Cultivating Wonder

As part of my doctoral program this semester, I have the pleasure of serving as a Teaching Assistant for an introductory theology course for honors students at the Catholic University of America. The honors program is full of bright and eager students who want to dive into deep discussions so that they can truly understand the material. 

But as important as intellectual instruction is (and as an Educator in the Faith, I firmly believe that it is good) the founder of Holy Cross reminds his religious that intellectual prowess is not an isolated good. He warned us that “the mind must not be cultivated at the expense of the heart.” And at its best, cultivating the mind leads the heart to wonder at the amazing things God has done. 

I saw this just recently as we were introducing the students to the theology of creation, contrasting the account found in the Book of Genesis with pagan creation myths, and looking at the Catechism of the Catholic Church to deepen our understanding. The students’ questions and interests took our discussion to places we never expected it to go.. 

We ended up talking about angels for over an hour. Something about non-material persons captivated our students, and also provoked legions of questions and clarifications. I was so surprised that my students, who are so well versed in the sciences and engineering — things that are concrete and verifiable — could develop such a sense of wonder when discussing angels. 

Eventually the conversation turned to how God delights in all of his creatures, and how each one reflects God’s glory. And this is true even if we never see it. As one student noted, because of the acceleration of the universe, there are uncountable galaxies that will be moving so quickly away from our own that the light from their stars will never be able to reach us. They are completely inaccessible to us. And yet they have been loved into existence by God. The student began to see that all God’s creation, material or immaterial, gives glory to God just by being, just by existing.

Basil Moreau understood that education has the power to open students’ hearts to wonder and praise and delight in God’s works. It can open them up to the God who alone can satisfy their deepest longings. And, as I am slowly discovering as I pursue my own doctoral studies and as I spend more time in the classroom, it does the same for me. Just as I seek to open students to the wonder and glory of God, I encounter the same. Especially in these students who have been entrusted to me: these students, who are amazing mirrors of the God who delights in them, and who by coming to know that God, come to reveal him more and more to me. Our founder claimed the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart. And I cannot cultivate either of those in these students without the same occurring within me.

Published on October 6, 2023

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