Tag Archives: education

The Crucifix as a Passive Symbol

While doing some research recently, I came across reference to the crucifix as a “passive symbol” by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in its 2011 decision in the Lautsi v. Italy case.

The context was the Grand Chamber’s pronouncement that the Italian law requiring the display of crucifixes in classrooms did not infringe on the rights of parents to ensure that the education of their children is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions. According to the Grand Chamber, the display of the crucifix, unlike compulsory religious instruction or religious oath- taking, did not require action, prayer, or reverence from those who view it. Hence, according to the Grand Chamber, “it cannot be deemed to have an influence on pupils comparable to didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”

(The Grand Chamber gave other reasons for its decision. For a more thorough discussion of the Lautsi case, please see “The Case of Lautsi v. Italy: a Synthesis” by Gregor Puppinck in Issue 3 of the 2012 volume of The BYU Law Review, available online.)

Whether the Grand Chamber realized it or not, the phrase “passive symbol” in relation to the crucifix is rich and deep in meaning. In more ways than one, the crucifix is indeed a passive symbol – although it is passive, like all other symbols it communicates meaning.

The crucifix tells the story of a God Who, out of love for humanity, freely became Man and allowed Himself to suffer the worst cruelty that humanity can think of. On the Cross, Christ rendered Himself powerless. He Who is God deliberately refused to display His omnipotence to a hostile crowd who was daring Him to show that He is Christ by coming down from the cross and saving Himself. Christ passively, albeit freely, suffered and died.

The crucifix shows Christ madly in love with us, yet too helpless to coerce us to respond to His love. He could only hope that the sight of Him nailed to the cross would move us to love Him in return.

This is His way of winning us over, because He wants us to love Him freely and without coercion.  Indeed, we can and do reject His love. With or without realizing it, perhaps the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights was on to something more when it ruled that the mere display of the crucifix “cannot be deemed to have an influence on pupils comparable to didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”

Ironically, perhaps it is precisely the self-effacing love that the crucifix symbolizes that makes some people uncomfortable at the sight of it. For we can be incapable of responding to such love which begs to be repaid with love.

The crucifix depicts the apparent defeat of God and at the same time is powerful proof of His love for us. The sight of a crucifix and the meaning it conveys can be disturbing, consoling, or inspiring.  Christ may be passive on the crucifix, but the sight of Him there does not leave people indifferent.

Because of these, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights correctly referred to the crucifix as a “passive symbol”. The image of a God Who allowed Himself to be treated the way He was treated communicates a lot of meaning.

Can You Teach a Preschooler About the Summa? A Review of Tiny Thomists

There’s a struggle that I experience when trying to teach young children about the Catholic faith. I want to teach little kids about God’s love, but I would like to take lessons beyond “God made the flowers and the birds and he made you!” This isn’t a bad lesson (it’s actually very important), but I think it is beneficial to get a little deeper. Young children have a capacity to encounter God, the saints, and the truths of the Catholic faith that we often do not give them credit for. How can deep truths be presented in kid-friendly ways? Figuring out how to bring substantial teachings to young children can be a daunting task, with many factors to consider.

Even though my baby is a little young to begin formal religious instruction, I still like to keep my eyes open for good resources and programs that may come in handy in a year or two. When I heard about TJ Burdick’s program, Tiny Thomists, I was very intrigued. As I communicated with Burdick about his program and looked through the materials, I became very excited. According to Burdick, the primary goal of this program is “to provide a free and focused Thomistic formation for parents who want salvation of their kiddos.” As I examined the program, I saw just how excellently Burdick is fulfilling his goal so far. Tiny Thomists is an adaptable, approachable, thorough resource for parents to use with their young children, and it’s free—what could be better?

Photo courtesy of the Dominican Institute. Used with permission.

This program is extremely adaptable. Burdick recommends Tiny Thomists for children three years old and up, and the materials are directed towards emerging readers and children in the pre–First Communion phase. However, after going through the materials and thinking about the wide range in understanding that different children have, I think that parents can easily use Tiny Thomists for older children—or perhaps even use some sections with younger children!

