Learning till Death

14 March 2006: Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent
Matthew 23, 8-12: You have one teacher and all of you are students.

The January issue of Time reports that recent research confirms that the human brain retains an astonishing degree of plasticity and capacity for learning throughout life. We --- even scientists--- used to think that intellectual power peaks at 40 and then follows a downward trend as we age. Time reports that far from common belief, the brain as it ages brings new cognitive systems, despite some glitches in short term memory used in cramming and memorizing in younger years. Those who age, grow old with wisdom which is the ability to use all of the information we have in our brains everyday, ongoing. That is why many who are in midlife --- 40 to 60 years old --- have the ability to reflect and synthesize, accept the fact of ambiguity in life, and maintain relationships. Thus, our peacemakers, judges and theologians are old.

St. Ignatius in his autobiography wrote about his adult life that God dealt with him ‘as a schoolteacher deals with a pupil’. At age 33, he found himself studying Latin and its basics with 10-14 year-olds in Barcelona in order to prepare him entrance into university. Time tells us the story of Barbara Hustedt Crook, 60, and Robert Strozier, 65, who are collaborating on their first musical.

It is said that all of life teaches us lessons. And all of us are indeed students of one God. In other words, there is no reason for us to stop learning. The reward of learning life’s lessons is learning more.

In the season of Lent, we reflect on our openness and humility to accept instruction, to learn new lessons. We are always in danger to think that we know it all and that our ideas are always the best --- especially if we study in top universities and we have been achievers. Thus, we may also evaluate our ability to listen and be attentive to what others are saying. Perhaps this is a good sacrifice: to learn to listen to others, and suspend for awhile the habit of listening only to ourselves.

*photo by Neo Saicon SJ in one of their English classes. After two years in the Novitiate, the Jesuit scholastic is trained to communicate better in a stage called the Juniorate.

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