Category Archives: Catholic Education

Curiosity, Wonder, and Wisdom

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).

Seven More Books for Catholic College Students

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.

We Don’t Call Her “The Virgin Mary” For Nothing.

Whenever we talk about Mary, we address her with many different titles: Mother of Jesus, Mother of God, Holy Mary,  Blessed Mother. However, out of all these, the one most often heard across Catholic (and Protestant) aisles is The Virgin Mary.

Virtually every person that claims the Christian faith accepts that Mary miraculously conceived Christ as a virgin. Yet, it is widely believed across every Protestant denomination that after Mary gave birth to Jesus, she was free to give herself fully to her husband Joseph, and thus ceased to be “the virgin” Mary.

For Catholics, it’s a different story. We hold that Mary was Ever Virgin, which means even after she bore the Son of Man, she remained a virgin for the rest of her life.  This belief is significantly crucial to our understanding and veneration of the Mother of God.

The Traditional belief that Mary was Ever-Virgin is as old as the Church itself, and held by those who were closest to Mary and her family. In other words, those who could’ve pointed fingers and said “nuh-uh,” instead attested to the belief that she lived her life as a virgin.

Tradition is an important word because you won’t find any specific reference to Mary’s perpetual virginity in the Bible. As we’ve discussed before, Catholics rely on more than just Sacred Scripture. In fact, our Tradition precedes the scripture by many decades. So technically speaking, the belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is actually older than the New Testament itself.

The earliest writings we do have of this belief are once again found in the Protoevangelium of James, which if we recall, is not considered inspired scripture by the Church, but does contain true Tradition.

However, much in the same way we approached her immaculate conception, we can understand the Tradition of Mary as ever-virgin through reason alone.

So ultimately the question is, does it make sense that, after birthing the savior, Mary did not enter into a normal relationship with Joseph, her spouse, with whom she shared all the rights of the marriage bed?

To answer this, we must first recall that Mary was never “normal” to begin with. Remember that when we refer to Mary, we refer to her as holy, which means set apart. She was brought into this world for a specific, divine purpose, one that would impede her from living a “normal” life all together.

Mary’s perpetual virginity was the mark of her complete and total purity. That’s how God made her to be. Were she to simply go about her business as any other woman, she would have ceased to be the perfect vessel that bore the Light of the World.

But what about Biblical references to siblings of Jesus? Many who wish to discredit Mary’s perpetual virginity will often cite verses in the Scriptures that refer to Jesus’ brethren. It is suggested in the Protoevangelium of James that Joseph was a widower with his own children, which could make Christ’s “brethen” his step-siblings. However, in the 4th century St. Jerome claimed such references to be cousins of Christ, born by a relative of Mary, who also happened to be named Mary. This is perhaps the most logical explanation.

Even more telling, are the actions of Christ right before His death. Before breathing His last, Jesus gave Mary to John, who was with Him at the cross, to care for as if she was John’s own mother.  Why would Jesus do that if Mary had other children — or even stepchildren?

When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. — John 19: 26-27

Whatever the explanation, the truth remains that Christ was the son of Mary, not son of Mary. It’s important to understand that belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity dates back to the time of the apostles, and it wasn’t until after Martin Luther broke away from the Church that it was ever widely contested. In fact, Luther himself accepted the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

Those who were closest to Mary — who knew her, walked with her, and took care of her — they knew that the Lord had made her holy. They knew of her perfection and unblemished purity, and Catholics across the world hold tight to that truth today.

The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin” 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church. 499

Know Mary, Know Jesus. No Mary, No Jesus.

During my days as a Southern Baptist, my opinion of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, was the same as every other Protestant.

I saw her as just another character in the Bible, one who was given a particular task, and when God was finished with her, she faded into the background with the rest of the crowd. She lived her life as a normal woman, giving herself fully to her husband Joseph, and birthing other, less divine, children.

And I also remember thinking that Catholics gave Mary way too much credit, putting her in a place that was a little too close to God’s throne. I can’t honestly recall if I ever actually believed that Catholics “worshipped” Mary — although I’m sure I’d been told at some point — but I certainly never understood why Catholics considered her to be a big deal.

