No, an Essay on the Internet is Not Enough

I have mentioned this before, but I am going to discuss this topic again. A person cannot know everything about a topic or an author based on 1500 words. We live in an age of immediate gratification. Far too many of us want short answers to complex questions and we make the mistake in thinking that an essay on the Internet is going to give us the total picture or explain complex realities to us. If we want to truly understand a topic then we have to do the work and study it on our own.

Writers who write for national/international blogs or news magazines have a word limit. Depending on the site, the editor imposes a word count that is considered ideal for their readership. Catholic Exchange, where I have been a weekly contributor for nearly 18 months, tends to shoot for 1500 words; however, the editor is lenient with me and has allowed me to hit close to 2000 depending on the topic. The Federalist on the other hand is definitely more interested in keeping to a strict 1500 word count and their editors shorten pieces to fit their readership. That’s the job of an editor.

This word count limitation makes sense. We are writing essays, not books. Most people get bored or tired reading long articles on the Internet and are less likely to finish reading one in its entirety if it drones on. The Internet by its very nature is a place of short, pithy, and introductory explications. It is the medium of books to go into further detail on a particular topic.

This is important to keep in mind when reading any author’s essay on the Internet. I commonly receive complaints that I missed this topic or that, or that I didn’t give a thorough explanation on an issue. How could I? My job as a writer on the Internet is to provide an introduction or a short explanation of complex topics. I also have to keep to one topic at a time. I obviously missed all of the other topics outside of my scope.

I published a piece on Fides et Ratio, a 130 page encyclical. I am not positive, but it may be Pope Saint John Paul II’s longest encyclical. The aim for my essay was to help Catholics see that resources, vast resources, exist inside of the Church to help us confront the claims of agnostics, atheists, and other interlocutors in the culture. I was not giving a thorough reading of the encyclical. To do that I would have to write a book and, quite frankly, I introduced the encyclical because I want people to go out and read it. It is hyperlinked in the article I wrote and above.

The Internet is a great tool for gathering information. I use it regularly as a writer and a graduate student, but in order to delve deep into a topic I have to read books, many books, on different topics. There are no quick, short, easy answers to complex questions. My essay on FR wasn’t even meant to be taken as a response to atheism and agnosticism. You have to read FR or the Catechism to begin to understand the Church’s teaching on faith and reason. I cannot possibly provide the necessary arguments to scientific or philosophical questions in 1500 words which would prove satisfactory to our critics. Instead we must study our resources, learn the arguments, and use them in proper mediums.

Not to mention that, in my experience, those interlocutors who communicate in comboxes are more interested in ad hominems and assumptions than serious intellectual inquiry and honest intellectual discussion. My atheist friends are much easier to engage in discourse in person without the temptation to incivility that is prevalent on the Internet today. That is why I dealt with the one troll in the article by suggesting they study the Catholic understanding first and then come back for discussion. I was encouraging honest intellectual inquiry, something that is vastly ignored in the new and arrogant atheism. I read atheist philosophers to understand their position. Atheists need to read actual Catholic sources first before they can engage in intelligible discussion. You can’t debate a position you have not studied.

This is the problem, though. People think that it is possible to get the entire answer in 1500 words or less. The Internet runs the risk of making us intellectually lazy. We want immediate answers and gratification, rather than doing the work that is needed. Nobody is expected to embark on the path of a theologian or philosopher if it is of no interest to them, but it is possible to study the basics in order to develop enough of a grasp to respond when questions arise. St. Paul tells us we must be able to give account for our joy. We cannot do that if we are ignorant of what our Faith teaches us.

My husband and I had heated discussion about this last night. He was complaining about the lack of fire in Homilies and how theologically minded priests tend to bore the parishioners. I guess because I study theology, I greatly enjoy the deeper Homily. My husband wants to hear more about living the mission and the fear of Hell. Fair enough. There is a dearth of Homilies on the Last Things and many have devolved into the current heresy of moral therapeutic deism. I agree with him, but I disagree with him that this would be enough to help people respond when they go off to a secular university.

