Monastic Library by Reinhard Sebastian Zimmermann, 1893. Public Domain.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be. - The Holy Gospel according to John, Prologue
"To be learning something is the greatest of pleasures." - Aristotle
"Because," I said, "the free man ought not to learn any study slavishly. Forced labors performed by the body don't make the body any worse, but no forced study abides in a soul." - Plato, The Republic
"Nine years", I said to the astonishment of my students, "it has been nine years or more, since I have been bored." It is hard for me to describe precisely the moment, but I place it about eight or nine years ago. Something changed in my life while I was studying philosophy in minor seminary. While reading through the major monuments of philosophical works from Plato to Augustine to Nietzsche, I was beginning an interior and intellectual odyssey, a wandering and searching journey for the resting place for my mind. Something changed in those years. What changed was the discovery of the meaning of human existence.
When I relate to my students the fact that I can honestly say that I have not been bored for so many years, and that I know why I have not been bored, most respond with simple disbelief. Boredom, they think, is an inescapable reality for a human person. After all, we live in an age of distraction and information overload. We live in an age in which information is ubiquitous, but wisdom is scarce. Boredom is like getting tired, or getting hungry, they assume, quite a natural thing that is probably caused by not being entertained. If we just had more interesting video games or better technology nobody would be bored...
Most students today do not understand that the distaste for life that is experienced as boredom is a deeply spiritual malady. The spiritual apathy that is boredom is truth-sickness above all else. Either the bored person has not discovered the basic truth that their is such a thing as truth, or they have failed to become deeply enamored with it upon discovery. The reason I have not been bored for around a decade is because the wisdom culled from ages gone by and certain guiding lights of our own day made me realize that truth is the most wonderful of all things, and the love of it the greatest of human endeavors. People like Fr. James Schall, SJ, Fr. Benedict Ashley, OP, Bishop Robert Barron, Pope Benedict XVI, from our day, and past figures like Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Josef Pieper, and G.K. Chesterton all played the role of teacher to me in the pursuit of knowledge about the most important of things. Their writings served as a remedy to my mind suffering asphyxiation from a lack truth about things that really matter.
The gospel of St. John begins with its famous prologue about the Word. Interestingly, it echoes the creation story in the book of Genesis, but with the full light of revelation that places the creative act of God within the context of the Holy Trinity. Jesus is the eternal Word of God, through whom all things exist and by whom all things were created. God "spoke" and "it was made". What did he speak? He spoke the Word. It is quite fitting for us to say that God has "spoken" creation into existence. Everything that exists is communication. Everything bears the intelligibility proper to words. Everything can lead one to God. In a very real way creation is a book, and we are characters in it. It is the first book we learn to read, and by reading it carefully we are able to discern in vague contours the nature of our Author and discover for ourselves the purpose and meaning of it all. It turns out that everything is interesting because everything is able to lead you to God. Words, books, and libraries are the laboratory where the Word of God searched out, whether in creation or divine revelation. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
The picture Monastic Library captures well the happy fruits that come from a mind wrapped in wonder and dedicated to the pursuit of truth. The monks in their library exude joviality and delight in the prospect of learning because Aristotle was correct: to be learning something is the greatest of pleasures. There is no boredom when there are libraries. Or better yet, there is no boredom for those who are able to wonder, and you will probably find these people in libraries, or at least they will have libraries in their homes. This, in the end, is what a good educator and parent will pass on to his pupils, the love of learning and the desire for truth. Parents, as the first educators, should not entrust this task entirely to school teachers. It is a task too important and too joyful not to partake in. A love of learning can be passed on just as family recipes or carpentry skills, but it requires some good books. Perhaps, this portrait of the monks will prompt you to inspire your children to pick up good books freely, and not slavishly, as though the discovery of truth was a burden or boring, but rather from the perspective of friars convinced, as I am, that all things are interesting and learning a most jovial of all activities.
Sincerely in Christ,