Late summer and early fall marks the beginning of a new academic year. Families have prepared and bought the essentials that make learning possible. Attaining knowledge demands that notebooks, backpacks and digital gadgets be readily available.
The new start also involves rituals that go beyond the acquisition of stuff. In some cases, this means finding time to put closure to relationships, strategizing about logistics, as well as letting go of summer, a time of great spontaneity. In a word, the carefree events and activities are now interrupted by careful planning that predisposes the human spirit to what lies ahead.
Independent of whether we are directly engaged in these back-to-school rituals, we can recognize this transitional time for what it offers us, namely, a moment to step back and assess more honestly what our learning and wisdom has been. Spiritually, for instance, we can embrace this cyclical time as an opportunity for greater discernment and growth in the Spirit of truth and ask what our learning should be.
In faith, we know that this kind of discernment requires courage and intentionality, particularly when it involves the need for real and ongoing conversion. And while being in this space of conversion can be physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually uncomfortable and challenging, we believe that we do not stand alone, especially when learning from others.
Before us is the Communion of Saints, as well as those who are still physically present to us as colleagues, friends and family members. Holy women and men whose lives give testimony to a higher form of learning and wisdom that comes from God: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is before us” (Hebrews 12:1). It is from these holy ones that we can learn how to freely embrace the grace we need and strengthens us.
More to the point, at the heart of our spiritual conversion and learning, we have before us the presence of the living Jesus who leads us in our faith, shows us the path of endurance, and brings our wisdom and faith to perfection (Hebrews 12: 2-3). In fact, the wisdom we seek in our spiritual discernment is never far from the pattern of life set by Jesus Christ — a pattern of life lived in total intimacy with and loving obedience to the Father (John 14:10, 31). It is by seeking to emulate the character of Jesus — His words and deed — that our learning finds a path forward with greater clarity, honesty and confidence.
Only by following in the footsteps of the Master and remaining close to Him can we truly understand what it means to be a disciple of the Lord, in all seasons: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than the master” (John 13:12-16). May this year be full of encounters with others so that we, too, can put into practice what we have learned from our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
Javier Orozco is executive director of human dignity and intercultural affairs for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.