Tiny Thomists is very approachable. Even if you have no background in theology or philosophy, you can use Tiny Thomists to teach your child about the Catholic faith. Each lesson plan includes a variety of ways to teach Catholic doctrine to your child, and the two of you can learn together as you dive into Scripture, stories of the saints, and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

The materials are very thorough. Biweekly, each household receives a two-week lesson plan that includes many different stories and activities. My favorite feature is the “Simplified Summa,” a section that features a sentence from the Summa Theologica to discuss. This is a great way to make St. Thomas Aquinas’s writings palatable to the mind of a four-year-old! The lesson plans also include games, stories, and ideas for craft projects to reinforce the lessons that are being taught. Also, every Thursday, parents will receive “The Gospel in Kid Speak,” so that they can discuss the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel reading with their children prior to attending Mass.

I was really impressed with the amount of resources packed into this program, and I appreciate this wide range of activities. Every child is different and has various needs and levels of understanding, and this program is so flexible. Tiny Thomists is a fantastic program, and I think it has wonderful potential for more development and growth in the future. Personally, since I love to cook and bake, I think it would be neat if a simple recipe would be regularly included in each issue that relates to the saint or Scripture. Already, though, this is a resource packed with great faith-building activities. I am very excited to see how it continues to develop and grow!

To download the most recent issue of Tiny Thomists, learn more about the program, and sign up for the emails, you can visit: https://dominicaninstitute.com/tinythomists/

Formation in Faery

Imagination is twofold, retentive (reproductive) and creative (productive). The object of the first is a sensible reality, which we have previously perceived as such. The creative forms its object by combining elements which were separately perceived. The analysis of the creative imagination is of considerable importance for the psychology of invention, and of artistic and intellectual initiative.
— “Imagination”, New Advent

The lesson for us, as parents, in this analysis of Tolkien’s Catholic imagination, is that our child’s formed imagination influences how he pictures reality. The Catholic character of their lives, the inclusion of the good, the true, and the beautiful in their environment, is going to have a profound effect on how they imagine what they imagine.
— Laura Berquist, “The Importance of the Imagination”, Catholic Culture

Man’s soul is rational, and that means he has both an intellect and will. The intellect desires truth; the will desires the good. But the imagination is something other. The imagination serves as a database of mental images stored by sensory experiences, and therefore, the intellect recalls images from the imagination which present it to the will as something to be desired. For this reason, it’s important to flood the imagination with the “good, true, and beautiful”, as St. Paul says in Philippians.
— Bryan Gonzalez, “Why We Must Form the Imagination of Our Children”, Those Catholic Men
Edmund Dulac - Cinderella
“Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother” by Edmund Dulac, in Picture Book for the Red Cross

As a child in sunny Singapore, I was brought up on a rich diet of Hans Christian Andersen, The Brothers Grimm, Perrault, Joseph Jacobs, Robert Louis Stevenson, Philippa Pearce, Oscar Wilde, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, and many other authors and transmitters of fantasy and mystery. I eagerly imbibed these tales of old (and not so old) which furnished the chambers of my mind, charging the world around me with wonder and beauty. When I wasn’t reading, I was watching Mother Goose videos and Shakespearean stop motion films.

One day, speaking with good friends in school, I realised that not everybody had been taught the nursery rhymes which I took for granted, the rhymes which had formed the foundation of my lifelong addiction to reading and poetry.

Later on, in Australia, I met homeschoolers whose strict parents had eliminated fairytales from their childhoods. One had no idea who Rumpelstiltskin was, and thought Pinocchio was just a character in Shrek. Another had avoided Enid Blyton, thinking her books were just for girls. These homeschoolers had been thoroughly schooled in Catholic teachings, but they struggled to see the point of some lessons in our liberal arts degree, like the philosophical exploration of possible worlds, and the latter woke me up at 3 a.m. one All Saints Day having a meltdown over his Philosophy essay.

I found echoes of this deprivation in an atheist mathematician whom I met admiring the gothic majesty of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As we walked the streets of Melbourne, I inquired as to his favorite stories. He had somehow laid his hands on Dante and Crime and Punishment in his teens, but he never had fairytales in childhood. He said, “I read books about things like jellyfish and dinosaurs.” In high school, he chose to study science and mathematics, because he could not see the point in the humanities. He scoffed at Shakespeare and Chaucer.

I found these young people spiritually malnourished. They lacked a balanced educational diet. On one end, the Catholics had drunk the milk of Christian doctrine; on the other, the atheist had fed well on the meat of hard science and mathematics. But they both had not tasted of the sweet fruits of literature, the leafy vegetables of fairyland (Rapunzel, anyone?), the nourishing mythic roots of their own civilization. They turned their noses up at what they had never been taught to appreciate.

