The Gift of Understanding!

“An educated man knows many things, and one with much experience will speak with understanding.” (Sirach 34:9)

One persistent myth among many Christians is the notion that there is something intrinsically meritorious about being an ignoramus.  Such Christians typically boast “I’m not educated like all those fancy pants people with training in theology, but I know the Holy Spirit personally tells me [insert ignorant dogmatic opinion about spelling reform or the infield fly rule here].”

Such people invariably point to Christ’s tart words directed at the scribes and educated people of His day and say, “See!  Head knowledge is worthless!  But I am truly spiritual in my simplicity and lack of education.”  They make an elementary mistake.  The fact that Jesus rebuked educated people for being prideful about their education is a really bad reason for being prideful about our ignorance.  It is pride, not education, that is the problem.

That’s important to realize, because the same people who advertise lack of education as a virtue are usually the ones who believe that understanding comes, not by trying to understand something, but by some sort of direct, telepathic “illumination” by the Holy Spirit, who just downloads into their minds God’s views of farm subsidies or fly fishing or the works of Ernest Hemingway and “empowers” them to sound off on these and other topics.  Scripture contradicts them.  The gift of Understanding comes to our brains the same way the gift of strength comes to our muscles — by exercise.  Today, ask for understanding and then roll up your sleeves and crack the books.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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  • kirk

    Mark- your column today reminds me of an acquaintance who, when asked her opinion of current events, says, “I never listen to or read the news.” My response is to be silent, but my mind says, “So – what else is new?” I hope that is not a sign of personal pride on my part that I do take an interest in what is going on in our world. How else can we be compassionate, how else can we form ideas and opinions, how else can we vote responsibly if we refuse to be informed, if we never take notice of what is going on in the world and in our community? How can we exist without a context?
    I’m always excited over a new book for what it will teach me, I cry over atrocities like the current one in Newtown, Ct. and I get angry at the obtuse politicians who collect their own salaries while doing nothing to solve the nation’s problems. For me, being as informed as possible is a duty, not a source of pride. God gave us a mind – wasting it is saying to God, thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather be an ignoramus; it allows me to do my own thing.