The last time I was on retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky, I noticed the community had published a new brochure about themselves, their ministries, their daily schedule, etc. It was entitled, “A School of Love.”
When I returned home, I researched the phrase and found that monastic communities have referred to themselves as schools of love. In those early days, the word school was one way monks bore witness to the communal nature of the monastic life. But beyond that it was an indication that we only learn to love in community.
The main reason is simply that love does not become challenging until we actually have to love someone! Until then, love is a romantic concept. But in reality love is a relational challenge. The person whom we are called to love never crosses our path in perfect shape. There is always some effort required if we are to love the other–and all the while, they are thinking the same about us.
Moreover, we must not think that we are living as well as we possibly can. So, like grades in a school, there are degrees of love to learn, and the best way to do it is by submitting to the counsel of our elders and by observing the ways they are living in love. The request if novices to desert mothers and fathers, “Give me a word that I might live,” was always rooted in a desire on the part of the novice to grow in love, toward God, toward others, or both together.
A school of love–a communal maturation in the life of love little-by-little. To be in a school eliminates the need for growing by leaps and bounds. School is always in session. We will come back tomorrow to pick up where we left off. But as the monks have wisely reminded us for twenty centuries, the curriculum does not change. It is learning how to love–yesterday, today, and forever (John 15:12; Hebrews 13:8)