It has been a crazy past few months here. I have been facing the usual high school senior dilemmas regarding the “afterlife”, so to speak, of high school — whether to go to college or not, whether I should go immediately or postpone it, what I would do in the meantime, and to which colleges I should apply to and visit. All of this on top of my normal activities: finishing up my schoolwork so I DO have a joyful afterlife, working, taking guitar lessons, and the million-other household tasks which are forever regenerating themselves. Ugh. Never before have I been so stressed out about the calendar and fast-approaching deadlines!
A few weeks ago my dad and I drove to a college here in the Southeast. It was an eight-hour drive, but a comparatively uneventful one. We were attending Scholarship Day at the college. I was excited to be interviewed for a prestigious scholarship, tour campus, attend seminars, and meet students. My dad and I were very impressed with the college. As we were leaving campus I knew that it was the school I hope to attend.
Over the next couple weeks, I feverishly worked on applications for some outside scholarships. I wrote essays, tracked down signatures, and received letters of recommendation. Yesterday I was informed that I hadn’t received my much sought-for scholarship from the college, although I was eligible for some minor scholarships.
At the end of all this, I just want to laugh the laugh of a treasure-seeker who has searched the world for years for a priceless treasure, beautiful beyond imagination. When he finally finds the treasure, in his exultation he slips on the damp floor of the cave. The treasure slips out of his hands and into the mouth of the volcano. There are only two possible reactions: to weep or to laugh. He begins to laugh.
Perhaps my problem is I am too anxious to discover God’s plan for my life. I stress out too much about what it could be, and the fastest way of obtaining it. Hence, I will run in all directions hoping that I will find a billboard screaming “THIS IS IT”. But of course that is not how God works. I need to remember how God spoke to Elias: not in the wind; not in the earthquake; not in the fire; rather, in the whistling of a gentle air.
Let’s Hear It For The Church!
While I was thinking about all this, it dawned on me. I already know what God’s plan for me in this life is. As a matter of fact, it is what the Church has been telling me my entire life!!
Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.
—Baltimore Catechism (Lesson 1, Question 6)
That is exactly what I have been looking for, right in front of me the entire time! As long as I truly know God, love Him, and wish to serve Him, everything else will fall into place!! I don’t need to worry about the college I go to, or whether I am to be married or enter a convent. God will tell me in a whisper when I can no longer serve Him in my current situation. He will lead me on the path to Him. All I need to do is to follow. If I know Him, love Him, and serve Him in every “now”, I will forever be living His plan for my life.
I am still looking at my options for this coming year. I don’t know where I’ll be six months from now. It might very well be that I’ll be working overtime at some job trying to save up for college. But right now I am surprisingly unstressed about it; I know that God has a perfect plan for me, and for right now He wants me to swing along behind Him until He can trust me with knowledge. Until then, if anyone wants to hand me $68,000, that would be all right, too. You’ll know where to find me: just follow the trail of empty coffee mugs, chocolate crumbs, Rosary beads, and Divine Intervention.
Have you ever wanted to further your Catholic education but realized that even online higher education from a good Catholic institution is pricey? Or maybe you’re not necessarily interested in earning a degree, just taking a class here and there about specific topics in the Faith of interest to you. Dominican Institute is the answer. The goal of Dominican Institute is to provide top-notch instructions from instructors who have at least their M.A. (some have their Ph.D.) in their area of expertise at a fraction of the cost of other Catholic institutions of higher education.
Areas of course instruction include theology, philosophy, apologetics, evangelization, and Dominican studies, among others. There are ten courses offered this first semester, including Foundational Bioethics, Fundamentals of Dogmatic Theology, Natural Theology, Classic Apologetics in the Modern World, Church History: The Great Heresies, and Introduction to Dominican Spirituality. All of these courses are in line with the Magisterium and students are awarded certificates of completion at the end of each course (there are different kinds depending on need and number of courses taken). Coursework can be used for catechetical certification, professional development, personal development and lay formation. Your transcript can be sent to participating programs for proof of completion.
Now for cost. This is always the biggest hurdle I have had in furthering my own personal education and for so many others, as well. But Dominican Institute’s cost is phenomenally affordable. At just $150 per 3 credit hours, it ranks as just 10% of what other major Catholic institutions charge for the same number of credit hours in their programs!
As someone who has wanted to further my education and knowledge of the Church and Faith, this is great news! Affordable, quality Catholic higher education- it’s a dream come true! Dominican Institute makes being a life-long learner possible.
Education and being an educator is truly a ministry and Dominican Institute is a beautiful labor of love and service, trying to make the Faith more accessible to all kinds of people and students. DI, founder TJ Burdick, and his team of amazing instructors truly fulfill Christ’s call to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 19-20). I don’t know much about St. Thomas Aquinas (maybe I’ll take that Intro to Dominican Spirituality course…) but I think he’d approve.
Learn more and register for classes here. Classes start Monday, August 8!
The other day, I saw an article making rounds through my facebook’s news feed about a brilliant young woman whom “Harvard believes is the next Einstein.” Having nothing better to do—I was recovering from a minor surgery—and since I generally enjoy topics of interest to the world of physics, I read the article. The young lady described therein, Ms. Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski, is certainly a brilliant and hard-working, motivated individual with a very impressive resume to her name. I was particularly taken aback by her sole quote, placed at the end of the article: “Physics itself is exciting enough. It’s not like a 9-to-5 thing. When you’re tired you sleep, and when you’re not, you do physics.”
This comment may be innocuous enough-certainly it has been given no context by the peope who pulled this quote from an interview. Taken alone, there is no inflection, no hint as to how we should interpret it. It could express joy in the wonders discovered through the pursuit of physics (or of the science in general); this is how I take it to mean as expressed by Ms. Pasterski. I have, however, also seen similar words used to cover for a deeper sadness or resignation, or worse to insist that we should cease to turn our eyes innward towards our own moral state or upward towards God. A senior member of the tenure and promotion comittee of my university has certainly said as much to me, and on more than one occasion.
I have been told by this person that a successful scientist should “get off [of his] knees” and focus more on getting work done. In this view, a laboratory is a place of labor, that is, of work and even toil, the rewards of which might be some advancement of one or another field of knowledge, and (perhaps more importantly to the untenured) a publication .
