Graduates celebrate at the University of Notre Dame at the conclusion of the May 15 commencement ceremony in Indiana. CNS photo/Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

The Mustard Seed: Graduation ends a journey of pure joy

  • October 29, 2017
Graduating from high school or university can be a poignant moment in life’s journey. It typically marks a transition from one lifestyle to another.

For many, graduation primarily represents the reception of a credential, those years of study being the means to the desired end of receiving a piece of paper which provides entry to a sought-after career.

The widespread “credentialing” of education is a concern as it often replaces the love of truth, goodness and beauty with the goal of “getting ahead.”

Wanting a decent standard of living for oneself and one’s family is a reasonable objective, but the transformation of universities into credentialing machines has undermined the value of learning. If everything we do is a means to a future desired end, what is of intrinsic value?

On Oct. 14, I received the degree of Master of Theology from Newman Theological College in Edmonton, the most joy-filled educational institution I have ever attended.

This is my third master’s degree, but the first one which had the most transformative effect on my life.

Forty years ago, I completed an MA in philosophy at the University of New Brunswick. My time there was marked by a religious conversion back to the Catholic faith in which I had been baptized. The catalyst was the study of St. Augustine’s Confessions.

Augustine’s wonder at the depth and beauty of God and of our need for Him touched the depths of my heart. It transformed me from a stagnating agnostic to a person who lives in order to dwell within God’s word.

That change had a huge impact on my career, as well as on my soul. It led me to teach two years at the Jesuit-run Campion College in Regina and then into 40 years of newspaper journalism, including 30 years as editor of Edmonton’s Western Catholic Reporter.

However, I never had designs on a career in the Church when I began studying philosophy. Just the opposite: I wanted to get as far away from the Catholic Church as possible.

Later, my work at the Reporter deepened my hunger for theological understanding. Our four daughters were young, but between soccer games and piano lessons, I began work on an online master’s degree in theology from the Catholic Distance University.

A good program that was, but by its conclusion, I was just getting geared up. In the interim, Newman College had moved to a new campus, a mere four-minute drive from my home.

My four years of part-time and one year of full-time study at Newman were one of life’s most precious experiences. I began taking classes at the college when I was 60, so future career prospects were not part of my agenda.

At Newman, I encountered the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar in some depth. For Balthasar, there is no theology unless the theologian has made a personal act of faith. Theology is a discipline like no other — it cannot be a detached examination of an object external to the theologian.

Balthasar also broke through the contention that the search for truth is the springboard to all knowing. Beauty, he maintained, must come first for why would we want to know about something unless its beauty attracts us.

Along with delving into Balthasar, I also encountered a friendly, knowledgeable faculty at Newman College as well as many seminarians and lay students drawn by the love of learning about God and His Church.

For many of my fellow graduands, their degrees are credentials that will help them find employment in the Church. Several will be or have been ordained to the priesthood. Others will qualify for positions in the Catholic school system and will help the faith permeate the classroom. Credentials are not a bad thing.

In the early days of universities, however, a degree was more often a ticket to a life of poverty than to one of getting ahead. Education was seen as intrinsically valuable, something worth sacrificing for even if there was no payoff at the end. That attitude persists among many people today. They want their degree, true enough, but it is the thirst for knowledge that drives them.

My life is now moving on to other matters and I am sad that my time as a Newman student is over... at least for the moment. I learned so much and met so many fine people that I wish it could just go on and on.

(Argan is a writer in Edmonton.)

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