A relationship with God, I prefer communion to relationship because of its ontological implications, is crucial and foundational for the Christian. If we do not love God, then we cannot grow in holiness and work towards our eschatological end which is to be united in communion with the Beatific Vision. This is all well and good, but our relationship with God cannot be our justification in the face of rationalism, reductionism, materialism, nihilisim, relativism, scientism, and utilitarianism, all of which are prevalent systems in our culture. The answer “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ” is not going to satisfy the scientific atheist, not mention that it oversimplifies greatly what it means to be a Catholic. Instead we must appeal to the reasoned arguments of our tradition, most widely laid out by St. Thomas Aquinas and other saints, or the recent work of Pope Saint John Paul II or Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as well as the whole host of orthodox theologians at our disposal through a plethora of books.

Yes, there has been a major break down in catechetical development over the last 50 years, chances are, even longer. My experience of CCD classes in the 80’s and 90’s can be summed up in one word: felt. God gave me a dad who is a philosophy major with a profound love of Aristotle and Aquinas, which inflamed a love of learning within me at a young age. For that I am eternally grateful.

We must acknowledge that the Church suffers from self-inflicted wounds. This is an area in need of serious attention, but we also must come to accept that it is our responsibility to learn the faith. It is not our priest’s or the religious education coordinator’s, it is ours. All of the documents we need are on the Vatican website, in the Catechism, or in Scripture. Not to mention that thousands upon thousands of books have been written over the last 2000 years to guide us on the journey to holiness. We must take responsibility for our faith and not pass the buck elsewhere.

As parents, it is our duty to pass down the Faith. We will all stand before God some day and have to give account for what we did with the children He gave to us and whether or not we taught them the Faith while they were young. If we don’t know the answer to a question, then we find it. Children learn to pray, give, attend Mass, and live lives of holiness from their parents first and everyone else second. The catechist at our parishes cannot possibly teach our children holiness in one-hour a week, nor should we want them to. If our children are not living the faith or interested, then we must look to ourselves. Now, when they are adults they make their own choices. As long as we do the best we can, the rest is left up to prayer and fasting.

Reading blogs, essays, and articles on the Internet is a worthwhile pursuit. We learn news and new information from a wide variety of sources. We connect with the rest of the world in an instant. While it is a good, we cannot fall for the trap of thinking we can know everything we need to know about a topic or an author in 1500 words, or worse, when we only skim an article and then comment on it or email the author. We all skim at one time or another.

The Internet is a great place to begin, but we must be willing to enter into deeper study through books and documents that go into greater depth. You cannot understand FR in its depth and beauty from my 1500 word essay. You have to read it for yourself. You won’t be sorry and even if some of it is confusing, you can at least begin to understand the basic arguments. While Pope Saint John Paul II was a brilliant philosopher and complex thinker, many of his Church documents are widely accessible in understanding. May God bless you on the journey of growing in deeper communion with the Most Holy Trinity through the use of both faith and reason.

Letters from Homeschool: Jumping from Preschool to Kindergarten

Child reading  pile of books.

Last month I formally, well, semi-formally, started to home-school my 4 year old daughter. We did letter crafts and other activities over the past year, but it wasn’t a set curriculum I was using. I had decided to order the Catholic Heritage Curriculum for Pre-school to get us started. The set came with what we needed, including lesson plans. I started looking through the workbooks and noticed, much to my wallet’s chagrin, that Michaela already knew most of what was provided in the Pre-school packet. I told my husband that I needed to buy some Kindergarten materials to supplement. He told me to wait a little while to get into a routine. I agreed.

In the beginning it was a bit difficult to get her going, but then out of nowhere, her learning exploded. She started writing letters and drawing non-stop. She began to grasp sounds and was retaining a ton of information. Even though she would battle me at times during school, I found that she was absorbing it anyway. My husband and I knew that God had given us a very bright daughter. In fact, I often tell people that she is smarter than my husband and me put together. I struggled to find materials to keep her busy and I cut back our time at Co-op because she is ahead in much of what is offered for her age.