Looking back on those ignorant times, I am filled with both shame and confusion. I often wonder why my past views on Mary never struck me as odd since Mary gave birth to God in the flesh. I never once stopped to think, “How could she go on to live life as a normal woman after that?”

Of course now I know that she didn’t.

Since establishing my Mackerel Snapper blogsite, I’ve held off writing about Mary. I wanted to make sure I gave her proper justice with my words, but at the same time, I needed to be in a place where I felt I understood more of the mystery surrounding the Blessed Mother.

One thing I’ve come to understand clearly — more clearly that I ever have — is that Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, was far from just another woman.

She was chosen by God almighty, long before He spoke this world into existence, long before the fall of Adam and Eve, long before she gave birth to Christ, to rise above all of humanity, to be the immaculate vessel through which God would enter our world. She dedicated, not just her womb, but her entire life and all that she was, to the glory of the Father.

And it all starts with her immaculate conception. Immaculate literally meaning “without stain.” In other words, perfect. Many of us hear the words “immaculate conception” and think of the circumstances surrounding the conception of Jesus. But actually, the term applies to Mary, and the circumstances surrounding her conception in the womb of her mother, who we Catholics know as Anne. Her father we know as Joachim.

What we know about Mary’s early life, including the names of her parents and her immaculate birth, are from handed-down Tradition and the Protoevangelium of James, or the Infancy Gospel of James which is dated to roughly the 2nd Century. During this time, the early Christian’s hungered for more information about the young Christ and Mary, therefore a number of texts surfaced to satisfy this hunger, hence the title ‘protoevangelium’–proto meaning first or primitive, and Evangelium meaning “The Gospel.”

Now, this book is not included in the canonical gospels and is widely considered to be apocryphal, meaning that its writings are of uncertain or dubious origin. This, however, doesn’t discredit the work. While the Church rejects the book as more fiction than truth, it does not reject the truth and tradition that inspired it and that had been passed down through the apostles.

Apologist Mark Shea puts it perfectly:

The source of the doctrine is the fact that Mary was perpetually a virgin and the whole Church remembered this fact, beginning with the apostles. The Protoevangelium of James reflects the existence of this tradition and incorporates it into a legend about Mary, but it does not originate the tradition. You might as well say that “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is the source of our belief that Abraham Lincoln existed and was President. No. “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is, like the Protoevangelium, a fictional tale which refers to a tradition which precedes it. Clear Thinking About the Protoevangelium of James

Of course, if we truly think about the task that God chose Mary to do, we do not need meticulously documented evidence that she was without sin. Simple reason can lead us to that conclusion.

When we Catholics say the Hail Mary, we refer to her as “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” You can’t be in any Catholic Church for long without hearing or seeing the word “holy.” It is used so much that we may take it for granted, forgetting what the word implies. It has a deeply significant meaning, especially in the Rosary prayer. Holy literally means “set apart.” Something that is holy has been dedicated or consecrated to God for a purpose. It is sacred. In the days of the Old Testament, the temple housed certain items that were considered holy because of their specific purpose.

In his book Reasons to Believe, Dr. Scott Hahn writes about this in correlation to Mary saying:

The golden vessels of the Jerusalem Temple were set apart for use in worship. You could not take home the holy lamp stands, for example, and use them to light your dining room…These things were set apart for a divine purpose. That is the meaning of their holiness.

Reasons to Believe. Ch 7. “Saints Alive”

Much in the way that holy objects were set apart, so was Mary. She was not called to be a prophet, nor a priest, nor a teacher. She was born immaculate, without sin, so that she could house God in her womb and bring our Savior into this world.

And she remained Holy — “set apart” — for all time.

That is why Catholics hold to the truth that Mary was not only immaculately conceived, but was Ever-Virgin for the rest of her life. This I will discuss in the next post of this series.


Healing the Body of Christ

You may have heard about the controversial Cincinnati Catholic school contracts, which require teachers not to publicly support things contrary to Church teaching. If you haven’t heard about it, here”s CNN”s story highlighting all the teachers that are terrified of being fired; for whatever reason, the reporter didn”t bother to find anyone who thought it might be a good idea.

If you’re a faithful Catholic, you’re probably annoyed that the media at large portray this new policy as bigotry and intimidation when it’s obviously not. You might be irritated at Pope Francis for saying “who am I to judge?” And you’re probably impatient with the teachers who so stupidly want to live a life contrary to Catholic teaching, then go and teach at a Catholic school. I mean, come on.

