Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God (Updated 2017)

If you have not yet read this essay by mystic Simone Weil, you might want to pick up a copy of her Waiting for God or The Great Tradition, (which incidentally contains an excellent collection of original texts with educational significance--see a table of contents here). Both books contain Weil's essay. (In 2017, I found this online pdf of the magnificent essay.)

Her essay is more a collection of thoughts which explores the connection between applying oneself to a tedious geometry problem and the ultimate attitude of the soul to God. For a teacher or student, this essay is provocative and searching. And for anyone interested in love of neighbor, this piece has some striking things to say. Hugh of St. Victor said studies were a road to God in his Didascalicon. Jean LeClercq did a historical-cultural study on the Benedictine connection between the love of learning and the desire for God. Here Weil meditates on the same theme.

Here is an excerpt:

The capacity to give one's attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity are not enough. In the first legend of the Grail, it is said that the Grail (the miraculous vessel that satisfies all hunger by virtue of the consecrated Host) belongs to the first comer who asks the guardian of the vessel, a king three-quarters paralyzed by the most painful wound, "What are you going through?"

The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: "What are you going through?" It is a recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from the social category labeled "unfortunate," but as a man, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction. . . . For an adolescent, capable of grasping this truth and generous enough to desire this fruit above all others, studies could have their fullest spiritual effect, quite apart from any particular religious belief. Academic work is one of those fields containing a pearl so precious that it is worthwhile to sell all our possessions, keeping nothing for ourselves, in order to be able to acquire it.

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