So here we are mid-October and I absolutely have to jump her into Kindergarten. Yes, she is 4. The temptation is to just let her have a year of freedom and wait to start until next year when she is 5. The problem is that she wants to learn. She keeps telling me that she wants to be able to read. So, sure, I could hold her back, but why would I? Yes, we home-school because we have concerns about the public school environment these days. My husband and I both went to public schools and things have changed drastically since our time. While our Catholic faith is a part of our reasoning, my biggest reason for homeschooling is to teach her at her pace.

Human beings are not carbon cutouts of one another. Some kids her age are still mastering colors and learning to count to 5. Some kids are already reading at her age. I want her to learn at her pace, not some arbitrary pace set by some bureaucrats who really don’t care about sound education. Pardon my cynicism after having taught in public schools briefly which resulted in my radical shift away from teaching high school.

I have decided to encourage her and teach her at her pace. At this point she will graduate a year early, but in reality we may hit a year where she really struggles in a subject. Then we have the option to put on the brakes and focus, even take an extra year if we have to. Part of the beauty of home-schooling is that the child leads in their own education. She may get to high school and stumble over Geometry and Trigonometry like I did, or she may breeze right through it. She may need time to emotionally mature and we can slow down so she doesn’t graduate too early, or she may be ready for whatever vocation God calls her to.

I was sitting in the waiting room at the optometrist’s office the other day listening to my daughter talk to a fellow patient. She was writing down letters and sounds for this woman and the woman was shocked that she is 4. I said we home-school and she said now it made sense. It’s not that intelligent people don’t go to public schools. Plenty of intelligent kids go to public schools or private schools. The problem is that many of those kids are bored to tears because they are ahead or frustrated because they cannot keep up. There are a good many who are content in the middle. Why shouldn’t education meet the needs of each individual and unique human being? Quite frankly, it should. That includes in technical areas that don’t require a college level education.

At this point my daughter is ready for Kindergarten and I am along for the ride. Homeschooling isn’t easy and I have days that I need serious patience, but then she shows me that she is learning even if she is having a battle of wills with me. What an amazing, difficult, and sanctifying journey we are on. Pax Christi.

GIVEAWAY: The Little Book of the Blessed Virgin Mary-2 Copies

mary

It’s the month of Mary, so I am going to give away two copies of the book I am reading right now. It is called The Little Book of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Raoul Plus, S.J. I am really enjoying the book and want to share it with you. Here is a description of the book from the publisher, Sophia Institute Press:

“Watching Jesus grow daily in wisdom and grace, the Blessed Virgin Mary pondered in her heart the secrets of her divine Son.

Because Our Lady watched Christ grow each and every day, she created the most valuable manual of Christian perfection that can be had: her own heart.

When from the Cross Jesus said, “Behold your mother,” He invited us to read that manual — the book of the heart of Mary — wherein are found the secrets of the King.

Unfortunately, few of Mary’s words have come down to us, so we must read her heart as she read the heart of Jesus. We must ponder not only her words, but also the events of her life — her attitudes, her actions, and even her silence.

By imitating Our Lady, our lives — like hers — may also come to be full of grace.

In The Little Book of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Fr. Raoul Plus helps us do just that, opening for us the book of the heart of Mary in the simplest yet most vivid ways.

In pages filled with great devotion and penetrating wisdom, he moves us past modern misunderstandings and clichés about Mary into an encounter with the woman who was so remarkable that God Himself made her His spouse!

The Little Book of the Blessed Virgin Mary will awaken in you the thoughts and emotions that lead to deeper union with Mary and with her beloved son, Jesus.”

I can’t use Rafflecopter on WordPress, but I will be able to keep track of entries. Don’t worry!

HOW TO ENTER:

Share in the comments section below how the Blessed Virgin Mary has helped you in your faith journey.
Follow me on Twitter: @swimmingdepths
Like my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/swimmingthedepths?fref=ts
Share this giveaway on Twitter or Facebook.
If you have a WordPress blog, then like this post.

