor of Christ to our control, in addition, in the culture of letters also ought to be zealous in teaching those who by the gift of God are able to learn, according to the capacity of each individual, so that just as the observance of the rule imparts order and grace to honesty of morals, so also zeal in teaching and learning may do the same for sentences, so that those who desire to please God by living rightly should not neglect to please him also by speaking correctly.”

Reading this letter was interesting for me as I’ve always valued learning, and never really saw any disparity between knowledge and the faith. In fact, my faith was strengthened greatly by reading as a young boy the works of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and while my understanding was somewhat limited, it drove me to learn more and more about the faith and why we should believe. And indeed, one could argue this was the way God ‘trapped’ me – even if I were to want to walk away from the faith, I think deep down inside I would know that it would be a fundamentally dishonest act.

But that said, I find that most of my friends have become somewhat wary of knowledge and learning. And while their reasoning has merit, I think there is a better way to approach the problem, and if we’re going to grow as Christians, especially in a modern city like Singapore, it is necessary to strengthen our knowledge of the faith. Thus, this article will be serve as a discussion and hopefully a proposal on ways we can use knowledge to strengthen our faith.

So what is the main problem people have with knowledge? I think it lies in the fear that being so immersed in the technical aspects of the faith detracts from one’s personal relationship with Jesus. This worry can be summed up in the maxim that some people “know a lot about God instead of knowing God”.

I won’t say that this is an unfounded fear. I think most people in Catholic communities might know someone like that. Someone extremely widely read in matters of faith and spirituality, but whose knowledge gives them a sense of superiority over others. For such people, their knowledge has become a stick to beat others with, and not surprisingly, leave people with a bad taste in their mouth.

However, despite this potential pitfall, I don’t believe that we are justified in simply tossing out learning wholesale. As with all things, there is a right and wrong way of approaching the issue. One wrong way is the one I just described, to use learning as a means to engage in theological pedantry and endless (often fruitless) wrangling.

And yet I have had moments where being theologically informed did come in useful when ministering to others. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said that “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing”. What Bishop Sheen said about the Bride of Christ is true of her Spouse as well. There are a lot of misconceptions people have about God, and many people have false conceptions of Him. Even our fellow Catholics, and even ourselves. No one can know God in His entirety, but we can know what He has revealed to us, through scripture, tradition and the teaching of the Church. In a sense, learning about God is getting to know Him better as well, and helps us to introduce Him more effectively to others.

 “An hour of study, for a modern apostle, is an hour of prayer.” – Saint Josemaria Escriva

St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, was a big believer in the value of study and learning. So much so that he dedicates an entire chapter of short sayings on the topic in his most famous work, The Way. Having reflected on his writings, I think this is born of being appreciative of the time God has allowed us to live in. Think about it. We live in a time of extremely high literacy rates. Electricity allows us the ability to continue reading and learning even at night. This is both a blessing and a curse for us urban city-dwellers. On one hand, we have so much information available to us. On the other, we are overwhelmed by the plethora of ideas and views that seem omnipresent on social media and other things we interact with on a daily basis.

Thus, I feel that it is more important than ever to embark on an adventure of learning, to truly appreciate for ourselves the beauty of the Catholic faith, and to communicate that to others as well. I hope that this article inspires you to explore the amazing breadth of our Faith and learn more. God bless!

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Garrett Christopher Ng

P&W Reflection: “Where the Spirit of the Lord Is”

Some time back, I was at this program teaching us about the Holy Spirit. One of the program sessions was about the ‘Spirit of conviction’, the Spirit that empowers us to be free. As I was watching the video, the song “Where the Spirit of the Lord Is” by Hillsong came into my head and I realized how apt it was for this paeticular session. If you doubt me, just look at the chorus:

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Teaching and St. John Baptist De La Salle

Chris shares more about St. John Baptist De La Salle and why he is one of Chris’ favourite Saints.

“You can perform miracles by touching the hearts of those entrusted to your care.”                                                                                                                                                                                      – [Meditations 180.3]

It is often very easy for us to get lost in our work – especially when we live in a fast-pace, productivity-driven society like Singapore. Amidst the hum-drums of routine work and key performance indicators (cue the dreaded “KPI”), it is often tempting to lose ourselves in our jobs, equate our identities with our professions and forget that we are so much more than what we do. In short, in losing ourselves to work, we lose our self-identities completely. Indeed it is often very tempting to get so caught up with the things we do at work on a daily basis that we forget the very rationale, purpose and objectives of our work as calling. Therefore, it is often necessary to re-focus and re-center our attention to first-principles; it is important to (re)anchor ourselves lest we get blown around in the turbulence of societal expectations and competing voices.