Why are fairytales so important? Many European fairytales have gruesome origins, but over the centuries they have been embedded with Christian virtues, as with Cinderella and Snow White. Even without the Christian content, these stories are important in teaching children basic morals and lessons about the perennial human struggle to triumph over selfishness, cruelty and misfortune. They provide basic human formation, building empathy, rewarding courage, affirming sacrificial love in the face of death. They broaden the mind, enlarging it to admit mysteries and other points of view. When you can place yourself in the shoes of a lowly kitchen maid or a young stowaway, you can begin to appreciate the value in every human life.

Far from useless trifles or evil explorations, fairytales are necessary in training a child to love the true, the good and the beautiful. They open our eyes to see with a sacramental vision, beholding with wonder the magic and mystery in God’s creation, which should not be reduced to mere scientific facts or cast aside with Puritan coldness. The way of faery is the way of virtue, learning how to love ourselves and others as co-pilgrims on the rocky road to the Heavenly City, where we may one day meet the Prince of peace and be welcomed as co-heirs to His Father’s kingdom.

In attempting to understand why intelligent young men and women were occasionally unable to grasp the significant human experiences treated by the Great Books, an American professor by the name of John Senior, who jointly founded and taught in a hugely successful Integrated Humanities Program based on the Great Books, concluded that a man cannot truly comprehend the 100 Great Books if he has not first had the soil of his imagination prepared and nourished by the thousand good books. Only in a mind enriched by the good books, Senior believed, can the significant experiences and truths of the great books take root and grow.
By the “good books”, Senior had in mind everything from the rhymes of Mother Goose, the Fables of Aesop and the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, to works such as Treasure Island, The Wind in the Willows, Wuthering Heights and The Virginian. Senior recognised that just as in the spiritual life we must become as little children before we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven, so it is in the intellectual life.
— “Dr Stephen McInerney: fairy dust needed if Great Books are ever to take root”, The Catholic Weekly

“We need to keep being told fairy tales because we need to keep being reminded that fairy tales are always true — more true than mere fact because were this story merely factual, it would apply to one person at one time. But because it is fiction it applies to all of us, all throughout history, before and beyond.”
— Ross Lawhead, “The Truth of Fairy Tales: Gaiman’s Ocean and Chesterton’s Giant”, ABC Religion and Ethics

The most charming fairy tales spring out of the common events of everyday life.
— Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Elder-Tree Mother

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
— Roald Dahl

Learning by Rote: Creativity and Discipline in Life and Prayer

One day, a home-schooled Anglo-Australian made a rather ill-informed statement on Asian education to his house mate, despite my presence: “Asians can’t be creative because they go through rote learning.”

Interiorly, I thought of all the great poems I was expected to memorise in primary school back in Singapore: immortal lines by Wordsworth, Shelley, Stevenson, Benet – poems which we copied out and illustrated. I can still recite them today, and I still own that cherished personalised poetry book. Then I thought of the poetry I have been composing since I was eight. (One poem garnered a college prize last year.)musicrose

I also thought of a primary school classmate, whom I have not seen for almost two decades. She was a virtuoso pianist, her nimble hands flying over the keys, producing marvellous, magnificent music. She could not have created those magical sounds without hours of persistent practice.

Incidentally, the ubiquitous USB thumb drive was invented by a Singaporean.1 It was also a Singaporean company which invented the mp3 player interface, way before Apple came along with its iPod.2

Recently I attended the annual Spirit in the City conference in Brisbane. Fr. James Grant SSC, the founder of Chaplains Without Borders, remarked upon the high attrition rate of Pentecostal communities. They run on emotion, and they can’t sustain it, he explained, whereas the rate of conversion to Catholicism is slower, but most converts remain for the long haul.

The transmission of the Catholic faith is a combination of rote learning and personal encounter which together bear fruit in true joy and creative love that lasts through the vicissitudes of life. We memorise the devotional prayers of the Holy Rosary, which sustains us in the contemplation of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, deepening our relationship with God by the recollection of salvation history. We memorise the liturgical prayers and actions of the Mass, which conforms us to the Person of Christ through the Holy Eucharist. Without these anchors of a shared prayer life steeped in scripture and tradition, the Church would fragment into individualistic, emotionally-driven sects. At the above-mentioned conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane declared, “The Church is not a sect.” We are Catholic, which is to say, universal.


