Do you study for fun?
As adults, it’s easy to get caught up in work, whether it’s the professional work of our paying job, the work of raising a family, the work of volunteering, or even the work of a hobby like a sport or musical instrument. Our culture is work-centric, focused on results, and often driving us to be workaholics. There’s good and bad in that, yet one of the downsides (and there are many) of this culture is the marginalization of learning and study for leisure.
I, too, find myself so caught up in the responsibilities of family, work, and social commitments that carving out the time to read or learn something new each day can be tough. And with the advent of the smartphone and the proliferation of screen time, sitting down quietly with a book has lots of competition. I’ll admit, I don’t read nearly as much as I would like.
And I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, this challenge isn’t new, although it is certainly made worse by our technocratic society. Over 350 years ago, the French thinker, Blaise Pascal famously observed,
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
I agree with Pascal that if we had a more contemplative spirit and, in a sense, felt more comfortable in our own skin, the world would be a very different—and better—place.
True, Good, and Beautiful
Yet, why study for leisure? And what should one study? One simple reason is to fill one’s mind with the truth, with what’s good and beautiful. In a culture filled with fake news, rumors, gossip, and ugliness, it’s not easy to happen upon the true, the good, and the beautiful in the mainstream media, Hollywood, or social media. One has to seek it and a good way to start is by reading good books.
Of course one may ask oneself: how do I know what a good book is when there are so many choices? First, one cannot go wrong with the Classics of our Western Civilization. These great works may seem daunting to the uninitiated but they are certainly worth the effort to read and understand them. Some personal recommendations would be anything by Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Thomas More, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Alexis de Tocqueville, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and many others.
A Classic Case Study
Recall the young Íñigo of Spain who loved military exercises, fame, power, and glory. According to one account, he was “a fancy dresser, an expert dancer, a womanizer, sensitive to insult, and a rough punkish swordsman who used his privileged status to escape prosecution for violent crimes committed.” An illustrious military career ensued, yet when only 29 years old, he suffered a severe injury on the battlefield and needed to rest and recuperate, his career apparently over.
Íñigo recuperated in a hospital where there were only two kinds of reading materials available: tales of worldly glory and military conquest, and Scripture and volumes of the lives of the saints. He gravitated toward the worldly books first, but felt what he called a desolation in his soul after reading these. Upon reading the scriptures and lives of the saints, he felt a consolation that pointed him to Christ.
This young, power-hungry womanizer converted and became one of the greatest saints in history: Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Reading good books really can help make one a saint!
In this, I echo the early twentieth century French novelist Léon Bloy, who reminds us:
“The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”
Study not only improves one’s mind; it ennobles one’s soul. What would you like to know more about?