The greatest lesson - Madonna Magazine

The greatest lesson

Brendan Nicholls 26 August 2021

Humans are innately curious. We have a great desire to know things. Each of us has big questions about life, creation and death. We want to know the reason things occur and how we can use our understandings to bring change.

In our Church we are called to know God and choose to live in a relationship with him, and our brothers and sisters, as we journey through life together. Our desire to know God often becomes a desire to understand God. For some this desire is noble, for others it becomes a source of pride encouraged by ego. There is much to learn throughout our lives and there are many great examples we can learn from.

The history of the Church is full of great saints who used their gifts and their immanent relationship with God to serve others. Many of the saints throughout history have been great students and teachers. St Ignatius of Loyola is a wonderful example of a person who encountered God and then had a deep desire to learn more, which in turn allowed him to offer more to the world.


Each member of our Church is capable of discerning their unique vocation and of making the choice to embrace this vision and do what is necessary to become the person God desires them to be.

This choice to be evaluated is whether the actions required are able to be incorporated into one’s daily life. Faith formation can be supported by opportunities within a person’s local parish or diocese. Others choose to enter into formal programs such as the Spiritual Exercises at retreat centres such as Campion in Victoria or enter into academic study to deepen their understanding of our Church and the divine.

When Ignatius was turned away from the Holy Land, he entered into study with great fervour to further his insight to his experiences at Manresa and deepen his theological understandings. His studies led to great insights and furthered his understanding of his vocation, which resulted in time to the formation and guidance of the Society of Jesus.

As a school teacher, I have found the best way teach others is to be a great student. Although Catholic and ‘religious’, I fell into teaching religious education as a homeroom teacher and enrolled into a Graduate Certificate of Teaching Religious Education to gain some confidence and be qualified for the job I was doing.

As with Ignatius, I became particularly curious, and found that the more study I completed the clearer my faith became, and the more able I was to teach others and assist my colleagues.


Ignatius developed a keen awareness of the value found in life-long education. One should never cease to be a learner. I can support this vision as after four further degrees my understanding of our Church and my personal faith is immeasurably deepened, and my curiosity has only increased. With study and knowledge one develops a great humility. The more you know the less you realise you actually know. There is so much to be learned at an academic level.

Our faith, although nourished by study, is not dependent on it. Spiritual formation requires the ongoing search for Jesus and the transformative personal encounter we experience in him. Understanding the Trinity is a challenge as no amount of learning and understanding can resolve the mystery. Study and formation cannot offer all the answers. Trusting in God is the greatest lesson of our faith.

We can seek to understand God, creation and our brothers and sisters but we must accept that we can only know anything to a certain point.

The mystery is intriguing and the desire to know more is a wonderful aspiration. It is only when we accept our inability to unravel the mystery that we truly come to know God.

Acquiring this knowledge is ridiculously simple – trust in him and choose his will. When a person truly reaches this level faith the mystery is resolved, and life can be lived in his presence.


All the study Ignatius completed and all the study I have completed lead to one understanding. The mystery of God can only be deciphered in knowing that we are not able to fully know, and that we are called to trust in this insight.

The answer has been with us for over two thousand years. Jesus showed us from the beginning what is required to understand God. In his humanity and in his divinity, Jesus did not completely understand God’s plan but trusted in him and sought to live in a perfect relationship with the Father and his children.

If we could all do the same study may not even be needed. Every answer is found in Jesus – follow him.