Such a view of things overlooks the purpose of science, and for that matter of the labors invoved in our scientific laboratories. There is, after all, a second definition of labor, one which comes more naturally to the female half of humanity, and also to those men who are married and preparing to welcome children into their homes. I mean here that to labor is the process of giving birth the old-fashioned way, and indeed all of our other labors become a fainter echo of this when they bear us fruit.
To labor in life is to give birth, and in the laboratory it is to give birth to new knowledge. This is, however, actualy the lesser function of the laboratory. There is a second word and a second meaning hidden in the word “laboratory,” and it remains all the more hidden because of the obvious placement of “labor” at the front. The second purpose—which is the more important—is hidden at the back of the word, and is thus obscured by the labor, both within the word and within life. The word “laboratory” could be thought almost to be a contraction of the words “labor” and “oratory,” the latter being a place where we pray.
For what should we pray while laboring in the laboratory? In one sense, it is the same thing we ought to pray for when pursuing any other form of knowledge, whether in the classroom or in the library or study or where-have-you. We pray there for knowledge, since this is what we are usually seeking directly: the conformity of our thoughts with reality. But there is something better than knowledge, which can build on knowledge: wisdom, another gift of the Holy Spirit.
Wisdom enables us to see the ordering of the world, and ultimately to desire the greatest good first and the lesser goods in relation to this. Wisdom causes us to desire heaven above earth, God above nature. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that
“Because God creates through wisdom, his creation is ordered: ‘You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight.’ The universe, created in and by the eternal Word, the ‘image of the invisible God’, is destined for and addressed to man, himself created in the ‘image of God’ and called to a personal relationship with God. Our human understanding, which shares in the light of the divine intellect, can understand what God tells us by means of his creation, though not without great effort and only in a spirit of humility and respect before the Creator and his work. Because creation comes forth from God’s goodness, it shares in that goodness – ‘And God saw that it was good. . . very good’- for God willed creation as a gift addressed to man, an inheritance destined for and entrusted to him. On many occasions the Church has had to defend the goodness of creation, including that of the physical world” (CCC 299).
The verse quoted by the Catechism, “You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight” (Wisdom 11:21), was indeed one of the most popular verses during the time of the scientific revolution in Europe. It is also pertinent to role which wisdom should play in the scientist’s studies: namely, that the ordered-ness of the universe is something which can be studied only because there is a God Who creates, and moreover that this God desires us to know Him and to love Him. The order in the universe is thus built in part to point back to its Creator. Then again, there may be more than one sense in which nature might be read—underlying the physical order of nature is a moral order. Wisdom, in other words, does these three things for us as regards science:
We should have—and most scientists do have—a sense of wonder concerning nature and its beauty and underlying order. Wisdom points to us that this wonder should be transformed into awe for the Creator of nature. We can appreciate nature, which is the art, but this should make us love God, Who is the Artist.
Wisdom lets us see that the orderedness of nature points to our own internal orderedness. This is true on the individual scale and on the social scale. Everything in nature has its place and purpose: we too have both, and every integral part of us has its place and purpose as well. This is true not only physically, but spiritually.
Wisdom transforms the laboratory from a place of only labor and toil, albeit labor after knowledge, into a place of prayer, an oratory. Note that I began by saying that we should pray for wisdom: one effect of wisdom is that we therefore are more inclined to prayer, both in praise and in gratitude.
There is another insight which is granted with wisdom, and it is an old insight indeed. It was anticipated by Plato, who writes that while God is serious, man and human affairs are not: the whole world is “the plaything of God, and that is really the best this about it.” Therefore, “One should live out one’s days playing at certain games—sacrificing, singing, and dancing.”
Commenting on this, Fr. James Schall says that
“This passage is the great prelude to the Christian notion that the world God made is not necessary to Him, that what goes on in it is not analogous to work or duty or determinism, bu to freedom, delight, and play, to things that are beautiful but not necessary, in the freedom of what need not exist but yet, when it does exist, is joyful and delightful….
[There is] in reality [a] profound connection between th highest thing and play, between the seriousness of God Whom we must approach in silent holiness and the fact that God’s holiness is our delight, to which we respond freely, happily, as Plato said, in ‘singing, sacrificing, and dancing,’ in liturgy, in praise. The real end and final holiday of human souls is to spend out lives at the most serious things; the blessed seriousness of God is worthy [of] the singing, the dancing, the sacrificing” (Schall on Chesterton).
This is also a challenge to those of us who have made or professions the study of nature—that is, the study of “the plaything of God.” There is order and beauty in nature, and some of the discoveries we make in studying this order may be useful to us. This is good—but it should not be the final nor greatest end of said studies. Rather, we should bear always in mind that we are studying a creation which exists above all to delight, to give joy and to evoke wonder. In this sense, “physics is not a 9-to-5 thing.” It ceases to be just work, and takes on some aspects of holy play: but exciting as physics is, it is also most certainly not “enough.” Rather, when rightly pursued, it has in fact the opposite effect of getting us “of our knees.”
 To be fair, “laboratory” is etymologically related to labor, as Stanley Jaki notes: in this case a very particular labor, that of making measurements (The Limits of a Limitless Science).
When I was in college, I found that those long-awaited, blissful days of summer, however enjoyable, always caused a certain amount of spiritual angst for me. Thrown out of my rhythm established at school, my spiritual life would take a beating during the 3 months I was home and leave me back at square one just in time for my return to school in August. I would then spend 9 months re-instilling those hard fought-for habits and be at my spiritual happy place in time for summer.
I’m sure you can guess what happened next.
The pattern continued.
The most frustrating part of all of this was that I tried. I went to daily Mass, said rosaries, you name it, but for some reason being away from the infrastructure I had made for myself at school always hurt my spiritual fitness.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts for those college and high-school students struggling without the structure of academia to keep us all honest!
1. Play Offense, Not Defense
When I would go home, knowing that my routine was changing and worried about the harm it would cause my spiritual habits, I would switch into defense mode, which probably made the situation worse.
Let me give an example.
