August 2021: Study Rules
Sacred Study requires the consecration of our life to Almighty God and His holy service. "No man, being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with secular businesses; that he may please him to whom he hath engaged himself." (2 Timothy 2:4) This is why Bishops and Pastors as well as other clergy assisting them should be freed as far as is possible from secular work, because they are dedicated to the work of God by their holy office. The work of Pastor is indeed a large work, which takes the time, energy and dedication of those who hold this office.
"Priests who have only a handful of souls may become theologians and authors, and may serve the Church more lastingly by their writings than by their activity. Leisure and tranquility are two necessary conditions for sacred study. “The charm of leisure must not be indolent vacancy of mind, but the investigation or discovery of truth, that thus every man may make solid attainments without grudging others to do the same." (Augustine City of God Book 19, Chapter 19)" (The Eternal Priesthood, Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, page 84)
All are called to study of the Sacred Sciences, especially of Sacred Scripture. Let us consider the conditions needed for Sacred Study to be fruitful.
The first requirement is a love of the Truth.
"And in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying: That all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity." (I Thessalonians 2:10-11) The truth is the center of our Faith, for God is Truth.
The next requirement is a sincere and true humility, remembering what manner of man we are.
Any progress in Sacred Science comes from Almighty God. Saint John Climacus says: "Pride makes us forget our sins, for the remembrance of them leads to humility." As the Psalmist says: "For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me." (Psalms 50:5) "Let nothing be done through contention, neither by vain glory: but in humility, let each esteem others better than themselves: Each one not considering the things that are his own, but those that are other men's." (Philippians 2:3-4)
We must all be selfless, especially those of us undertaking sacred study. "Charity seeks not her own" (I Corinthians 13:5) We do not undertake sacred study for our own benefit, but so that we may benefit others. "But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you." (1 Peter 3:15)
Saint Thomas Aquinas said he did his best work before the tabernacle. It is this dedication to prayer that is also essential, because without prayer our work is worth less than nothing. It was a departure from prayer that led to Luther's apostasy from the Faith. Let us remember that the clergy are humble men of prayer. And all are called to a life of prayer: "Pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17) This means we live a life always in connection with Almighty God. "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31) We should start every action of ours for Almighty God, no matter how trivial it may seem.
"Therefore, behold I will allure her, and will lead her into the wilderness: and I will speak to her heart." (Osee 2:14) The word that is here translated as wilderness is solitudinem, from which we get the word solitude. Now this is a spirit of solitude, not a mere retirement to a place of solitude. We can retire to the wilderness and yet take the noise of the world with us in our heart. In fact, we can take the noise of the world with us with out Ipods, phones, etc. We have seen someone who was off grid with no signal, plugging into the world as best as he could, which is not what we should be doing. Others can achieve the spirit of solitude amidst the noise and distractions of the world by being at peace in their heart.
We should consider this solitude in greater detail. We need to acquire the spirit of silence, retiring away from the noise of the world. St. Bernard says: "Silence and the absence of noise in a certain manner force the soul to think of God and of eternal goods." Saint Alphonsus reports: "One day our Lord said to St. Teresa: 'Oh, how willingly I would speak to many souls, but the world makes so great a noise in their hearts that My voice cannot be heard! Oh, if they would but separate themselves a little from the world!'" The prophet, Isaias (30:15) writes: "For thus saith the Lord God the Holy One of Israel: If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved: in silence and in hope shall your strength be." This spirit of silence and retirement from the world is essential to sacred study.
Tranquility and serenity are also essential to Sacred Study.
"A double minded man is inconstant in all his ways." (James 1:8) To be single minded or simple is essential to achieve this tranquility, which requires removing all that is not of God in our lives. We need to imitate Mary Magdalene and choose the best part. An agitated heart is the enemy of Sacred Study. Jesus says: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid." (John 14:27) Saint Paul tells the Colossians (3:15): "And let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts, wherein also you are called in one body: and be ye thankful."
Another danger to be avoided is working too much.
We can become so absorbed in holy work, that we forget the more important part, that is holy contemplation. Several Catholic authors consider that two to six hours a day is the most we should dedicate to concentrated work. And we should not work seven days a week, but take a rest as God did after the creation. We need to get away from the serious work and retire to prayer and time with God. We also need to get away for a walk or other diversion. The story is told of Saint John the Evangelist towards the end of his life. He was taking a break from contemplation and playing with a partridge. Someone chastised him for this. He said we all need to take a break.
There is danger in too much study.
Father Faber considers some the cures for lukewarmness, among which is: "The second is, not having many things to do. It is no use. The times are busy. But we cannot save our souls if we have so many things to do. But the remedy? Good soul! There are some knots in life which cannot be untied; the thing is to cut them, and leave the consequences to help themselves. If you have more duties to do than you can do well, you must boldly neglect some of them. Only have faith, and God will spirit the consequences away, so that you will see nothing more of them." And let us consider Martin Luther wrote a letter before his defection from the Faith: "I could use two secretaries. I do almost nothing during the day but write letters. I am a conventual preacher, reader at meals, parochial preacher, director of studies, overseer of eleven monasteries, superintendent of the fish pond at Litzkau, referee of the squabble at Torgau, lecturer on Paul, collector of material for a commentary on the Psalms, and then, as I said, I am overwhelmed with letters. I rarely have full time for the canonical hours and for saying Mass, not to mention my own temptations with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. You see how lazy I am."
Over work leads us to so concentrate on work, that we leave the important part. And this danger is especially present in sacred study. Saint Paul warned the Corinthians (I Corinthians 8:1): "Knowledge puffeth up; but charity edifieth." Saint Thomas Aquinas says: "If study does sometimes become an act of supernatural contemplation, it is inasmuch as by study we are led on to the love of God." The main reason for sacred study is to come closer to God. In fact, our first goal is our own sanctification without which our preaching will be in vain.
Today's world is inspired by Calvinism, which gave birth to the Protestant Work Ethic. This idea sees taking holy leisure to prepare for a return to prayer and to work as an evil. We must constantly be at work, like Luther above. Luther wrote: "I rarely have full time for the canonical hours and for saying Mass." One can reasonably presume Luther had no time left for prayer, which is why he became a heretic. He was lecturing on Saint Paul and writing a Commentary on the Psalms, but was most likely taking none of this to heart. There is much good in Saint Paul's Epistles and in the Psalms, but our study can easily become dry and worthless. In Acts (18:3) we read that Saint Paul made tents. While occupied in humble work, we can come closer to God, because humility is essential to a preacher.
In Wisdom we read: "Before prayer prepare thy soul." (Ecclesiasticus 18:23) In order to preach well, we must first of all be men of prayer, which requires this preparation for prayer. Preachers must live the Gospels. Let us consider the example given by our Lord Jesus Christ. "And when he had dismissed them, he went up to the mountain to pray." (Mark 6:46) After preaching He prayed. He also prayed before choosing the Apostles: "And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God." (Luke 6:12)
A Dominican, Antonin Sertillanges, wrote a work, The Intellectual Life on Sacred Study. Let us consider something he said: "Those two hours are given to concentration, but the consecration of the whole life is none the less necessary." Elsewhere he notes that two to six hours are the most one can devote to concentrated study, because of the depth of the material. More important is how we spend the 167 hours outside of the pulpit, than the hour we spend within it. It is the sanctification of our life that is more important than what we preach. In fact, we are preaching by the way we live far more than by what we say.
To learn more please watch our video "Holy Leisure".