Hold it. Let’s consider that maybe these teachers aren’t stupid. Probably the ones most frustrated by this new policy are the ones who have been teaching there for a long time, which puts them at maybe late 40s to early 60s. The vast majority of Catholics that age had horrible catechesis when they were coming of age. (Does anyone else mentally brace themselves when they walk into a new parish and see that the priest is about that old?)

I don’t mean that many in this generation haven’t heard the natural law arguments illustrating why two people of the same sex can’t marry or why IVF doesn’t jive with the Catholic understanding of marriage, sexuality, and life. I mean many in this generation lived through Vatican II and its immediate aftermath, which included major scandal by some prominent and respected Catholic bishops and theologians, the Dolans and Chaputs of that generation. Major scandal like taking out a full-page ad in The New York Times publicly dissenting from Humane Vitae.

This generation pretty much missed something crucial: the idea that the Church has authority, speaks authoritatively on doctrinal matters, and can’t online casino change doctrine. (For more on this, read Ralph McInerny’s What Went Wrong with Vatican II?)

We can blame them for not knowing and assenting to what they’ve never been taught, but I don’t think we should. Instead of whining, complaining, finger-pointing, and exasperated sighing, we should evangelize. Like, with love and understanding and patience and all that stuff.

We ought to recognize that it’s not necessarily their fault they didn’t get a good education, and we should see that as unfortunate, not threatening. We should see what we can learn from them.

It’s not about us versus them, not about our egos or our feeling of superiority because we’re “better Catholics.” Your faith, your education and understanding of the faith, your relationship with God is hardly your doing. Did you choose your awesome faithful-Catholic parents? Did you found the great Catholic school you attended? Did you arrange the event or conversation that made you wonder about the faith or give yourself the drive that brought you to seek the truth?

Don’t blow off the role of other people, and the role of grace. Be grateful, be humble, and quit patting yourself on the back. This is about healing the body of Christ, not about being better than those “so-called Catholics.”

Searching for Truth in the Modern Academy

“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 [1].

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).

Why don't more people make this sacrifice for their marriages?
Why many colleges do not help people to pursue Truth…

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 [2]:

“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.


[1] His exact words were, “I am getting my degree form OSU, but my education has come from ISI.”

[2] His blog does not yet allow linking to particular posts, so the interested reader will have to scroll down to posts 14 and 15.


If You Let Them, They Will Build

I recently read an article about childhood and play and the increasingly all pervasive place of school in the lives of children. School work which runs all day, followed by extra-curricular activities such as sports, followed by hours of homework, does not leave a lot of time for playing. The author of the article argues for a central importance of play, unstructured and unsupervised, in the lives of children.

Sometimes it is hard for me to get into the mindset of school. When I was a kid I was homeschooled. All of us siblings were. We did more actual work and got better grades and test scores than our public school peers, but we spent less time at it. I remember looking up at the school buses going down the road in the morning while I was eating breakfast or doing barn chores, not having even started school for the day. I remember looking up again in mid to late afternoon while I was working on hobbies, or reading a book, or playing with legos, or running wild with my brothers, having been done with school for hours. School was self initiated, self-directed. The lesson plans were given to us at the beginning of the week, and as long as we turned in the required assignments and got passing grades, we were free to decide when we did what, how quickly we did it, in what order we did it. We could knuckle down and get to it, or we could dawdle. It was completely up to us. My siblings and I frequently worked an extra hour on Thursday to do all of Friday’s work, so that we would have Friday completely off to play all day, or go on a field trip or whatever else took our fancy.

This kind of personal control over our time, and the amount of free time we had are, in many ways, an ideal only feasible in a small group setting. (Or is it? Why would I assume that? Has anything different been tried?) My family’s particular small group model was far from perfect, despite that amazing privilege, but that freedom was foundational to who we became. I think it is safe to say, and I doubt my parents would gainsay it, that the vast majority of our learning took place in the out of school hours. This does not mean that school hours are not useful, or that 12 years of unstructured play is the ideal educational model. Rather it seems to indicate a model of formal education that I am becoming increasingly enamored of.

