(Acts.1:1-11; Heb.9:24-28, 10:19-23; Lk.24:46-53)
How long does it take to become highly skilled at something?
In his bestselling book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell says that you have to practise for 10,000 hours before you can truly master a skill. ‘In study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists (and) chess players,’ he says, ‘this number comes up again and again.’
The Beatles, for example, reached the heights of success because they spent 10,000 hours playing live music in the clubs of Hamburg, Germany, before touring England and America.
Mozart, too, put in 10,000 hours of hard practice before producing his greatest work. And as a student, Bill Gates spent 10,000 hours programming huge university computers before starting Microsoft.
10,000 hours, Gladwell says, are roughly equivalent to 10 years. That’s 2.7 hours of practice a day, every day, for 10 years to be good at something. [i]
Some people have criticised this theory, saying that it’s too simplistic and that it overlooks other important factors, like the influence of genetics, the quality of the practice and the level of encouragement the person might receive. [ii]
But Gladwell’s basic point is valid: it takes time and dedication to develop high level skills and understanding in any field.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, the moment when Jesus farewells his disciples and returns to heaven because he has completed his earthly mission. He has taught his disciples all they need to know, and now it’s up to them to continue his work.
Jesus knows they can’t do it on their own, so he promises to send his Holy Spirit to help them (Jn.14:16). This, of course, happens at Pentecost.
But how much confidence did Jesus have in his disciples? Earlier, in Luke 18:8, he asks the question: ‘when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on Earth?’
Jesus must have worried about this, and for good reason, because today many people have stopped learning about their Christian faith. They’re either no longer interested, or they think they know enough already.
So why should we keep learning about our faith? Here are two reasons:
Firstly, it’s because our world is in a mess; it’s full of conflict, corruption and pain.
Many people think that more money, technology, laws and even weapons will fix things. But history proves that’s not true. We cannot transform our sinful world without God. So, we need to keep learning from him.
Secondly, it’s because of all our unanswered questions. Including: what’s the meaning and purpose of life? What’s the point of suffering? How can I find peace and happiness? And how do we get to heaven?
Until we understand all these things, we need to keep learning.
Jesus said, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (Jn.10:10). In other words, he came to teach us how to live, how to love and how to get to heaven. But what does this mean for us personally?
St John Paul II used to worry that too many Catholics really don’t understand their own faith. He encouraged us all to do something every day to strengthen our beliefs – to read the Bible, to learn about the saints, to pray, to go to Mass.
The important thing, he said, is to keep learning and growing.
He practised what he preached. Every day, before going to bed, he read books or articles he’d set aside during the day. Every Tuesday he invited 5 or 6 experts in various fields – theology, philosophy, sociology, politics, culture or science – to talk and have lunch with him. He believed in lifelong learning.
‘All men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life,’ he once said. ‘In a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.’
But it takes time and effort to create any masterpiece.
And of course, every learner needs a teacher. St Therese of Lisieux called Jesus the Teacher of teachers. She said, ‘…though I’ve never heard him speak, I know he’s within me, always guiding and inspiring me; and just when I need them, lights… break in upon me’.
So, how much time do you spend learning about your faith? At least 10,000 hours? The more you learn, of course, the more you realize how much you don’t know.
So, here’s the point: it’s not enough to say you believe in God. Even the devil believes in God (Jas.2:19).
Unless you truly understand Jesus Christ, and reflect
him in your daily life, you have more learning to do (Jas.2:17).
[i] Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success. Penguin Books, London. 2009:35.