You will receive one entry for each action you do from the list above.

The winners will be announced next Thursday, May 28, 2015. This is a *private* giveaway and not sponsored by Sophia Institute Press. It’s just me wanting to share a beautiful book with my readers.Thanks!

The Dangers of Modern Fiction and A Desire to Write

A desire to write is absolutely pushing itself upon me these days.  In fact, writing is constantly in my thoughts like when a new romance is started. I can’t explain it.  It is hard to contain and hard to balance.  I am the mother of a toddler, a wife, and about to become a postulant in the Order of Preacher (Lay Dominican).  I have a very full plate with the two vocations God has given me, does he really want me to pursue writing?

 
First, I am trying to make sure that my desire for writing comes from wanting to glorify and share Jesus Christ, and not my own pride.  This is an internal struggle, to be sure.  Second, I want my writing to improve the world, not drag it down even further.  Third, I think there is a dearth of good books for women and teenage girls that demonstrate authentic love.  Fourth, In any writing that I would do, I want my daughter to be able to read it some day without pause.
 
I am deeply concerned by the books that seem to be bestsellers.  It has always been this way. Trash sells.  Sex sells.  We just happen to live in a culture that thinks that sex is love. I am  increasingly more worried about how society’s changes in its understanding of love are affecting our daughters. Now my daughter is only two, but many women of my generation have teenagers and the majority of women in my generation are eating up these same books I am talking about.
 
Now I am not talking about Harry Potter or Twilight.  I have read both series and found them immensely entertaining.  I am not big on vampires so Twilight is a series I read once because my youngest sister was such a fan.  What I do like about the series, is that the author demonstrated chastity.  She also showed young women how much they long for a man who is devoted to them and is chaste.  I think this is a great message for young men too, even though, the audience for these books was predominantly female.
 
I like Harry Potter because it demonstrates sacrificial love: the greatest kind of love.  It is the love demonstrated on the Cross.  I will not pretend that Harry Potter is Christian Fiction, it is not.  However, it does not escape the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of Western culture.  Our understanding of love has been formed by the God-Man who sacrificed for us.  No matter how much we try to drown this out, it is still in our very bones.
 
The trend that disturbs me most is how an understanding of love and romance is shifting.  Romance novels have largely been soft pornography for women.  Yep, sorry ladies, graphic sex in print is still pornography.  I have read a few of these books in my younger days.  They are entertaining in a vapid sort of way and give women a chance to form men in their own image.  However, they are usually shallow and continue to notion that all you need is romance and passion.  They do not demonstrate sacrifice and total self-giving.
 
The new “romance” books, if you can even call them that, scare me.  Yes, I am looking at you 50 Shades of Grey.  I have not read it, because I knew immediately that it is pornography.  It was all over the Catholic blogosphere, including some Catholic moms who were supporting it.  Very concerning and if I was ever in a conversation with any of them, I would suggest a meeting with their priest, so they could clear up their misunderstanding of what is pornographic.
 
That aside.  What concerns me, is the level of violence being leveled against women and their blind acceptance of it.  Since when is S&M love?  Since when is it not repugnant not just morally, but also to the very idea of romantic love?  With the increase in Internet pornography violent crimes against women are soaring.  Boyfriends are demanding pornographic sex and women willingly do it because they think they should do it out of love.  Ladies, NO!
 
First, any man who loves you, will wait for you until your wedding night.  Second, no man should be looking at pornography.  Third, no man should demand illicit sex acts from you.  A man who truly loves, respects, and has given himself to you, understands the sacred and holy aspect of the marital act.  The very act that renews the marriage covenant each time the two are brought together.  A man who loves you wants what is best for YOU.
 
So where are the books these days the describe authentic love?  Not just romance novels, books about friendship, service, parenthood, and yes, romantic love?  Why are we not concerned that S&M is a bestseller and about to become a movie?  Our society is normalizing illicit sex and continues to objectify women, yet, we open our wallets (among other things) to pay for this objectification.
 
