I find study pretty interesting, I enjoy being in the classroom, asking questions, exploring topics, and gaining knowledge, I love to learn. But my studies have always been a love-hate relationship; sometimes leaning more towards the hate. Studying can be a cycle of procrastination, stress at impending deadlines, guilt about not studying enough, and feeling like there’s more to do than I can possibly get done.
Some people are passionate about their study, for others it’s a step on the way to a career, something to build up the resume, tick a box. I’ve had assignments where I feel like I’m growing as a person, being innovative, and impacting the world; but often assignments are monotonous, filling the brain with details that are forgotten immediately after the exam (if not before). What you’re learning can feel obscure and disconnected from everyday experience, but I read a blog recently that helped me connect studying with both meaning and faith.
The blog described an experience of students living at a catholic uni residence who had been watching a marathon. It’s a huge party; a big event in their city and the marathon actually passes by their building. Yet their mood is dampened when they learn that the same day there had been a shooting on another university campus elsewhere in the US with a tragic loss of life. Saddened and shocked by this tragedy but wanting to do more than the usual quick prayer and post on social media and inspired by the marathon they had been watching, they organised a study marathon, linking university life and prayer.
Over the course of a weekend; they had clocked up 283.5hrs of study between about 10 girls. While this might seem like a pointless exercise unrelated to a massacre, it dawned on me just how powerful and concrete their efforts were. These students were inspired by the words and spirituality of St Josemaria Escriva who said, “An hour of study, for a modern apostle, is an hour of prayer.” These hours weren’t just hours of study, they were hours of prayer, hundreds of hours of prayer offered up for those affected by the massacre. They were a striking witness to me of someone glorifying God from wherever they find themselves, in this case as a student transforming their everyday study into something more meaningful: prayer.
As Catholics, we believe that human beings are created by God and for God. Made in his image and made for relationship with him. The calling, or vocation, of each person is to reflect the image of God and to be constantly transformed into a better image of Him. Similarly to how we are shaped by the friends and family that we hang around the most, this transformation comes about through relationship with God. The deeper the relationship, the more we are transformed, like a lifelong dance of getting better and growing closer to God. At least that’s the idea, assuming it is God we keep dancing with… that’s the goal, the path. A path that’s different for each person, as each person is different and finds themselves in different circumstances. The trick is to find God and build a relationship with him in our everyday circumstances, whatever they may be.
Wanting to grow closer to God in his everyday life a man once asked St Josemaria “Father, what are some good ways, to live in God’s presence every day?”
The saint replied: “It’s in your work that you strive to attain sanctity… we seek sanctity in our work: Sanctifying the work; sanctifying ourselves through it, sanctifying those who work with us”
The work of a student of course, is our studies. Work that it is easy to forget is important and valuable. In studying, we gain knowledge and skills contributing to our personal growth and we seek truth. Sounds Christian to me! After all, we worship Him who is Truth.
The church has a long history of scholarship, starting with Jesus himself at age twelve listening and asking questions of the teachers in the temple, astonishing listeners by his wisdom (Luke 2:41-52). Countless saints were academics and Christian scholarship contributed greatly to the wealth of human knowledge and the development of higher education systems. St Josemaria even goes as far as saying “study is a grave obligation.” He asserts the personal growth of study is indispensable. “You pray, you deny yourself, you work in a thousand apostolic activities, but you don’t study. You are useless then unless you change.”
So it’s important work, but how do we sanctify that work? How do we as the uni students in the study marathon did, transform our study into prayer?
As you’d expect St Josemaria has some tips:
“So before you begin a task, raise your heart to God.”
Beginning our study with a prayer reminds us that we’re in God’s presence. It’s also a much better pre-study ritual than frequent trips to the refrigerator between naps, Facebook, and cleaning your room. Notably this point entails actually starting rather than suddenly feeling the need to do every other task you’ve been putting off. Nb. St Expeditus is the patron saint of fighting against procrastination, you’re welcome.
“Do it for the right reason. For example, if you’re married, do it for your wife, your children, your home – but for God too, For him alone, to please him, because he created us to work.”
Don’t just do it for your lecturer, or because you have to. Do it for God! It is by offering our study or any work we do, to God that we transform it into prayer
“Begin each task that way, and interrupt it from time to time; put a little alarm clock there, right? If it wouldn’t seem out of place, Keep a small picture of our lady next to you… Mary will bring you to Jesus and you will sanctify your work, and stay in God’s presence.”
I don’t know about you, but I need reminders. It’s easy to forget, pretty well instantly that what we’re doing, we’re doing for God. Short prayer breaks remind us of this and help us transform all our tasks into prayer so that we can as the scriptures instruct us, pray constantly.
P’s get degree’s but do they get us to heaven? If we’re studying for God we should give him our best, he deserves nothing less!
So next time we’re stuck in the perils of procrastination, or frustration, or stress that our studies can bring about, or just lacking motivation, let’s take a page from St Josemaria’s book, and with his help (and the countless other scholarly Saints) lift up our thoughts, prayers, and efforts to our Lord and in this way work for him and journey closer to him from the un-comfort of our desks, across the pages of our text book and growing more in love with every word of the word count.
by Eliza Mckay
Originally given as a talk for Catholics at Curtin.