7. Love as learning engine

God himself is the great educator and he educates through love, as the Bible teaches us. The experience of feeling loved and to love is at the heart of St L. Murialdo personal experience. It is then expressed in the educational charism of the FSLM. Love favours and supports the learning path, since it starts from accepting the other person as s/he is, it believes in the resources of every one and it shows itself above all through being close, compassionate, open to forgiveness, trust and hope. Thanks to love the pedagogic relationship can find the right rhythm of its expressions in the perspective of the educator and the one being educated growing together.

Sr. Terezinha Militz

If you want to deepen

7. Love as learning engine (Sr. Terezinha Militz)

It is not so easy to speak about love, since love is above a lived experience. Many people have already tried to define love in words. There are thousands of writings on love: books, essays and articles, in all languages and cultures. Not to mention the countless images about love provided by the media. Among them, some are motivating, because they show us love as a value, a human and spiritual virtue we should make our own and live in freedom. Others are the dark portrait of a society driven by capitalism and liberalism, where everything is sold, is temporary and disposable, even love.

Teilhard de Chardin says: “What makes this wonderful world into a realm of hopelessness and irrationality is the failure to understand love. Although it is a world in which all the songs are about love, it is a world that dies without really knowing what love is.” The greatest risk that a human being can find in his life is to yield to the temptation of not admitting the need to love and be loved. Love is the engine and the core of human and spiritual life. “To love and to be loved” is the most beautiful and deepest experience of human beings, from which we learn all the virtues and values.

God educates his people through love

Certainly, we cannot speak of love as engine of learning, in a Christian perspective, without pointing to some biblical models. Since the beginning of history, the book of Genesis tells us, God took the initiative in love, and educated his people in love. “And God created man in His image and likeness, male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) in love, blessed them and called them to continue his creative work. Isaiah reminds us: “I regard you as precious, since you are honoured and I love you… Do not be afraid, for I am with you” (Is 43:4.5). The prophet Hosea shows us how God educates his people, as a mother, through his loving pedagogy: “I was leading them with human ties, with leading-strings of love… I bent down to feed him” (Hos 11:4).

Saint Paul firmly attests God’s love to the first communities: “(I pray) so that, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). “So that… planted in love and built on love, with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth (of Christ’s love)” (Eph 3:17-18). “…Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). It is the Holy Spirit who can provide human beings with love and transform them into the most precious thing in the eyes of God.

St. John in his letter says that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). When we read in the Bible that God is love, it means that God defines love, i.e. God is the very definition of love But how can we even begin to understand this truth? One of the verses that best define it is found in the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” ( Jn 3:16).

The whole life of Jesus is the revelation of this pedagogic love that leads to salvation, as we see in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:5-42) and with the disciples of Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). Both the Samaritan woman as the Disciples of Emmaus, through feeling welcomed in their reality, unconditionally listened and encouraged to accept and understand their life story, awoke to a new life, committed to the witness of love they experienced in the relationship with the Master. In the person of Jesus, love is synonymous with welcoming and listening without preconceptions, boundless tenderness and compassion, unconditional gratitude and forgiveness and life in fullness.

It is important to discover and believe in the love God has for us to stay in his redeeming love and let us be educated, lead and saved by Him. Only God can help us to look at and accept our story as a story of love and salvation, regardless of how it has been, and to make love the main force that moves and drives us to be and act like him. Let ourselves be transformed by his love, knowing that God loves us now, in the present moment, in the situation we are living, and let us transform in the expression of God’s love to the people around us. Our charism motivates us and calls us to this experience, on the example of St L. Murialdo, so that love be the main theme of our educational and pastoral mission.

Love in the educational and pedagogical action of St L. Murialdo

The experience of “loving and being loved” is essential for the integral formation of the human person. Saint Leonard Murialdo experienced it in his life, from his mother’s cradle to the end of his days. The merciful love of God was for him the founding experience. From it comes a life of faithfulness, self-giving and holiness in living the religious and priestly life and in carrying out the ministry developed to take the most relevant social causes of his situation and time, especially in the education of more poor and abandoned youth.

He sees this divine love and defines it as infinite in his greatness; eternal in its intensity; personal as if he was the only one owning it; tender and free as a mother’s love, and even infinitely greater than hers; present at this time in my life and history; and merciful, always ready to forgive and welcome, without counting our sins or measuring our guilt, as stated in Psalm 103. St L. Murialdo said: “God loves me with a love that is so great, so perfect, that it as infinite and eternal as he is; for (…) all that is in God is God: as great, immense, eternal, infinite as God himself is!” (Spiritual Testament, p. 11).