Instead of praying at Mass like I usually do – offering up prayers of thanksgiving, intentions, meditations and the like – I would go to Mass with the sole purpose of “remaining spiritually fit.” All this accomplished was the exact opposite of what I wanted. I would be so distracted in Mass wondering the whole time about whether or not I was praying well that I wasn’t praying at all. In fact, I was getting distracted and setting myself up to feel alienated from Our Lord.
The same is true for my times of contemplation, rosaries, etc. I would worry too much about maintaining my spiritual health.
However, what do the greatest saints say? If you are not moving forward, you’re moving backward. I shouldn’t have been focused on maintaining my spiritual life at all. I should have been focused on growing in intimacy with Christ. That’s what we should all do, regardless of the situation or change in routine. That’s what my focus was at school, and should have continued to be at home. My loss of focus on that disrupted my routine even more!
2. Spiritual Fitness is Like Physical Fitness
By that I mean that when people work out, often they find that they reach a plateau. They continue to lift, run, tone, and eat well, but they find that they don’t move forward or get stronger in their training. This usually means that they need to mix it up. Doing the same exercises over and over again only results in your muscles becoming incredibly good at that one exercise, and not growing in strength all the way around. If you mix it up and change exercises, often you’ll find that your strength increases dramatically.
The same can be said for our spiritual lives. I would spend 9 months getting to my spiritual fitness peak and then our Lord would give me an opportunity that I squandered every single time: to change my routine and grow even more. Think of summer as that change in exercise regimen that will not only prevent you from falling backward, but launch you forward into unprecedented intimacy with God! Think of prayers, books, or spiritual habits you’ve been interested in or wanting to form and take those 3 months to do it!
3. Create an Infrastructure
As I said above, the main reason I struggled so during the summer months was that I didn’t have the normal people around to keep me honest and I didn’t have a routine of spiritual events to go to or keep myself on track with. In short, I lost my infrastructure.
My last summer home, it finally clicked. If structure and accountability buddies are what I need, then make it and find them! Find a friend you can go to Mass with a couple of times a week. Get some of your college buddies to form a Facebook group where you can all post about your spiritual habits, things you’ve tried, new prayers you’ve learned. Make Skype dates with your Catholic besties in college and pray the rosary with them! Set something in stone and you’ll find you’re less likely to fall.
4. Trust God
Finally, relax! Focus your thoughts on God. Periodically throughout the day, just say “Hi, Jesus” or “I love you” to Our Lord. If something happens during your day that makes you smile, laugh, feel good, or makes you happy, say a quick Hail Mary of thanksgiving for that moment. Likewise for those things that may be negative.
In everything, offer Him your concerns and trust that you are His beloved child! He will not abandon, nor forsake you. Make this summer a living loaves and fishes: take to Him what you have and He will bless it abundantly. Let Him know you love Him and you’re trying your best and He will take care of the rest!
Ever since childhood I was always taught to treat the Bible with a certain amount of respect. This included never setting it on the bare floor, but always on top of something; never tossing or throwing it around irreverently; generally avoiding stacking non-religious things on top of it; and not writing in it. The Bible was God’s Word, and thus deserved a level of treatment above that shown to an average book.
When I was younger I never thought twice about not writing in my Bibles, as I was never prone to write in any of my books anyway and—typical of Catholics—no one I knew really tended to carry around a Bible regularly, much less mark in it. When I spent my first two years of high school at a “non-denominational” Christian school, I met people who used the Bible much more often than Catholics, but also treated it with more familiarity. Though their knowledge of the Bible was truly inspirational, often their attitude towards it was a little more casual than I felt comfortable with. This only reinforced the reverent habits of younger years, and as friends in Bible class highlighted and dog-eared pages of their Protestant translations, I found myself jotting notes on sticky notes or in journals outside my Catholic translation instead, not able to bring myself to mark the sacred text.
Then I began to realize the benefit in owning various translations of the Bible, Protestant and Catholic, so that I could compare and thus better understand where other Christians were coming from based off of the footnotes in their translations, or the errors in word choices that led to misleading interpretations. I also began to feel comfortable marking the Protestant translations, because after all I wasn’t studying them for religious reasons—only for scholarly ones—thus I did not consider the ESV, for instance, as worthy of as much respect as the Catholic RSV. Though I was able to justify jotting down apologetic notes in the Protestant translations, I still felt like writing in the real Word of God would be disrespectful.
When I started taking Bible classes at my Catholic college, it wasn’t unusual to have a professor suggest underlining or marking a passage which was particularly important for the class lesson. As I learned more about the Scriptures, I found myself becoming more attached to them, wanting to carry the Bible around more regularly. As I studied them and started, thanks to our campus chaplain, practicing Lectio Divina, I often wished I had marked the passages that were meaningful or particularly insightful when my attempts to find them after-the-fact often ended in despairingly giving up the search. But when it came to actually putting the pen on the page, I still felt like—in some way—by marking in the margins of the Bible I was not treating it with the reverence it deserved. After all, who was I to mark alongside the inspired Word of the Creator of the Universe? Yet as I quickly became “that person” whose favorite books could be determined by the amount of notes in the margins, I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, marking biblical passages so that I could find and benefit from them again—just like I marked poignant lines in works by Chesterton or Tolkien—made more sense than I previously realized.
Many Catholics online have written about how marking in their Bibles is not a sign of disrespect, but rather a testimony to how often they turn to God’s Word. One of my favorite bloggers writes about the way the Word of God has been a constant presence in her life, as is evidenced by the state of her favorite Bible, now falling apart with use and brimming over with bookmarks and marginal notes. The Catholic Answers forum members chimed in, all encouraging a young person with concerns like mine to embrace the idea of marking up the pages, because it will help her connect better with the text. Life Teen’s website encourages writing in the Bible in their post about how to start reading it. I can see their points, but I can’t help but remain stuck on the question of reverence.
What do y’all think? Is marking up Bibles a sign of particular devotion, or can it encourage an all-too-familiar attitude towards the Sacred Word of God? Would you go so far as to make your Bible’s works of art in the spirit of religious fervor, or is there a line that can be crossed where marking it up hinders respect for God rather than encouraging it? Does the translation make a difference? Does having a “good Bible” that is treated with reverence and remains untouched by human additions to go along with the marked one preserve the reverence while also allowing for the devotional method? What do you think?