Formal education is a foundation. It provides training in skills of the mind, through reading, writing, arithmetic, and the sciences and arts, which shape how the children think. Good training will yield better thinking than poor training. It will be more logical, more nuanced, more systematic, more communicable. However, the educator is really only laying a foundation. The real education is the building that is built on top of that foundation. To grasp the relative importance of the two, and to settle any silly debates about which is more important, simply look at any building you please and ask which is more important, the foundation or the building which is build upon it. A good formal education, like a good foundation, is largely a hidden thing. No one walks around spouting multiplication tables and spelling “prestidigitation” and balancing chemical equations, anymore than people live on cement pads in the open air. It is in the building that the real business of life happens, and it is in the active life of the mind that real learning happens. On the opposite side of the coin, no house weathers the exigencies of life without a solid foundation, and no mind can long survive the airy heights of unfounded creativity.

The practice in reading, diagramming sentences, writing essays on fungi and field mice and Ferdinand of Spain; mutilating multitudinous math problems; and learning about levers and and lemmings and chemicals that exploded when mixed with water; all of these were slowly shaping my mind into the sort of mind which could analyze, recognize, organize and philosophize. However, the real education came from the use I made of those abilities in my free time.

When children are little, in preschool, kindergarten, maybe first or second grade, they are full of dreams and schemes and big ideas. They want to build skyscrapers and castles in the clouds. By the time they reach middle school, a lot of them lose that imaginative spark. Instead of asking questions like, “Why does that work like that? Where do these chemicals come from? What makes gravity work? Why would Hitler do that? Didn’t he know better?” they start asking questions like, “Is this going to be on the test? How many paragraphs do I have to write?” We start out by training kids to achieve a standard, usually one set by the lowest common denominator, and they follow by sinking to the level of the standard we expect of them. I am hypothesizing that this is because education has tried to go into the business of building buildings instead of merely pouring concrete for foundations. We have codified and quantified, metered and measured every possible dimension of what we term success, broken it down into its component parts, and tried to fit children into that model of what we think they should look like when they are done. It is a natural temptation for any educator, trainer, teacher or mentor, but kids quite rightly resent being built. Eventually they want to build themselves, even if they cannot articulate it, and it is meet and just that it should be so.

It is not the responsibility of adults, parents or teachers to see that children “make something of themselves,” that is their responsibility, and I think we needn’t worry too much about it. As I said, little children are natural born builders, (once they get past the natural born destroyer phase, which takes longer for some than for others.) Young children build castles on clouds and to them nothing is impossible. The ideal education is one which preserves into adulthood that imaginative spark, that impulse to build something beautiful and interesting and useful and just plain cool, coupled with a mature, level-headed knowledge of ways and means and a foundation upon which to build their castle. Such young people will build themselves, and it will not be after the image that their elders would have chosen for them. It will be more nearly after the image they were created to show.

Why Bother to Learn Anything At All, Anyway?

There are way more things to know in this Universe than you have the brain cells to record, and any one field of human study has probably by this point generated more data than a human mind, with a lifetime of study, could internalize.

We should feel small standing up against the ocean of numbers, names, dates, vocabulary words, genealogies, and scientific observations that human minds have recorded and passed down from the beginning of history. And that is just the bare facts. We should feel even smaller standing before the Frankensteinian behemoth of secondary sources, of analyses, theses, syntheses,  hypotheses, of theories and theora, of postulates and conjectures, the half-living, half-dead piecemeal that makes up all of our sciences. Enter the meta-philosophers, the cross-disciplinary geniuses, the historiographers, and the historians of ideas, and we have an even more imposing edifice before which the deflated individual mind may shrink.

But all of the above comprises merely those facts that humans have been able to accumulate over our few thousand years of history and our rational response to them. More than by all of this knowledge, we are dwarfed by our ignorance, by all of the facts that are still beyond our reach, and by all of the theories that would be necessary for us to make sense of them.

If we were supposed to come to know and understand all of reality in our 80 years, if knowledge as such was the purpose for which we were born, we would be utterly doomed to failure. The scientist, the philosopher, the mathematician, the literary critic, the historian, for all of their efforts, can only ever end their inquiries with yet more questions.