From this rich deposit of faith, saints and musicians through the ages have been able to compose exquisite prayers and hymns which we continue to use today, such as Aquinas’ Adoro Te Devote (“Godhead Here in Hiding”) or Tantum Ergo (“Down in adoration falling”). Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Chopin, Palestrina and Vivaldi were inspired to compose sonorous Mass settings which are still being performed in secular concert halls.

Discipline is required for disciples to become truly creative – it is the paradox of saints, that they are at once fully themselves as unique unrepeatable individuals, and fully conformed to Christ, living life to the fullest (John 10:10) in the image and likeness of God the Supreme Creator. Love is creative, and love is the discipline of the Cross. Jesus took His time – 33 years – to grow and mature into a man strong enough to bear the Cross; we too take time to develop habits which mould our characters so that we may bear Christ to others, bringing a breath of Heaven into the most hellish situations. St. Damien of Molokai was thus able to minister to a colony of lepers, dressing ulcers, building a reservoir, homes, furniture and coffins, and digging graves. St. Maximilian Kolbe was thus able to lead condemned Auschwitz prisoners in singing hymns of praise while they starved to death. Love continues to create and renew life even in the face of destruction.

Returning to my original conceit, it is necessary for all students to memorise the alphabet, then master grammar, vocabulary and syntax, and remember phonemes, in order to communicate effectively. It is the discipline of rote learning that enables masterful creativity, whether in literature, music, science or prayer. Just as we may strengthen our bodies through a series of set exercises, so we strengthen our minds and spirits through habitual learning and spiritual exercises. The more we exercise, the easier it becomes to keep doing so; let us then rise to today’s challenges, and carry our crosses together on this narrow path to life eternal, remembering the example and teachings of those who have gone before us, not least God Himself. For it is things we learn by rote, that is, by heart, that we can draw on to fashion into a new expression of love. Only God can create ex nihilo, out of nothing.

Let us be who we are, and be that well, so as to honour the Master Worker, whose handiwork we are.
—St. Francis de Sales

How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints!
—C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Images: Pinterest; Allison Totus Tuus Family.


1 Bernice Tan, “ThumbDrive inventor out to prove he is no one-hit wonder”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December 2010.

2 Arik Hesseldahl, “Apple Vs. Creative Tech”, Forbes; “Apple pays Creative $100 million in iPod-related lawsuit”, MacTech; Anton Shilov, “Creative Awarded with MP3 Player User Interface Patent”, Xbit Laboratories.

Affordable Catholic Higher Education: Dominican Institute

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!

Comparison between DI and other Catholic higher education institutions

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!

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).

Dear Homeschooling Parents, Public and Private School Teachers

I have a gift for you. BoxShot99Ways

In my decades of teaching experience, I have been introduced to a myriad of delivery strategies, management techniques, intervention ideologies and even public speaking tips. While some have proven to be very effective, very few I would consider fruitful. Even in education, there is money to be made by the “newest thing” and the latest “research-based” fad (feel free to state your opinion on Common Core in the combox). Sadly, much of my time has been wasted at empty professional development seminars listening to people try to sell me something as opposed to making me a better teacher.

It wasn’t until I began reading the Gospels that I realized that all of the educational training I found to be effective was already practiced by Jesus over 2,000 years ago. 

Seriously, who was the top chemist at the Wedding in Cana? Jesus, He changed the molecular structure of water into wine. 

Who was the best mathematician in all of Judea? Jesus, He could multiply bread and fish.

Who gave the finest incentive if you listened to his teachings? Jesus, He promised us eternal life!

My gift to you is my latest book, 99 Ways to Teach Like HIM, A 2,000 Year-old Model for Homeschool, Public and Private School Teachers. The book:

  • provides homeschooling and classroom teachers with what they need to better engage their students spiritually while not having to sacrifice academics.
  • show how Jesus’ teaching methods are just as effective in today’s learning environments as they were during his earthly mission.
  • is absolutely FREE to people who sign up for my email list.


“With Teach Like Him, T.J. Burdick has created a terrific tool for educators. Blending sacred scripture with novel techniques and strategies, T.J.’s book belongs in every classroom as part of a teacher’s arsenal of professional development resources. And since every parent is indeed the primary educator of their children, I’d like to see Teach Like Him in every kitchen too! Pick this up for yourself or your favorite educator and enhance the world of the students you serve.” 

