the secret of study

Jun 26, 2013

If you had told me when I was at High School, that in thirty years time I would be spending several hours each day sitting in a classroom with other students listening to a teacher, and the rest of each day reading and writing papers, I would not have been happy!  

I was not a good student at High School, and my results reflected my struggle. But somehow I got through, and here I am in my early 50’s, spending several hours each day sitting in a classroom…

Today, and often when sitting in class or at my study desk, I think of and pray a prayer for all high school and university students who are struggling with their studies. One of my problems at school was that no one ever really taught me to study. Much of the class and reading information seemed to go in one ear and out the other. Some of you will be able to relate to what I was saying.

I am convinced that the secret to study is prayer.  I don’t mean praying instead of studying. If I were to only pray and ignore the study there would be no learning, so why would I then bother with the classroom and the reading? 

Study lubricates the mind and the information gained opens doors to a more full experience of life now and into the future. Study isn’t just about getting a job. Study is the method to intellectual maturity.

It is prayer that keeps study (indeed keeps all of human existence) in perspective. I know from my own experience that when I’m in the midst of work on a paper or preparation for an exam, the reality of human life can take on a selfish and even sour flavour as fear of failure creeps in. Prayer keeps me focussed on the more complete reality.

If you don’t believe me, try it!   Make a decision to begin and conclude every day with prayer. Perhaps a minute before you get out of bed in the morning, and the moments after you turn out the light at night.  
  • Begin with the Sign of the Cross. 
  • Then just talk to Jesus in your own words about the day ahead or the day past. Ask Jesus to give you the ability not to forget that he is with you. 
  • Then conclude with a prayer you know well, perhaps an Our Father or the Hail Mary. 

You might also ask your Godparents or Grandparents to pass on to you a couple of their favourite prayers. I still use a simple prayer that my grandmother taught me when I was a toddler. “Now I wake! see the light! God has kept me through the night.  Keep me good dear Lord I pray. Guide and guard me through the day!”

And now to prayer during a time of study, Take a minute when you begin to study, to remember that you are not alone. Jesus is with you.  One of the powerful and traditional study prayers at the start of class or study is the prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Come Holy Spirit, 

fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them 

the fire of your love.

V. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.

R. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. 
Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

If you find yourself struggling in the middle of a class, or alone in study, just close your eyes for a moment, and remember again that you are not alone. The God of miracles is with you. Tell Jesus what you think you need. And then let him tell you what he knows that you need to receive from him.

And there is a second part to this secret as well. (now this secret is the way that I need to live every day, but in the midst of many things I forget this call).

Make a decision every time that you pray, to not give in to any sin. Sin is exhausting. While sin promises everything, it delivers nothing. Sin is much more harmful than just wasting time. Sin creates problems for us (and for others) that have consequences well into the future. Our personal experience teaches us this.  

I am often tempted by thoughts and actions that promise fulfillment and happiness. When I give in to the temptation, I am left feeling less happy and more unfulfilled than before. Look at your own experience…am I right? The one who seeks to bring energy and focus to study (or to any other virtuous project), can not afford to throw away energy in sin.

Here are some commitments that you might make each day to help you to live in intimate relationship with God and free from the compulsion of sin.

  1. Pray that the Holy Spirit will kindle in you the fire of divine love.
  2. Ask the Holy Spirit to instruct your heart, revealing to you any way in which you struggle to keep the teachings of Jesus and of the Church. Perhaps this is a personal struggle with forgiveness, love of enemy, justice, care for those in need or some aspect of sexual morality.
  3. Express to Jesus your desire to live fully all that he has taught, and also tell him of your desire to live in harmony with all that the Church communicates to us. While this is the commitment that we make in our baptism, it is helpful to renew this, especially when we need the energy that sin saps from us for our study. Since the Mass and the Sacraments are at the heart of our personal encounter with Jesus in the Church, you might even make Mass on a weekday (as well as Sunday), and the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the heart of your study commitment.
This is not a magical recipe for study success. Instead this is a simple rhythm of focus on Jesus who is with us in every moments, and especially in the midst of struggles with study.

OK, I have just re-read what I have written here and I am feeling encouraged. Let all of us who are studying these days, and those of you who feel for us, pray for each other too.

Now, back to the books!


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