The shiftiness of college years does not always create the best circumstances for keeping New Year’s Resolutions. Though I hardly ever pass up an opportunity to make a list, my typical resolutions seemed like they would only put more pressure on me in the midst of an already demanding schedule rather than encourage me to be a better person. So as far as resolutions are concerned, I’ve decided to go more abstract and simply try to accomplish everything ahead this year to the very best of my ability without going insane, with less emotional eating, and—most importantly—by remembering I will not succeed unless I lean on God first. That being said, it seemed a shame not to participate in the list-making craze that sweeps the nation around January 1st every year, so I sat down and did something I haven’t done in a long time: I wrote down my dreams.
Being a goal-oriented person who lives for the sake of accomplishing one thing so I can start working towards the next one, there’s always been something in the future which drives my work in the present. But goals are different from dreams; goals are work-oriented, focused in the now, and typically are attached to a certain amount of hard work that has to be accomplished for personal satisfaction. Dreams however are more special; they’re the things that we think about when asked questions like “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” Dreams dominate our childhood because kids are less focused on being practical, and adults knowing this don’t ask them which college they’re working hard with hopes of attending, but rather what they want to do with their life. But often as we age and start worrying about gas prices and college applications, we become so caught up in the “real world” problems we forget to dream.
This New Year’s as I sat unsuccessfully trying to justify not making resolutions, I realized that maybe in the midst of all the studying, planning, and endless working that had me feeling increasingly depressed and burned out, perhaps I just needed a minute to be a little less practical. As I sat down and asked myself “If you could be guaranteed that your life would turn out any way you want, where would you want to be in ten years?” and “When you look back on your life during your final years on earth, what do you want to be able to see that you’ve done?” I realized that dreaming is incredibly important, because it makes you reevaluate what means the most to you.
After answering these questions, I found that what I wrote was significantly less immense and spectacular than some of the dreams I might have written about in childhood. Looking at my list, I wondered if maybe my simpler answers meant I had become a boring person. But as I reconsidered them, I realized that age had led me to appreciate the beauty of a peaceful life lived in the place that holds your heart, with the people you love more than anything, over the thrill of fame, travel, or experience. And though I’m sure my simple little three-item list would seem dull to some, it didn’t matter anymore if my life impressed the masses, only that it fulfilled God’s plan for me, and that it was full of beauty and love.
At this phase in my life where college stress and adult growing pains lead me to ask “Why the heck am I doing all of this?” more often than I’d like to admit, those peaceful, simple dreams were just what I needed to keep myself going. For dreams are like goals in that we hope one day to realize and accomplish them, and if realizing my dream of a peaceful, domestic life in the future means working hard now to reach my more immediate, necessary goals, then so be it. For with God’s help I know He’ll use those goals to pave the way, and one day as I sit back in my own little house with my family around me I’ll be able to smile and breathe a happy sigh, for though the work is all ahead of me now, it will be behind me one day, and then I know it will all be worth it.
I’d like to dedicate this post to an incredibly kind lady who works at my bank. While running errands I saw her and she not only remembered opening my account for me two years ago, but also took the time to ask me how college was working out for me. Upon telling her that it was going okay but that I was kind of burned out, she encouraged me, telling me not to quit because it’s all going to be over before I know it, and when it is I’ll be so happy I saw it through to the end. She was an uplifting breath of fresh air in a place I least expected it, and I want to thank her for taking time out of her day to try to make mine better!
In a short but provocative reflection, Prof. J. Budziszewski calls curiosity the enemy of wonder. In so doing, he is drawing a distinction between the desire for knowledge—itself a good thing—and the elevation of that desire to the highest good, one which can then seek fulfillment at all costs:
The problem is that the curiosity-as-holiness line is carelessly undiscriminating, and at best half-true.
Here is the true half: In itself, the knowledge of truth is good. Aristotle says philosophy begins in wonder. John Paul II says everyone wonders, and in that sense everyone is a philosopher. Thomas Aquinas says it is man’s natural vocation to seek truth, especially the truth about God. We are made, among other things, to know, as no other animal is made to know.
But the way one goes about pursuing knowledge may be right or wrong….
Mere curiosity is to the tender love of truth as voyeurism is to marital love. That is why the ancients made distinctions. They accounted wonder a natural inclination, and the humble pursuit of knowledge to be a high virtue. But they reserved the word curiositas for seeking knowledge in ways it never should be sought.
At most universities—and especially in most science departments—the party line is that education should be about awakening a person’s natural curiosity, that is, their desire for knowledge . There is not, in principle, anything wrong with awakening a desire to know in a person, and indeed, the actual desire to know itself is a good thing. Indeed, knowing may be counted among the highest human goods (along with loving).
However, although knowing itself is among the highest goods of man, it cannot be the final end of education. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of knowledge, one which is theoretical and one which is practical. The former should lead to understanding and then to contemplation and at last to loving; the latter should lead to right action. Therefore, inculcation of virtue is an important part of a true education, yet this is at best ignored entirely, but more often outright contradicted (as being old fashioned, or as forcing morality on others) or otherwise undermined (e.g. by being replaced with some other moral system) in many of the hallowed halls of education.
Curiosity itself cannot therefore form a sound basis for education, since it elevates the search for knowledge above the actual ends of knowledge. Worse still, knowledge can be sought licitly or illicitly, morally or immorally: it may be sought through good means or evil.
A few extreme examples should suffice. The experiments of the Nazis on their prisoners are fairly well known and documented. Closer to home, it is well known that there are “enhanced interrogation techniques” (torture) which have been in use by the US against Islamic militants as an attempt to gain knowledge about possible future terrorist attacks (or even to attempt to find other militants); if this is not sufficient as an example of “badly gained” knowledge, then one could easily imagine such techniques being used by a more corrupt regime to obtain less vital information, that is, to gain knowledge which is frivolous as a military matter: torturing men to learn answers to less pressing questions . Finally, there are the various nuclear bomb tests which were conducted during the Cold War without concern as to the . All of this is to show that there is, in other words, such a thing as “morbid curiosity” in a very literal sense.