Lisa M. Hendey, Founder of CatholicMom.com and author of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms


Teacher and writer, Timothy J. Burdick has crafted a book that equips teachers to proclaim the gospel without speaking a word. A few minutes every morning reading Teach Like Him will prime teachers to set an example that will bring the living Word of God to their students. And so the gospel that works in our hearts by the Holy Spirit will touch their lives.”

Bert Ghezzi, co-author of Discover Christ, Developing a Persona Relationship with Jesus


“This little book is the kind of grounded reminder every educator needs about why, how, and what we teach our children, parents especially. The most fundamental answers all go back to Scripture, and T.J. Burdick has laid the model out in concise and accessible format, a mini-reference book when you need to grab the truth.”

– Stacy Trasancos, Bioethics Professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary, homeschooling mother, and chief editor for Catholic Stand and senior editor at Catholic Lane,


Head over to  TeachLikeHim.com to get your free book. And please, contact your child’s teacher, your favorite teachers from the past and your local homeschooling support groups so that they too can benefit from this effective resource. 

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.


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 http://www.hacsmooc.cc. 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 http://www.holyapostles.edu, or join one of our social media sites on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter @holyapostlesedu.

Faithful learning

When older sister and I were finishing up middle school, my parents decided that the local public high school (in a very liberal town) nearby would be better for our faith than the nominally Catholic high school nearby. Better to experience a frontal assault on our faith than to absorb a watered-down version that would only inoculate us against the real thing.

And then when we began looking at colleges, a well-known Catholic professor told us that the most Catholic college in Michigan was a small, non-Catholic college called Hillsdale. Better to obtain a serious liberal arts education at a nondenominational (but faith-friendly) institution than to obtain an inferior education at a semi-Catholic one.

Here’s my conclusion from both schools: Education is defined more by the student than by the teacher, because what you bring into the classroom affects what you get out of it. If you bring faith into your secular studies, each realm can light up the other. History, literature, art, politics, philosophy — your faith gives you a new perspective on all these, and all these give you a new perspective on your faith.

Science, too, belongs in that list. To quote Marilynne Robinson: “We live in a time when many religious people feel fiercely threatened by science. O ye of little faith. Let them subscribe to Scientific American for a year and then tell me if their sense of the grandeur of God is not greatly enlarged by what they have learned from it.”

All knowledge — whether obtained through reason, empirical observation, historical research, or artistic inspiration — is inter-connected within one Truth. All roads of learning lead to God. A Catholic education is catholic in the sense of “universal”: it comprehends and applies to all disciplines.

Of course, learning and passing on the Catholic faith is more difficult than merely learning and teaching (say) calculus. Faith formation consists not only of ideas (doctrine) but also of action (practicing the virtues), contemplation (prayer), and the sacraments. It demands constant practice and re-dedication.

And it’s even harder to pass on, because it’s almost always tarnished by our attempts to share it. Our sins undermine our message. Even with faith, “we see through a glass darkly.” We cannot explain mysteries to our own satisfaction, much less to the satisfaction of nonbelievers. So how can we claim that the Catholic explanation of reality is the true one?

I answer with Walker Percy: No other explanation suffices.

This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and would not let go until God identified himself and blessed him.


Election Season and YOU

” If only we had another Ronald Reagan. ” The words floated out of my friends mouth and hung in mid-air. It is a tendency we all have- to see the past as better, but as I listened to him extol the greatness of Reagan I couldn’t help but think it a bit naive. We are living in a country completely polarized. The choice between a political candidate was once thought of as a choice over who was the best leader- not a life and death matter. In our country, black and white are becoming the norm. We are not fighting over who has the leadership skills, but who truly cherishes life.

We are in the middle of it as here in Alabama we are preparing for our primary election on Tuesday. Our state is crowded with signs and ads, telling us who we should vote for. Friends and family are enjoying a chance to meet the candidates and get some first hand knowledge. But when it comes down to it I think we all need to be aware that there is more to it then a vote. What we do in our daily lives should have a positive influence on the world we live in.  We have some great examples of ordinary people who are using their talents well. Lila Rose, Tim Tebow; people like the recently deceased political activist Andrew Breitbart – they tirelessly effect countless lives. As we get deeper into this political season we need to ask ourselves a few questions.