The experience of loving God and letting himself be loved and led by Him, by his will, throughout his life, was the most perfect way to live his vocation and to develop his educational mission. For him, the love of God was all! When you feel loved by God, infinitely, personally, with tenderness and mercy, there is a revolution in your life, he said. For love calls for love! From this spiritual experience L. Murialdo lived, he devised his own way of educating through love, starting from the “education of the heart” (Writings, IV, 27), the integral education of the person, in the style of God’s pedagogical love.

St L. Murialdo listened and contemplated the divine love in people and everyday events. For him, there was no educational value driving the full realization of the person in every dimension with greater force than love. L. Murialdo allowed God’s compassionate and merciful love to educate and transform his self and contemplated Him in the faces of children and young people, welcoming them with gentleness, kindness, respect and familiarity.

His educational practice with young people and concern for their salvation (ne perdantur) demonstrated his belief that “it is not possible to love God without wanting what he wants and without loving unconditionally those whom he loves as a Father (.. .) It is precisely in the love of our neighbour where we discover the truth of love” (PAGOLA José Antonio, Jesus. An historical approach, Claretian Press, Buenos Aires, 2010, p. 268).

Love encourages and motivates learning

The loving pedagogy of God with his people, manifested especially in the person of Jesus, and the educational practice of L. Murialdo make us understand that love transcends any pedagogical approach. Therefore, love must be the core of any educational activity because it constitutes one of the basic pillars holding education, as love generates an empathetic movement causing in the educator the proper attitude to understand the feelings of the one who is educated and in the latter the arousal and motivation in learning and assimilation of values.

Love leads to welcome and accept the other person for what s/he is, with his gifts and flaws and not as we would like him to be. Paulo Freire states: “Whoever loves, he does it loving the flaws and qualities of the beloved”. He continues: “There is no education without love. Love involves struggle against selfishness. Whoever is not able to love uncompleted beings cannot educate. No imposed education, as there is no imposed love. Whoever does not love does not understand his neighbour, does not respect him” (Paulo FREIRE, Education and Change, Paz y Tierra Ed, 31th edition, San Pablo, 2008, p. 29). We only learn when we are open to apprenticeship, and this opening is a provision that just comes out from love and commitment in the educational task.

Believing in people and their potential, proposing the values and letting them walk favouring their active role, is an attitude of one who discovered the greatness of love and experienced it as the only creative and transforming force of his life. We know that “the greater the relational integration, the greater the desire to learn what is not known” (TIBA Içami, Teaching by learning. Overcoming the challenges of teacher-student relationship in times of globalization, Ed Gente, S. Pablo , 1998, 11th Edition, p. 49). The most important thing is to convince us that persons are not always equal, they have not been finished but are always changing, growing and progressing in their own awakening.

The pedagogue Paulo Freire portrays his beautiful experience in education with simple words, but they can contribute much to our pedagogical reflection on the importance of love in education: “I do not know many things, but you need to believe in people. You need to laugh with them, because if we do not do this, we will not learn with people, and even less teach them” (FREIRE Paulo – HORTON Myles, The walk is done walking. Talks on education and social changes, Ed Voces, Petrópolis- RJ, 2002, 2nd Edition, p. 228). And he completes his comment translating the thought of the philosopher Lao Tzu, 604 BC: “Go to the people. Learn with them. Live with them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. For the best leader, when the work is done, when the task is accomplished, all the people will say, we did this by ourselves“(Ibid, p. 229).

The true teacher is not the one who transmits only content, but one who is present, stimulates, accompanies the process, walks beside, values and respects the individuality and culture of the other person, develops critical mind, is able to arouse in the other the desire and pursuit of new knowledge and experience, is also open to continuous learning, grows together, prepares for social integration… Anyway, the real educator is one who teaches learning, proposes taking on and points the way, walking along, as a result of an unconditional love.

We conclude this brief reflection on love as learning engine, commenting that “love” and “education” are synonymous, that there is no real education without love, that whoever loves educates and whoever educates for life–motivating and awakening the other to be more and better as person in his integrity and social and Christian commitment in the world– understood that love is pedagogic and that our educational mission must always be oriented and enlightened by God’s loving pedagogy.

Sr. Terezinha Militz

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