Tuesday, February 14, 2006

With God As Our Schoolmaster


While he was carrying out his abstinence from meat, without any thought of changing it, one morning as he got up, a dish of meat appeared before him as though he actually saw it with his eyes. But he had no antecedent desire for it. At the same time he felt within himself a great movement of the will to eat it in the future. Although he remembered his former resolve, he could not hesitate to make up his mind that he ought to eat meat. Relating this to his confessor later, the confessor told him that he ought to find out whether this was a temptation. But he, examine it as he would, could never have any doubt about it.

At this time God treated him just as a schoolmaster treats a little boy when he teaches him. This perhaps was because of his rough and uncultivated understanding, or because he had no one to teach him, or because of the firm will God Himself had given him in His service. But he clearly saw, and always had seen that God dealt with him like this. Rather, he thought that any doubt about it would be an offense against His Divine Majesty.

For Saint Ignatius the spiritual life is a “school of the heart” with, as he suggests here, God himself as the schoolmaster. If we give ourselves over to God’s will, he suggests, we needn’t wait for God to send us a teacher. God himself will teach us if only we allow ourselves to be attentive to the stirrings of our interior life. This means that we must move beyond our merely intellectual understanding of things and discover how God is active in the many experiences, emotions and even temptations of our lives. What, I must ask, is God trying to communicate to me in the “classroom” of my heart? How can I be more attentive to the lessons which God offers me in my everyday experience?

The image of God as a schoolmaster is especially apt in the context of the philosophy of education developed by the first Jesuit schoolmasters, under the guidance of Saint Ignatius and his successors. A teacher at a Jesuit school was expected not only to be concerned with developing the mind of his students, but the heart and soul of his students as well. Thus, the Jesuit educator was expected to have an attitude of cura personalis, personal care, for each one of his students. If we consider the image of God as schoolmaster in this context, it becomes a very rich image for understanding how God deals with us. God wants to illuminate us intellectually, yes, but if we leave it at that we will miss out on the equally important illumination that God desires to give us for our heart and soul as well. We cannot fully embrace the spiritual life and, indeed, the Christian life, if we only understand our relation to God intellectually.

There is also another aspect of this relationship that the schoolmaster image forces us to see. God’s cura personalis for each of us will not just help us understand things better and make us feel good. Like any good schoolmaster, God will also challenge us to be better, set difficult tasks before us, point out when we are wrong and even, if the Scriptures are to be trusted, punish us at times. Yet, also like a good schoolmaster, God will help us to learn from our mistakes and understand more completely the mercy and love which he offers us as we carry on with our lessons.


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