It is right, then, to suppose that the man who thinks himself bright has little to offer. There won’t be an intelligentsia in heaven, but the dimmest light in the Kingdom will know more than all the snobs of this age put together. Stephen Hawking knows very little in comparison to the knowledge a baptized, drooling, screaming infant would receive at the moment of death.

If such knowledge is to be ours, then why the search for mere facts here and now? Why the itching, burning desire to discover more and more? It’s a reasonable question for a Christian to ask.

There is, after all, a kind of gnawing doubt that is characteristic of this age, a prurient interest in all things contrary to our position, an addiction to polemic, the never-ending need for the rush of dialectical victory, the sweet sensation of a belief successfully defended, of re-affirmation. Do we claw after knowledge so as to cling to a faith whose substance is constant doubt deferred?

Do we learn merely so as to be of use, to learn new ways to suppress the vices and encourage the virtues, more effective ways to practice charity?

Rather, reality is of a piece, and everything is interesting. Everything we learn, at a minimum, gives us new ways to glorify God in the here and now, more opportunities to respond to His grace with thanksgiving, and so to remain on the path that will take us to full knowledge of and with Him in heaven. As long as we retain the hunger to learn, the yearning to know–and in large part we retain this by continuing to learn–we retain the hunger for the fullness of knowledge, for the Beatific Vision, and this hunger helps bend our recalcitrant wills heavenward.

Beyond this, knowledge is a good in itself, something whose full value we cannot appreciate until we possess it, and perhaps not even for some time after we have come into possession of it. Someday we, like Stargate’s Daniel Jackson, may find such arcane and apparently useless knowledge as fluency in Egyptian hieroglyphics critical to a matter of life and death, of national security. Or, indeed, in our case, critical to the salvation of souls.

Simon Says & Christ’s Supper

“Eh, Bart, I’m glad you had fun, but I wouldn’t get too into that Catholic Church. With all the sitting and standing and kneeling, it’s like Simon Says without a winner.” – Marge
“Mom, that’s blasphemy! I’ll say a rosary for you.” – Bart

– The Simpsons, Season 16 Episode 21 (“The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star”)

Liturgy is central to the Christian life. In Roman times, “liturgy” (Greek: leitourgia) meant “a tax or financial obligation paid by one for the benefit of many”. Think about the Crucifixion and the Mass, which joins in on that perpetual single Sacrifice (Hebrews 10:11-14), and realize the meaning of the word itself.

“[I]n the beauty of the liturgy…wherever we join in singing, praising, exalting and worshiping God, a little bit of heaven will become present on earth. Truly it would not be presumptuous to say that, in a liturgy completely centered on God, we can see, in its rituals and chant, an image of eternity.” – Pope Benedict XVI [link]

The Mass is, of course, totally in line with both Scripture and Tradition. It has been integral to Christianity since the Last Supper. St. Peter Julian Eymard said, “The Mass is the most holy act of religion; you can do nothing that can give greater glory to God or be more profitable for your soul than to hear Mass both frequently and devoutly. It is the favorite devotion of the saints.”

The Mass also has a very rich history. Some forms of it, like the Ambrosian – which is still in use today – have older origins than even the Tridentine form. At great personal risk, Catholics preserved early liturgical documents. Thanks to their efforts, teachings have survived wars, famines, persecution, and the elements.

In addition, the Mass is another sign of the Christian fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17-18), because it is in harmony with ancient Jewish traditions. We use stone altars, as the Jews did. Priests also ritually wash their hands before celebrating the Sacrifice, in accordance with commands from the Old Testament (Exodus 30:17-21, Psalm 26:6). Even the use of holy water at parish entrances has its roots in Judaism. Before entering the Temple, Jews were required to undergo immersion in a mikveh (ritual bath).

Unfortunately, within this liturgical framework, there is a minority that puts its personal preferences above the judgment of the Church. There are some that insist on identifying only with the Tridentine form (which, by the way, was not even promulgated until 1570, despite its proponents’ focus on antiquity) and push willful neglect of the perfectly-valid Novus Ordo, and there are some that advocate the reverse. Both sides are wrong – both forms are right. These factions do nothing but needlessly scare off potential converts that seek a unified message.