What, then, is the cure to curiosity, that is, the antidote to the desire to seek knowledge at all costs? Professor Budziszewski calls curiosity the enemy of wonder, and states that wonder—which leads to “the humble pursuit of knowledge”—is a high virtue. In his discussion of wonder as the basis for philosophy , Josef Pieper wrote that
In wonder, there is something negative and something positive. The negative aspect is that the person who feels wonder does not know something, does not grasp something–he does not know, “What is behind it all”; as Thomas puts it, “The cause of our wonder is hidden to us.” He who feels wonder does not know, or does not know completely, does not comprehend. He who knows does not feel wonder. It could not be said that God experiences wonder, for God knows in the most absolute and perfect way. And, further: the one who wonders not only does not know, he is intimately sure that he does not know, and he understands himself as being in a position of not-knowing. But this un-knowing is not the kind that brings resignation. The one who wonders is one who sets out on a journey, and this journey goes along with the wonder: not only that he stops short for a moment, and is silent, but also that he persists in searching. Wonder is defined by Thomas in the Summa Theologiae, as the desiderium sciendi, the desire for knowledge, active longing to know.
But along with not-knowing, and not-giving-up, wonder is also… joy, as Aristotle said, and the Middle Ages agreed with him: omnia admirabilia sunt delectabilia–the source of joy and the source of wonder are the same thing. One might even venture to say that wherever spiritual joy is to be met with, the wonderful is also there, and where there is a capacity to feel joy, there is also a capacity to feel wonder. The joy of one who is astounded is the joy of a soul that is beginning something, of a soul that is always ready and alert for something new, for something unheard of.
Pieper continues by noting that the one who wonders and does philosophy has hope and so is superior the the one who doubts all knowledge, but yet he is inferior to the one who finally knows (or “understands”). Wonder is thus a counter to both curiosity—the insatiable desire for knowledge at all costs—and to doubt of all knowledge, which the epistemological despair which likewise ruins philosophy .
So far, I have limited my discussion to the merely secular considerations of wonder or curiosity as opposing bases for the pursuit of knowledge. By this I mean that everything which has been said so far can be accessed by the light of human reasoning alone. However, as Catholics we can go a step further and look to the light of revelation. A good Catholic education will include a beginning with wonder, just as a good secular education would—but we must go beyond only wonder at not knowing. The end of a good secular education must be increase in knowledge and understanding, and hopefully the development of virtue. A good Catholic education also means a growth in wisdom with the hope of developing saintliness.
Therefore, a good Catholic education has an additional basis, a theological basis which aims it towards wisdom. Wisdom is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit (as are knowledge and understanding in the theological sense), and means desiring heaven and heavenly things above earth and earthly things. We are told, moreover, that the beginning of wisdom is another of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; we read in Sirach  that
“All wisdom comes from the Lord and is with him for ever….The fear of the Lord delights the heart, and gives gladness and joy and long life. With him who fears the Lord it will go well at the end; on the day of his death he will be blessed. To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…To fear the Lord is wisdom’s full measure…The fear of the Lord is the crown of wisdom” (Sirach 1:1, 12-14, 16, 18).
This, then, is a basis for the specifically Christian mode of education. If it is the more difficult basis, it is also the more important. Curiosity might be excited and wonder inspired, but fear of the Lord is a gift which can only be inculcated with the help of grace. Still, we must try and we must pray, and in the meantime we might wait in wonder.
 Prof. Budziszewski has apparently observed this “curiosity as the highest aim of education” in the liberal arts (he is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin). I have likewise noticed its prevalence in the various physics departments of which I have been a member as student, instructor, or guest, and have heard it in conversations with other instructors.
 Perhaps this latter scenario is not too far-fetched, as it is debatable whether “enhanced interrogation” has been used with much success. On the other hand, one could easily imagine a criminal torturing an innocent person to gain access to something of value.
 From Leisure: The Basis of Culture, pp. 106-107, translated by Gerald Malsbary. Italics and ellipsis both appear in the original.
 The main discussion of wonder is in Leisure: The Basis of Culture, pp. 100-110, but he follows this up with a brief discussion of the specifically Christian mode (or modes) of philosophy as opposed to non-Christian philosophy. He counters the claim that Christian philosophy is content with simple (and therefore implicitly dismissable) answers to philosophical questions. He notes that good Christian philosophy possesses mysteries, which are in turn both true and yet not fully knowable by man, and which are hence a uniquely Christian source of wonder.
 We read something similar in Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction….The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10).
This time of year is usually filled with traditions: both family traditions and liturgical traditions, which shape our experience of Christmas. Traditions serve a great purpose in our lives. We are creatures of habit, and circling back to favorite traditions year after year helps us focus on those things that are most important, and it also infuses them with a sense of warm familiarity. Though we are usually not conscious of how they shape us, our traditions help habituate us in structuring our lives toward what is good: sharing time with family, living out a healthy rhythm of work and rest, and being reminded of the glory of God.
Within the Church, we find both tradition and Tradition, both the local rituals that help remind us of the truths of our faith as well as the Sacraments themselves—passed down from the Church fathers—which connect us to God in a real, tangible way. Living out the liturgical year gives us an opportunity to feel a connection with the saints in Heaven, by orienting our lives in a way that constantly reminds us of what we are striving toward. It’s all too easy to become distracted as we move through our lives, but the structure of the Church gives us the gentle reminders we need to stay on course, to celebrate lives well lived and delight in the God who created us.
I attended a school steeped in tradition. Founded in the Catholic faith, we carried the idea of tradition further into nearly every aspect of our lives—football Saturdays, dorm activities, dining hall meals, snowball fights. We took traditions pretty seriously. One of my professors was fond of telling us, “Remember, there’s a difference between traditions and dumb things we do every year. Just because you did it last year, it doesn’t need to become a tradition.” There’s a good amount of wisdom there. Traditions can be powerful, and they should reflect the priorities we want our lives to be centered around. There isn’t much sense in keeping up a tradition for tradition’s sake alone—it ought to reflect a deeper purpose. This doesn’t mean that every tradition must be serious—in fact, some of my favorite family traditions are the silly ones that always make me laugh, but that, in and of itself, is a great purpose. Laughing with my family and being reminded not to take myself too seriously makes for a great tradition. No, the traditions that we should consider doing away with are the ones that use our time and energy for things that just don’t matter, or the ones we do out of a sense of obligation and nothing more, which bring us stress and worry without contributing to our growth. We can discern which traditions are good for us, which add to our lives and which detract, and move on from the ones that hold us back.
