It was probably one of the most jarring experiences of my seminary formation. I was afforded the opportunity to sit down one on one with a gifted scholar who was famous for his spiritual insight and his ability to guide souls. I do not want to give too much information away for the sake of confidentiality, but I think it is safe to say that this scholar is known for his gifts and holiness. I was curious his take on spiritual topics, and I mentioned themes connected with the great mystics.
I mentioned in particular St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila, and different aspects of mystical theology to which I am particularly drawn. I was hoping he could help clarify my research. He said to me in a very matter of fact way that he did not understand nor relate to those saints and their theology. He recognized that their work was a legitimate part of the Catholic tradition, but he admitted that it was something to which he did not relate nor understand.
I was taken back. Normally people of such caliber do not admit when they do not understand something. Perhaps they dodge the question or they redirect the conversation. This particular scholar went a step further. Since he saw that I had a particular interest in the topic, he asked me about my research. Again, I was quite taken back. Normally noted scholars do not ask the opinions of graduate students, at least the ones I have gotten to know. It seemed as though he was genuinely interested in learning from me. I was not expecting that.
I learned something incredible from that encounter that I would like to share with others. First, I learned the value of being honest. It seems so obvious, but yet many of us fail to put it into practice. We hide behind masks of who we should be and we project things to the world that do not always fit reality. This tendency is so powerful that we are not always aware that we are doing it.
Second, I learned the value of being vulnerable. That a gifted scholar would have the courage to admit that he did not understand a significant aspect of theology was amazing. Many of us do not like to admit when we do not understand or know things that can be considered important. Such admissions put us in a situation where we can be judged or critique. The scholar I encountered was completely okay with such vulnerability. He was confident enough in who he was to recognize that it was okay to admit weakness.
Although my meeting with scholar did not help me in my research, it proved incredibly valuable. I hope that this article has given you access to the insights I learned from such a rare encounter.