All approved forms of the Mass are equally valid, but sometimes differently demonstrated. In keeping with the centrality of sacrifices in Judeo-Christian history, the Eucharist is essential – that, not our preferences, is what matters. For example, I may not be thrilled that the Ambrosian rite has the Epiklesis after the Words of Institution (rather than before), but I defer to the wisdom of the Church and recognize that its Eucharist is valid.

On the Sunday before Christmas, I attended an Orthodox (OCA) liturgy. It was mesmerizing and markedly devout. The “smells and bells,” the obvious reverence, and the different prayers kept me piqued. One part of the Communion prayers struck me especially: “Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries, nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your kingdom.”

This is how a proper liturgy should be. A liturgy is supposed to be transcendent, to connect us to God. The Church tirelessly works to ensure that this is the reality, but we need knowledge to appreciate this. Let us all learn more about our liturgical heritage and continuously fall in love with the Church over and over again.

Sts. George and Alexandra Orthodox Church -- Fort Smith, AR
Sts. George and Alexandra Orthodox Church —
Fort Smith, AR


(All verses are from the NASB translation.)

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(This was originally shared here on

Distance Learning with Holy Apostles College and Seminary

Holy Apostles College and Seminary (HACS) is one of two non-residential Colleges recommended by the Cardinal Newman Society—a huge honor and privilege for any school making the short list. See that recommendation here. With a robust catolog and an honorary team of professors, HACS is the best kept secret in Catholic education. A humble size of online students make for a 1:9 student to faculty ratio. With names like Patrick Madrid, Dr. Donald DeMarco, Dr. John Finley, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, Dr. Daniel Van Slyke, Dr. Alan Vincelette, Dr. Philippe Yates, and Fr. Brian Mullady, the HACS student receives a top-shelf education and experience.

I conducted an interview with Dr. Sebastian Mahfood, OP, who is the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Vice-President of Administration, and Director of Assessment for Holy Apostles College & Seminary. Dr. Mahfood is excited to tell the world about what HACS offers and what the future holds for prospective distance learning students.

What degree offerings are available online?

Holy Apostles College & Seminary offers an Associate of Arts in Theology, a Bachelor of Arts in History in the Social Sciences, English and the Humanities, Philosophy and Theology, and a Master of Arts in Theology, Philosophy, and Pastoral Studies. The college also has certificates available in each of its theology concentrations and sponsors a post-master’s certificate program in theology. At present, students can pursue up to 50% of their Associate, Bachelor of Arts and post-master’s certificate degree programs and theology certificates completely online and 100% of their Master of Arts degree programs completely online.

Are different concentrations in Theology available?

Holy Apostles College & Seminary currently offers twelve theology concentrations, including Apologetics, Bioethics (in collaboration with the National Catholic Bioethics Center), Canon Law, Church History, Divine Worship & Sacraments, Dogmatic Theology, Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Philosophical Theology, Sacred Scripture, Spiritual Theology, and Theology & Science.

What sets HACS apart from other distance learning programs, and Theology programs in general?

Holy Apostles College & Seminary is an orthodox Catholic program grounded in the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas with a mission to cultivate lay, consecrated and ordained Catholic leaders for the purpose of evangelization. We are not only a college but also a seminary that forms priests for dioceses and religious orders across the country, and we allow our lay students to study in the same academic courses with our seminarians for the greater good of both. Our online programs are thus designed for the inclusion of lay, consecrated and ordained Catholic leaders, and we find that we have a large number of students who already have professional degrees and are able to apply their rich life experiences to the growth of the community of learners they will find in each of their classes. Our online teaching faculty are dedicated to the intellectual, spiritual and moral growth of each of our students, and this is evident in the kind of classes they build within the programs in which they teach. In this way, we are not just an academic program for lay students but a program that seeks the growth of the whole person.

How would you describe the student body?

The student body is mostly comprised of lay, consecrated and ordained Catholics, but we welcome all persons with a desire to study in this kind of a community and have a number of non-Catholic students, Protestant mainline, Evangelical and others already working their way through a degree program. As Catholics, we understand our mission is to all peoples, and we welcome everyone with a desire to be formed in our mission.

What’s on the horizon for new educational opportunities at HACS (Certificates, Doctoral, Bachelors via DL)?