Mothers, check what your daughters are reading.  Teenagers are reading books like 50 Shades.  They will hide it from you.  Do you want your teenage daughter to think that S&M is a normal type of sexual expression?  Do you want her to learn sexual mores from our culture or from Christ and His Church?  Talk about this with your daughters.  Talk about pornography with your sons.  If you don’t, our culture will do it for you.
 
So while I will not be reading any pornography, I have decided to start reading some of the popular novels of our day, especially those geared towards young women.  I want to pinpoint what is lacking and by God’s grace, write something that truly demonstrates His love.  Not sentimentality.  No, authentic love.  It may be allegory.  It may be daily life.  It might be romance.  I don’t know where God is taking me on this journey.  For now, I will get a hot drink, snuggle up under a blanket and tuck into a lot of fiction this year.
 
P.S. I just finished reading Richard Paul Evans’ A Winter Dream.  I read it as a recommendation from a friend.  I read it this morning in about 3 hours.  I really enjoyed it.

A Few of My Favorite Books-Sleety December Day Version

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It is a gray and dreary day here with a mix of rain and sleet.  This type of day makes me think about my favorite books.  It is the perfect kind of day to tuck in with a favorite book and a peppermint mocha.  Yeah, still working on that coffee addiction.  Thank Our Lord for his patience on the path to holiness.

 
Here are some of my favorite books.  They are both fiction and non-fiction.
 
1. Til We Have Faces- CS Lewis.  This is my all time favorite novel.  I re-read it every year.  It is the re-telling of the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros.  Wonderful book!
 
2. The Seven Storey Mountain-Thomas Merton.  The most profound autobiography I have ever read.  I re-read it every couple of years.  It is the conversion of a secular modern to Trappist Monk.  It is a beautiful book!
 
3.  The Great Divorce-CS Lewis.  The story of a visit to Heaven by those who are in Hell.  It shows brilliantly how we condemn ourselves.
 
4.  Persuasion-Jane Austen. Most people put Pride and Prejudice at the top of their Austen list, but Persuasion is my favorite.  It is about second chances, overcoming pride, forgiveness, and enduring love.
 
5.  Rediscovering Catholicism-Matthew Kelly.  I have to credit this book with helping me to return to the fullness of the Catholic Faith.  This book showed me that the meaning of life is to be a saint and that the Catholic Faith is the best guide on our journey to holiness.  
 
6. Bridging the Great Divide-Fr. Robert Barron.  I have struggled greatly in my current Diocese with remnants of the “spirit of Vatican II”.  Fr. Barron’s book helped me to better understand the philosophical and theological underpinnings of these mistakes and how to focus on the beauty of the Faith.
 
7. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven-Dr. Peter Kreeft.  Like all sinners I need to be converted to Heaven.  Our former parish priest recommended this book to me to help me better understand Heaven.  I took it with me on a retreat to a Trappist Monastery and it really helped me with a lot of my questions.  Plus, Dr. Kreeft is brilliant!
 
8. The Lamb’s Supper-Dr. Scott Hahn-This book is about Scripture and the Mass.  It is part of how the Catholic Church understands the Book of Revelation as the Heavenly Liturgy.  This book completely changed my understanding of the Mass.  It showed me how we step into the supernatural, into Heaven, at Mass.  This book would change so many lives, if people would read it.  Mass is not boring, it is our foretaste of Heaven!
 
9. Space Trilogy (Out of Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength)-CS Lewis-This series is amazing.  It is about the Fallen nature of man and how he struggles with evil.  
 
10. Lord of the Rings-JRR Tolkien- Not much needs to be said.  A brilliant book about the path of holiness, how the small can fight evil, how evil never expects the weak to win, love, hope, I could keep going.
 
These are just a few books that I really enjoy.  There are so many wonderful books that I have read over the years.  What are some of your favorites?  I am always looking for suggestions.  Advent blessings!