Continue reading “Teaching and St. John Baptist De La Salle”

Letter to St. Teresa of Avila

Chris writes a letter to St. Teresa of Avila — a Saint whom he considers very very intimidating.

“Let nothing disturb thee; let nothing dismay thee:
All things pass; God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for.
He who has God finds he lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”  –
St. Teresa of Avila

Dear St. Teresa of Avila,

I hope this letter finds you well. I have a quick confession to make: I find you incredibly intimidating.

Your writings are always so fiercely passionate and incredibly firery; they have pierced the depths of my soul, over and over again. Paradoxically, however, my trepidation towards you does not stem from fear but more from awe. I am awed that a living, breathing individual like yourself was able to reach such immense depths of union with Christ whilst on this earth. I am awed by how you remained steadfast and convicted to our Faith despite the numerous trials and tribulations that you experienced both from the world and from our very own Church.

Though I find you very intimidating, I must also add that your writings and ideas have aided me enormously and have drawn me closer to God. Indeed, you have been a very effective instrument of His will, and a very clear signpost pointing towards God to so many people. Some of my friends even consider you as their closest spiritual companion, and I know a couple of them who have entered Carmel, so moved by your life and intimacy with Jesus Christ.

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Letter to Pope John XXIII

Chris writes a letter to Pope John XXIII — a Saint whom he finds very jolly and jovial (with a very important lesson to teach!)

“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”  – Pope John XXIII

Dear Pope John XXIII,

Congratulations on your recent canonisation four years ago! I hope that all’s well with you in Heaven and that you’re enjoying yourself immensely with the communion of saints as well as the perpetuation adoration of our Lord, God and master, Jesus Christ.

I must be honest: I write to you today not because I have loads to share with you nor do I have any particular prayer intention that require your assistance. Pope John XXIII you must forgive me: I hardly know you and only just read about you the other day whilst completing the book The Ascent of Mount Carmel: Saint John of the Cross Reflections by Friar Marc Foley, OCD. That being said, after chancing upon one of your quotes and reflecting on it deeper in prayer, I must say that I felt a stirring in my heart to get to know you better. I will share your quote momentarily but before that, I just want to say that I’m moved by how light-hearted you seem to be. Reading up on you has allowed me to get a better sense of who you are. Yet, most – if not all – of the quotes that I’ve read about you seem to paint you as an exceptionally jovial and joyful person. Pope John XXIII, your personality speaks to the depth of my heart simply because you don’t take yourself too seriously; you seem to exude a distinctive childlike aura that I find deeply alluring – one that painfully reminds me just how “adult” I’ve grown to become.

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Thoughts Before a Confession

Greg writes about the feeling of futility he gets before a Confession and being unafraid to accept God’s Grace in this Sacrament.

And there I was again. Waiting outside the confessional, in line once again for my monthly reconciliation. Many things go through my head. I join the queue, rejoicing mentally when the queue is short and I don’t have to wait. Then, I look at the name of the priest outside the confessional. Sometimes, I would groan inwardly.

“Oh my gosh, this priest is NOT a good confessor.”

“Oh no, Fr _____ knows me too well!! Argh…it’ll be SOOOOO awkward”

“I hope they don’t recognise my voice”

And occasionally, “YES! Just who I was praying for!”

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Thoughts in the Confession Queue

Garrett shares a reflection he had while queuing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I arrived in the mostly empty main church hall about half-an-hour before Mass. With an inward sigh of relief, I saw that the queue for the Sacrament of Reconciliation was mostly empty. Only one other person was sitting in the pew placed strategically outside the Confessionals, an elderly lady. Giving her a smile, I sat down.

The priests of our parish usually start hearing confessions about fifteen minutes before Mass, but if you allowed the queue to build up, you might find yourself attending Mass without having received the Sacrament. So being second in line pretty much guaranteed my chances. Continue reading “Thoughts in the Confession Queue”