What am I  doing to wake my country up from our moral decline? How have you joined in the flight against the HHS mandate. How am I working to promote religious freedom?

Second, we must pray. Easy to say- hard to do! Yet so necessary if we are going to accomplish anything.

Third, we must remember to have patience.  Padre Pio once wrote ” Do not be discouraged if you work much and reap little… if you would think how much only one soul is worth to Jesus you would make no complaint at all.”

Today at mass here at EWTN, our in resident show- host Father Mitch Pacwa gave a startling analogy. The gospel for today (March 8, 2012) tells the story of Lazarus. Most have us have heard that reading dozens of times, but today it jumped out at me like never before. Father reminded us that the rich man didn’t fail because he was cruel to Lazarus but because he didn’t do anything at all! Will we end up like the rich man in the gospels, because we sat around in our comfort?

And now for a little fun here is a song written by a group called FirstLoveBand. If you haven’t heard it yet you are in for a treat.  It is quite the catchy little song, and the perfect example of someone giving of their talents.  Game On By FirstLoveBand.

So what are you doing for our Nation? Any ideas are welcome!

Integration: The Object of a Catholic Education

     When I decided to study abroad at a European Catholic university, some American Catholics that I knew reacted negatively, saying that most of these universities were “out of line with Rome”. At the time, I didn’t know much about being “in line” our “out of line” with Rome and it was other factors that led me to choose to study in Portugal (my family’s country of origin, finances, etc.). Now, seven years later, I know quite a bit more about the value of the Church’s Magisterium, the pain of differences and divisions within the Church, but also the value of differences and divisions within the Church. How could there possibly be any value in divisions within the Church? Because it’s who we are… diverse, wounded, defensive, conflict-creating brothers and sisters… and it’s amazing that there is a Family that manages to unite and guide all toward the Truth with utmost patience and redeeming love.

     It is difficult to work with, talk to and accept help from people that are different and “wrong”. It’s much easier to cut off all relations, to form another church or to start another group. Yet this is exactly where the Church shines: in having countless movements and congregations focusing on very different charisms, in taking initiative in finding paths of reconciliation with dissenting groups, other denominations and even other religions… in being universal.

     Christopher West’s latest book about the New Evangelization, was written after a period of reflecting on intense criticism directed towards him, from those with differing opinions within the Church. What most impressed me about his stance was his ability to acknowledge some truth in the critiques, but also to not completely throw out his way of seeing. He reflects largely on the need for differing opinions and the need for both sides to be able to lower their guns and balance each other out. We live in a constant tension of “already and not yet” in this world and dualistic tensions are present in so many different areas of life and Catholic theology: “In the history of Christian theology, there has always been a creative tension represented by these terms (the meanings of which must be properly held together): mystery/sacrament; hidden/revealed; veiled/unveiled; unknowable/known; transcendent/immanent; intangible/tangible; invisible/visible” (At the Heart of the Gospel, p. 168-169).

“Blessed John Henry Newman asserts that the object of a Catholic education is to ‘reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God and have been put asunder by man’ (SP, sermon I). We are all disintegrated creatures in need of healing. No one can claim to live in perfect balance here. In order to work towards that balance, it can be a fruitful exercise to reflect on our own leanings. […] Whatever direction we may lean, we can be sure to find a certain ‘push-back’ coming from those who lean the other way. This kind of push-back is understandable and even healthy in our search for the proper balance between what appear to be ‘competing truths.’ But sometimes such push-back can escalate into an unhealthy and vitriolic polarization. To the extent that we harden our own positions and refuse to affirm the truth the other is trying to uphold, we only aggravate the rift and deepen the wound. The way to overcome polarization, then, is for those on different sides of a question to humble themselves and acknowledge the truth that the other side seeks to uphold.” (At the Heart of the Gospel, p. 50-51)

     In Portugal there is only one Catholic university, which is the only place that offers theology and the only place where seminarians study. In Portugal there is also only one main Church: the majority of the population is Catholic, even if most people are “non-practicing” or have varying degrees of adherence to Catholic teaching. This has its disadvantages, but it also has its advantages. It’s an opportunity to learn from and work with other people that are “push-backs” and it’s a place where people are at least united under the same roof… where we can grow if we are humble enough to learn from one another and accept the guidance of our Mother Church.




[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Julie-Rodriguez-1-e1319489646953.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Julie Rodrigues is a 25-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon, is currently teaching English and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.[/author_info] [/author]