Holy Apostles College & Seminary expects to have all of its undergraduate offerings 100% online by early spring, 2014, and all of its theology certificate programs and post-master’s certificate programs online by summer, 2014. Throughout the spring of 2014, the college will also pursue the development of a post-master’s certificate program in philosophy. The college has a special interest in the pursuit of a completely online 36-credit doctoral program in philosophy and theology.

In addition, the college has just entered into an agreement with the Adler-Aquinas Institute to offer a Great Books major on the undergraduate level, which is expected to launch in the fall of 2014, a Thomistic Studies concentration in the graduate philosophy program along with a Christian Wisdom concentration in the theology program.

What career opportunities exist for a Philosophy or Theology major?

Persons majoring in philosophy or theology on the undergraduate level can pursue many types of careers, including teaching in private elementary and secondary schools and working in various apostolates within their home dioceses. Many students who complete their undergraduate degrees in philosophy or theology will continue their studies on the graduate level, receiving master of arts degrees that open up new possibilities in various apostolates like chaplaincy, in diocesan or parish ministry and in teaching at community colleges or within the undergraduate programs on the university level. Some students who complete their graduate degrees in philosophy or theology will continue their studies on the doctoral level, receiving doctorates that open up new possibilities for teaching on the undergraduate or graduate levels or of working within or alongside various national organizations such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate or the National Catholic Educational Association, to name a few.

What is the “MOOC”?

Holy Apostles College & Seminary is the first Catholic college ever to have offered a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, beginning in the fall of 2012. The college has since sponsored a few MOOCs each term into which anyone with an interest in the subject matter may enroll at no charge via The idea behind the MOOCs is to extend the reach of the college’s mission into those publics that are not currently part of the institution’s learning community and to make available additional study opportunities for those who are. The MOOCs that are offered every semester include Online Teaching and Learning, Teaching Research Design, and MOOC Design – each through collaboration with the Catholic Distance Learning Network. Other MOOCs are offered periodically, such as Consecration to Jesus through Mary, Dante’s Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, Lenten Journey with Jesus: A Virtual Tour of Jesus’s Last 40 Days, and Atheism and the New Atheism. New MOOCs are introduced by our faculty each term, and the new collaboration with the Adler-Aquinas Institute will result in additional MOOCs offered in Great Books and in Neo-Thomism.

Where can I go to learn more about Holy Apostles?

To learn more about Holy Apostles College & Seminary, please visit us online at, or join one of our social media sites on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter @holyapostlesedu.

It’s Biblical to Ask Saints to Pray for Us

(This was originally shared here on, as part of a longer post.)

There is nothing wrong with asking the heavenly saints to pray for us.

Many Protestants argue that asking the saints to pray for us is “unbiblical,” while throwing around verses like 1 Timothy 2:5. But they are incorrect.

1 Timothy 2:5 — the infamous “one mediator between God and men” verse — refers to salvation, not prayer. The verse reminds us that it is only because of the graces found through Christ (God Himself) that we are able to have any real relationship with God and reach Heaven. It does not, however, absolutely negate relations with angels or heavenly saints. After all, it was an angel (Gabriel) that spoke to Mary before Christ was conceived in her body, not God Himself.

I was raised in several Protestant denominations. They all placed a major emphasis on Christians praying for each other — which is encouraged in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 and other passages. I would contend that a heavenly saint, one who is holy and in Heaven with God, would have a lot more sway with God than a rebellious sinner on earth would.

To put that another way, if someone asked you to do something for them, would you not be more likely to help them if they were your best friend, as opposed to a complete stranger? Of course, you may very well be willing to do something for a complete stranger, but you would probably be more willing to do something for your best friend.

And there is evidence in the Bible of the saints praying to God.

“Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.” – Revelation 8:3-4

The word for “saints” in that passage comes from the Greek word hagios. Thayer’s New Testament Greek-English Lexicon says that the best definition of hagios is “most holy thing, a saint”. This would seem to undermine the Protestant assertion that “saints” in this context can only refer to people on earth.

Now, what would the saints be praying for? Themselves? Doubtful. They are in Heaven, so they do not need anything, as eternal life with God is perfect. That really only leaves one option: they are praying for us. And because they are praying for us anyway, how could it be wrong to ask them to pray for us about something specific? It is like interacting with a DJ at an event. He’s playing music anyway, so what is the harm in asking him to play your favorite song?