The desire to turn something into a tradition ultimately stems from the sentiment, “Let’s do that again!” When we are savoring the moments of our lives and experience something truly wonderful, we want to repeat it in the future. We want to re-experience those things that have shaped us for the better. When we do this with intention, it forms a beautiful rhythm within our lives.
Traditions are comforting and familiar to us. This is a good thing, but we should make sure that it’s not the only reason we’re clinging to them. Sometimes we experience shifts that require us to change or give up certain customs. If the future requires a break from tradition, we needn’t be afraid to navigate the breach. What matters is not so much the ritual itself but what it points toward, not the specific activity but rather its fruit in our lives. As we grow older, new traditions will likely replace old ones, and we can welcome these changes by keeping our eyes on what matters most, on the God who understands our need for the comfort, familiarity, and structure that traditions bring. He has responded to that need with a wealth of tradition, formed over millennia, held within the treasures of the Church.
Advent is my favorite liturgical season. I become extremely excited when Advent is coming, and love observing it by wearing my purple “Advent scarves,” painting my nails to mirror the Advent wreath, and putting up my La Posada statue in my room. Unfortunately, during my first year of college Advent passed me by before I had a chance to fully embrace it. Knowing that my soul benefits a great deal from this penitential season of joyful waiting on Christ, I was determined to find a way to observe Advent, even though my home and seasonal accessories are miles away. Thanks to the internet and God’s guiding hand, I’ve found three ways to immerse myself in the season. I wanted to share them so that others who are seeking to supplement their Advent observation can benefit from them as much as I have.
Fr. Barron’s Advent Reflections, via e-mail: Anything Fr. Barron does is always worth looking into, including these daily e-mail reflections sent straight to one’s inbox early every morning. They’re short, simple, but powerful and provide beautiful thoughts to keep one in the Advent mindset throughout the day.
EWTN’s Advent Homepage: Each day has its own fragment from the Mass readings, a reflection, a little “Advent Action”, and a small prayer at the end. Once again, these are short and could be read in less than five minutes, but paired with Fr. Barron’s reflection the two help frame an outline for refocusing one’s spiritual life more fully in the spirit of the season. And the little “Advent Action,” even if the specific one is something not practical in one’s own circumstances, really helps keep the spirit of reaching out to others in the name of Christ at the front of the mind throughout the day.
Advent Music through Grooveshark: Advent music is so beautiful, and it’s taken me a couple years to find enough to start a playlist out of. Music is such a perfect way to center the mind and heart by truly opening oneself to deeper, spiritual emotions. I like to listen to it in the background as I journal about the above two reflections, or sit still and meditate on it quietly as a prayer before bed. Here’s my playlist, I would love more suggestions!
If studying the saints has taught me anything, it is that there are many ways to travel the narrow road to Heaven. While some lived shorter lives which were filled with spiritual difficulties, but ultimately ended early and sweetly, others suffered great pains and tortures to their bodies before finally reaching their resting place, their vibrant souls unchanged. Other still endured dramatic wounds to the flesh and temptations to the soul on their journeys to God, battling the whole way to Heaven, while some lived simple lives and peacefully passed away as testaments to the beauty of Christ’s peace.
Unfortunately, I have a far way to go before I am even close to ready to join their blessed company—if indeed I am meant to do so. For now, I find myself slowly but surely trying to crawl my way towards Heaven, but at least I am finally moving in the right direction again.
Over the summer, on my blog which has been horribly neglected ever since I started college, I wrote a post comparing my life to that of a shark’s—having to be in constant motion to avoid death, and not being able to stop to make sure I was going the right way. Unfortunately, when I wrote that post it was in the wake of discovering that things had actually been that way longer than I cared to admit. Upon arriving back at school, I was slowly plodding along though interiorly still feeling shaky, when the school’s new chaplain started posting sign-ups in one of the main gathering areas for spiritual direction.
I would like to claim that I signed up right away, but by the time I finally gave in to my conscience saying it would be a good idea all the slots that would have been possible for me had been taken. A narrow save, or so I thought. Yet as things became worse, God helped me realize I needed to stop—even if I wasn’t going in the right direction yet, I needed to stop going in the wrong one. He not only helped me do this, but also rewarded me and gave me the little strength I needed to pick myself back up again by helping one area of my life that had been steadily declining take a turn for the better and become incredible. Can I interrupt myself for a moment just to say that God really is excessively wonderful?!
The second round of sign-ups was posted, and I sheepishly made sure I was one of the first to claim a 45 minute time slot with the priest. I was embarrassed and nervous; it had been a couple years since I had gone to a spiritual director, and I’ve never been one for playing physiatrist’s patient, laying on the couch while talking about my feelings. But, all that put aside, my guardian angel made sure I was there, and that beautiful 45 minutes ended up turning my whole life around. Worries, anxieties, honest desires to do the right thing, fears, all poured out, and at the end of the session as I left and turned around to wave good-bye to the priest as he welcomed in the next person, he smiled at me.
That sweet smile was like a wave suddenly crashing over me, and I realized as I smiled with a joy forgotten that it had been a long time since I had remembered and believed that Jesus wasn’t disappointed in me, He loved me. As I walked back to my dorm I could hear Christ’s comforting words from Luke’s Gospel echoing in my ear, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom,” and I knew that my heart had come home once again, and it was all—finally—going to be okay.
Like all feelings the ecstasy of that moment did not stay, but the peace did. The priest, listening to all my worries, gave me the best advice when he said lovingly that we humans feel like we must have everything planned out perfectly, but we have to trust God more than that. All we can do is make our plans and aim for them, but be open to knowing that if God changes them along the way, it is His will—not ours, that must be done, and if He leads us away from our plans, it is because He has more perfect ones in store.
