A Growth Mindset
God's creation of nature has this idea of growth built in to its core. Nature tends to grow and to keep growing. It tends toward massive growth if you consider, for example, how many seeds a single tree produces in order to grow more of its kind.
The Saints Know that We Need to Grow
The saints understand that it is essential for us to continue to grow in our spiritual lives. We simply cannot remain where we are. No matter where we have been or what we have experienced, we can live differently than we did in the past.
We are in a relationship with God, and we want to grow in that relationship. The saints want to know God better. They want to change the way they act in order to live in conformity with God's expectations for them. In other words, they want to become saints.
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Education with a Switch
At that time, it was considered that an essential part of providing an education involved quite a bit of use of the switch. It was not so much physical punishment for misbehavior as it was a way to "punish" the student for getting his lessons wrong. Failure to conjugate the verb correctly or forgetting a word in repeating a memorized quote, for instance, might result in receiving numerous blows from the switch.
Although we might struggle to understand this way of teaching, it was the "done thing", and the students naturally suffered from it. It is a bit like the idea that existed for a long time that letting someone bleed would improve their health. Today, we know that is a dangerous way to treat a patient. Yet, for many centuries it was part of the practice of medicine.
A Mother's Plea
On one particular day, Anselm's mother Ermenberg asked him about his lessons. And she pointedly questioned whether he had received any whippings that day. Because he did not like to tell tales outside of school so to speak, Anselm answered in the negative although it was not true. His mother's instincts were typical of most mothers and she decided to find out for herself because she did not think Anselm's answer told the actual story. When she looked at his back, it was clear that he had received the switch many times that day.
Anselm, although he loved his mother, did not agree with her stance. Instead, he faced up to his mother and replied, "If I have to die for it, I intend to go learning, and I shall be a clergyman." His mother than tried to dissuade him from becoming a priest by suggesting that he become a knight instead. Ermenberg promised Anselm a fine suit of armor if he would simply change his mind. He, however, was not to be bribed.
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A Balanced Life of Prayer, Sharing, and Serving
Anselm would go on to be ordained, and he would also continue to pursue his hunger for learning. Anselm would later become a monk, an abbot, and finally the Archbishop of Canterbury. Through these offices, Anselm allowed God to work in growing his interior life. As a monk, he developed the discipline of prayer and became an effective preacher. As an abbot, Anselm learned how to help others grow in their spiritual lives. And finally, as archbishop, he let God work through him to defend the Church against the encroachments by the kings of England.
Anselm was also an accomplished theologian. He takes his place between St. Augustine who lived 600 years before him and St. Thomas Aquinas who lived 100 years after him. Much of his work employed the gift of human reason to provide defenses for the tenets of the faith instead of solely relying on Scripture. His well-known phrase was, "Faith seeking understanding."
The Ability to Grow
However, he also showed his capacity for growth by breaking away from the norms of his day regarding how to educate young men. Anselm was able to move out of the cycle of doing something because it has always been done that way. Or the other mindset that believes if it was good enough for my generation, it is good enough for the next generation.
Yes, he had been treated in a very rough way as a young student, but he did not believe that it needed to be that way. And, in fact, Anselm was convinced it was not a good way to provide instruction.
Perhaps, Anselm knew about the ill effects from his own personal experience. When he was 15 years of age, he had attempted to enter a monastery only to be turned away. He took the rejection personally and apparently became depressed. His recovery from his depression seems to have been accomplished by a release of the pent up resentment he had from his youth and living a carefree life that swung far in the opposite direction.
Then, in the midst of his wild living, Anselm's mother died. It seems that the loss of his loving mother was a turning point for Anselm. Soon after her death, he began his return to faith. By God's grace, he once again resumed the more fervent practice of his faith and continued on the spiritual path that led him to eventually become a saint and a doctor of the Church.
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