Here’s my Scripture-based defense of the practice that should answer most Protestant objections:

Matthew 17:3-4 & Luke 9:28-31.
Moses and Elijah (who are clearly heavenly saints, not “saints” in the way Paul would sometimes use the word) are with Christ during the Transfiguration.

Revelation 6:9-11.
The martyrs can talk to God.

From those three passages, we can gather that the saints in Heaven interact with God.

Luke 15:10.
The angels and saints (who, in Luke 20:35-36, Christ says are equal to the angels) are aware of earthly events.

1 Timothy 2:1 & James 5:16.
It is good for Christians to pray for one another.

Now, if the saints interact with God and are aware of earthly events (and can therefore hear us), why wouldn’t they pray for us, considering that it is good for Christians (which the angels and saints definitely are) to pray for one another?

Revelation 21:27. 
Nothing imperfect will enter into Heaven.

Psalm 66:18 & James 5:16. 
God ignores the prayers of the wicked, and the prayers of the righteous are effective.

Because the saints have reached perfection (they are in Heaven), their prayers are more effective than the prayers of those that are less righteous, so that’s why one might ask them to pray instead of asking another Christian on earth or simply doing it themselves.


(All verses are from the NASB translation.)

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Children and Online Porn: Five Quick Stats

kids_on_computer_bw copyIn our media world children will almost certainly be exposed to images and material that can have a negative impact on their moral and psychological development. Exposure to pornography is one such concern that should be on every parent’s radar.

First, some statistics about children and exposure to online pornography:

1. One study in the US found that 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to online pornography during adolescence.(1)

2. A study in the UK found that nearly 57% of 9-19 year olds who use the Internet weekly have been exposed to pornography. (2)

3. The same study found that only 16% of parents think their children have seen pornography on the Internet.(3)

4. A Dutch study found that adolescents aged 13 to 20 with frequent exposure to sexually explicit Internet material were more likely to show greater sexual uncertainty and more positive attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration (i.e., sexual relations with casual partners/friends or with sexual partners in one-night stands). (4)

5. Exposure to pornography among youth is often unintentional. One study in Australia found that 75% of 16- and 17-year-olds have been accidentally exposed to pornographic websites, while 38% of boys and 2% of girls have deliberately accessed them. (5)

So what to do?

Unfortunately, the reality that children will most likely be exposed to pornography online can lead to two extreme reactions which are counterproductive.

One approach well-meaning parents can take is to control the media their children consume to such a great extent that the child is led to believe that technology and the Internet are bad. This approach is actually contrary to Church teaching. In the encyclical Miranda Prorsus, Pope Pius XII wrote that technological advances are “gifts of God,” which like our own lives can be used for ill or for good. According to Communio et Progressio, a document of the Second Vatican Council, “the communications media can be seen as powerful instruments for progress.” The document goes on to say that “it is true they present difficulties but these must be faced and overcome.” In other words, media is a potential for great good. We are called to work with media to promote good in society and to teach our children to use it in accordance with Gospel values.

The Church, therefore, urges a balanced approach that requires much more from adults than either shutting down the Internet in their home altogether or having an anything goes policy. John Paul II, in his World Communications Day Message in 2004 advised parents “to regulate the use of media in the home” but “above all, parents should give good example to children by their own thoughtful and selective use of media.” John Paul II also urges parents to “join with other families to study and discuss the problems and opportunities presented by the use of the media.” (emphasis mine)

I highlight “opportunities” because when we speak to children about media and Gospel values it is important to be positive. It is necessary to have open dialogue with children about the dangers of the Internet, including, at an appropriate age, pornography. But often it is the dangers of the Internet that parents harp on while the seeds of the Gospel, and our role as Christians in planting them, are ignored.

Instead, parents can lead their children to the water of the Internet and teach them that while it is not all good for drinking; some of it is good. Children should be taught that they cannot drink everything in the media uncritically; the waters should be analyzed and strained before consuming. But it is equally imperative that children learn to identify the Gospel, even tiny seeds of it, when they see it in the media.

And most importantly, we can teach our children that as Christians, we are called to contribute clean, fresh Living Water for others to drink through our kind words and our thoughtful and patient presence  – online and offline!