Though this worrier has a long way to go, I am happy to report that though in many ways I am still relearning how to feel and return Jesus’s love (following the priest’s advice to do Lectio Divina, which has been an INCREDIBLE blessing), no longer am I a shark pacing nervously in the waters, afraid to stop and rest. Instead I am crawling my way to Heaven now, and hopefully God—seeing my littleness—will reach down and take my hand, to help me along the way.
The college semester is upon us again, and at most universities the new academic year is either now beginning or has recently begun . For the returning students, this means a return to familiar stomping grounds and reunions with friends before the courses really buckle down into the semester grind. For the new students, it means leaving hearth and home, setting out on an adventure of sorts. New friends, new experiences, new hobbies—and also old trials and temptations in new forms.
For all involved, it is a time of many challenges against the Faith and many questions asked about it. Even some of the innocuous questions can become challenges—and in my own experience, many more of the questions are meant to be innocuous than meant as open challenges to the Faith. There is a strong curiosity in Protestantism about the thing against which it protests. There are also a great many misunderstandings about the Church, some of which are unfortunately even held by and thus promulgated from Catholics.
These challenges and questions are also invitations to grow in faith and in knowledge. They may want answers even when those who ask them do not . To that end, Mr. Tom Perna has published a list of five books which very Catholic college student needs to possess (and presumably, to read and/or refer to). It’s a decent list, and I think that having access to the Catechism and a decent translation of the Bible—all of it—are especially necessary.
That said, there are many other good books which one ought to read, and it’s not a bad goal to set for oneself to read at least one book per month during the year . School needs to come first , of course, so your mileage may vary.
There are roughly seven months which really fall in a typical school year cycle . Here then are seven more books which I would strongly recommend for the Catholic college student.
1. Letters to a Young Catholic, by George Weigel: simply put, this is an excellent introduction to and survey of Catholic culture, from the thinkers to the saints to a few of the events which shaped the Church in the modern world. It is also and excellent springboard to any number of other Catholic books—the reader is given a tour of ideas and thinkers and believers, any of which may hold some special interest.
2. Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by G.K. Chesterton: technically these are two books, but they . These books are a good introduction to Chesterton, who has written a number of excellent books; they are also a good introduction to two of the Church’s most timely saints. Saint Francis may be the most well known and well-loved of the specifically Catholic saints, if at times the most misunderstood . Saint Thomas is quite probably the Church’s most important thinker, and his philosophy is the Church’s perennial philosophy. Between these two are encapsulated the spirit of evangelization, both as missionaries of service (e.g. to the materially or intellectually or spiritually poor) and as witnesses of Truth.
Chesterton, for his part, is usually a pleasure to read, especially for those who enjoy paradoxes and alliterative prose writing.
3. Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians”, by Karl Keating: this book provides two important and related services to the Catholic. The first is that it outlines many of the basic fundamentalist objections to (and arguments against) Catholicism and then provides short rebuttals to each. The second is that it explores the foundations of these common arguments, many of which are based on misinformation (if not deliberate disinformation).
This book is a sort of intellectual life-raft for the Catholic beset by many questions and challenges from their Protestant friends—in particular for the fundamentalists (and to a lesser extent, evangelicals, Baptists, etc.). It also helped to keep me afloat during the two years that I had an on-again off-again anti-Catholic roommate.
4. Christian Prayer or Shorter Christian Prayer: this is a sort of either/or deal. These books are for the prayer life of those who wish to pray with the whole Church daily from home (or from the dorm room, or the student lab, or wherever). In either form, the book basically contains the Liturgy of the Hours, which is prayed daily by all priests and many lay people around the world.
5. Disorientation: How to Go to College without Losing Your Mind, edited by John Zmirak: this is a collection of short essays contributed by a number of Catholic intellectuals and apologists. It essentially contains a rogues’ gallery of the big intellectual mistakes which are prevalent on the typical college campus, from scientism to cynicism and from feminism to sentimentalism, and from progressivism to modernity.
Each of these bad ideas if briefly presented and then addressed in brief. It makes for a nice handbook for the student who is navigating the world of ideas in academia.
6. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, by Fr. James V. Schall: this well-written book might serve as the manual on what one would hope to get from a good education. It’s a generally wonderful book, and a pleasure to read.
7. What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, by J. Budzisewski: I should probably open this with a disclaimer—J. Budziszewski is the only author on this list whom I know. He is actually a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas, and a convert to Catholicism from nihilistic atheism. As for this book, it is an excellent introduction to Natural Law, the philosophical framework of much of Catholic morality.
That’s seven Catholic books for seven months. Since there is often a partial month in August, I should add a bonus eighth book, one which is not by a specifically Catholic author. C.S. Lewis’ has written a number of very good, easy-to-read, easy-to-understand, yet reasonably books of popular Christian theology. If I am to recommend just one of these, I suppose it would be Mere Christianity, which is a generally excellent introduction to apologetics (offering an intellectual defense of one’s beliefs) and which largely surveys the topics in his other works.
There are of course many other very good books which I have left off of this list—I tried to pick mostly short books (almost all of these are under 300 pages). But these should help to prepare one for the challenges to the Faith found in college—and help to grow in that Faith. Beyond them, my advice is to pray and to get involved with the local Newman Center or Catholic Center or Catholic parish.
Happy reading, and I hope that all of you students have a great year.
 Exception: many schools on the West Coast use the quarter/term system and won’t begin until mid or even late September.
 And there are times when the person asking the question really doesn’t care about the answer, or doesn’t think they care. Still, the vast majority of questions I’ve had through the year—whether from Protestants or adherents to other religions or atheists and agnostics—have bee sincere questions asked in a spirit of curiosity.
 One chapter per day is a difficult though attainable goal for all but the busiest of schedules. As a graduate student, I often worked in excess of 14 or 15 hours per day (often including weekends) and still made time to read for a least 15 minutes per day. Of course, when the schedule gets that busy, the quality of reading tends to be worse.
 Actually, faith and family should take priority over school. I meant here that school takes priority over leisurely activities, unfortunately including reading.
 The seven are September, October, and November in the fall; and January, February, March, and April in the Winter/Spring. December and May are mostly final exams, August often is half-in-half out, but is also that orientation month of social events to kick off the year. Hence, the bonus text.
 The apostles are probably mostly more well-known, as are Sts. Joseph and Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Nicholas, and St. Patrick… all of whom predate the East-West schism in the Church.
“Universities have failed in modern society because of their rebellion against the sacred tradition. They have become monumental pyramids, hospices for the remains of what once was learning, now sustained by growing numbers of administrators and shrinking numbers of teachers, surviving on grants and measuring their viability by their endowments, static as the latter-day Egyptians who had seen the Old Kingdom pass.”
(Rev. George Rutler, The Seven Wonders of the World)
A frequent complaint against the modern university is that it does not attempt to teach truth to its students, and this is largely a fair complaint as far as it goes. It does not, however, go far enough.
I have had a longer stay in academia than most: as of the close of this semester—coming n the next few weeks—I will have completed as many years of post-secondary education as I did primary and secondary education. Though I will soon be changing my title from “Mr” to “Dr.”, I still at times find myself echoing a statement which a roommate of mine made when we were undergraduates together: my degree comes from this university, but not my education .
To be fair, the universities have done a decent enough job of training me in the technical aspects of my field, and could be fairly said to have provided an education of sorts, both in and outside of the classroom. Yet, there is something missing from my “education experience”, and from talking to a large number of students both here and at other universities have I attended or visited, something is missing from the typical program offered by most universities.
The Main Building on the campus where I have worked and studied has the words of John 8:32 carved into its facade: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Indeed. And these are words to live by, especially in the seeking of a university or other institution of “higher” learning. But, as the venerable bishop Fulton Sheen has noted, “It is easy to find Truth; it is harder to face it, and harder still to follow it.”
The university which merely presents the truth without compelling its students to then face this truth provides only part of a true education, and this the easiest and perhaps least valuable part.
Ultimately, Truth is personal, which is not to say that it is merely subjective. It must be faced, if for no other reason than that Truth has a face, and it must be followed, if for no other reason that Truth is also a way, or more accurately the Way (John 14:6).
Truth is often simple but seldom easy, and if facing the Truth is difficult, then following it steadfastly can be outright heroic. Yet, this is precisely the response which Truth ultimately requires of us, and as many do not wish to follow the truth they choose instead to deny it.
The denial may be simple and yet personal. Saint Peter thrice denied his Lord for fear of being made to follow Him—straight to the executioner’s block; such may be repented, as when that same saint found forgiveness during the first Easter, then ultimately was lead to a similar execution. It can also become grosser, as when the denial is repeated and deliberate, a habituation which leads to a different kind of death.
In the academy, such denials have two seemingly opposite effects. The first, more noticeable one is turning a discussion into the shouts of the mob, echoes of the first mob to shout down Truth. The second often passes unmarked. It is what Fr. Rutler described as “the awful silence, haunted and not holy, that saddened Shakespeare wen the monasteries had been destroyed for being politically incorrect, and all the seasons were a withered autumn.”
There are many temptations which can distract us away from the pursuit of Truth, be they the gross temptations of hedonism, consumerism, and liberationism or the more refined and intellectual temptations of relativism, progressivism, and modernism. These temptations appeal to hearts and minds—or at least the bellies and groins—of many of people, whether students or faculty or the masses who never set foot on a college campus.
But there is one weapon of mass effect deployed against truth, which likely as gives permissions to these temptations by its denial of Truth, and worse by its indifference to Truth. This is the modern take on cynicism, as described by Fr. Rutler:
“When [Jesus] spoke of truth to Pontious Pilate, He elicited a response as constrained as that of the proto-cynic, Antisthenes, ‘What is truth?’ It is the same reaction you would get in a university today if a priest said he had a truth to proclaim. For the cynic has moved beyond disagreement about truth to denial that there is such a thing. Perhaps Pilate’s question was sad. Today it has become sarcastic. The voice in the lecture hall today says neither ‘You’re right’ nor ‘You’re wrong,’ but rather sighs, ‘Whatever.’ This is why it is difficult to engage honest debate in the academy today, for debate proposes a model of truth and defends it. Instead, the cynics developed a form of debate they called ‘Eristic’ specifically for the purpose of confusing people, and causing onlookers to laugh at those who used real logic as mere religious fanatics.”
The university arose during the medieval period, based around a particular vision of the universe, of reality, and of truth. As Professor J Budziszewski—one of those increasingly rare professors who care more about educating their students than indoctrinating them with the current fads in ideology—puts it :
“Medieval students had to master seven elementary studies before going on to advanced degrees. The first three, called the trivium, were grammar, or the laws of language; rhetoric, or the laws of argument; and dialectic, or the laws of clear thought. The next four, called the quadrivium, were arithmetic, or the laws of number; geometry, or the laws of figure; music, or the laws of harmony; and astronomy, or the laws of inherent motion.
Why these seven? Because medieval universities were organized around the view that the universe makes sense, that knowledge is grasping that sense, that the mind can really grasp it, that all knowledge is related, and that all of its parts form a meaningful whole.”
The universities have abandoned this vision of reality and have, as a result, lost the one thing which makes them cohesive and coherent. They are no longer organized around anything in particular, but rather have become “queasy alliances of interest groups which have no ultimate commitments in common.”
They are more or less run by competing interest groups — money-making machines for the administrative bureaucracy, research institutes for the professors, job-training centers for the students — but not really centers for education, or even for inquiry. As such, they can only last for so long as those interest groups hold sufficient power to maintain their status.
In the meantime, at most universities—including many private ones—education is an endeavor which must be undertaken on one’s own, mostly outside of the classroom or the laboratory. To some extent this has always been the case. We must be actively involved in our own educations, or they will not take hold. However, it is sad m to see that those institutions originally founded to help us obtain an education now at times actively work to prevent this from happening.
 His exact words were, “I am getting my degree form OSU, but my education has come from ISI.”
 His blog does not yet allow linking to particular posts, so the interested reader will have to scroll down to posts 14 and 15.
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