If you, for example, happen to land on what must be the most clicked Catholic questions and answers forum on the Internet, you will find, broadly speaking, two sections: the one where you can ask a priest or theologian, and the other parts where you can interact with other readers.
The first section offers answers generally (not always) consistent with Catholic teaching, and not deprived of a certain assertiveness at times; but depending on who writes the answer, can be extremely misleading for the faithful. I remember one instance where the relatives of a suicide were told not to worry (add here a ton of sugar), without any deeper explanation as to why they should have been, in fact, very worried. This wasn’t even Catholicism, this was bad “emotional assistance” work.
The second section was (with his various sub-sections) an attempt at making the rules as one goes along, with a mixture of well-informed and properly instructed posters and the usual crowd of “sensitive” half Sixty-Eight, half New Age Catholics having oh so much understanding for pretty much everything and being properly instructed on oh pretty much nothing.
When I was at the very beginning of my journey of rediscovery of Catholicism (I was the usual V II product: a horribly instructed lapsed Catholic, carrying with him an utterly shameful, awful system of values. Like many others, I rediscovered the religion of my forefathers outside of the usual V II-priest channels, and out of a natural thirst of knowledge and truth going past the waffle of V II priests) I found this kind of forum instructive; but rather soon I noticed that a lot of tar was mixed to the wheat, and as I became more and more knowledgeable the extent of the problem became fully known to me. I then stopped visiting such sites, focusing on the blogs of priests above suspicion and the specialised books and sources I could find in or buy from the Internet.
More amusing (I won’t even call them dangerous) are the kind of “questions and answers” places like “Yahoo answers”. These are pages you can visit for your own amusement, and they remind one of the kind of conversations cats would have about the intellectual life of dogs. It’s as beautiful an example of the blind leading the blind as few others on the Internet, and the product of the astonishing mentality according to which everyone is always entitled to open his mouth, just because he feels like it. Of course, the point system plays a role; but Good Lord, not even the promise of points should be enough to persuade people to expose their abysmal ignorance in such a way. The difference with Catholic fora, though, is that the exercises a’ la “Yahoo Answers” are so evidently amateurish that no sane person aged ten or above (fourteen, if he is the product of a progressive education) would ever consider the place a source of real knowledge in religious matters.
Of course, my esteemed half-dozen readers are of a different kind, or they would not have landed on this blog in the first place. Still, if colleagues or friends happen to touch the subject with you, you might want to warn them beforehand from the danger represented by half-baked knowledge, particularly when dished out in pages leading the uninstructed to think they represent legitimate, authentic Catholic patrimony.
What I generally do is to suggest to the “curious” that they do a very simple thing and start ordering the “Penny Catechism” from the Internet (I have given away a couple of those myself; they are so cheap you will not even embarrass the recipient, or you can “handle” them a bit and then give them up saying “take this, it’s my copy, I will buy another one”). Even a simple Penny Catechism, well-studied and properly digested, will make of an attentive reader a better Catholic than a vast number of nowadays priests and bishops, let alone of the amateurs writing on Catholic fora. After that, other Catechisms may be chosen (I find the higher Baltimore catechisms excellent for an attentive learner; the fourth has an easy-to-understand commentary too). At that point, more sophisticated books can easily be attempted and rapidly and properly absorbed, and at this point the choice is so vast that even after discarding everything remotely stinking of Vatican II one will have enough to read for more than one lifetime. But seriously, already the proper knowledge of the Penny catechism from the pewsitters would be enough to change the face of every English-Speaking country. Which must be the reason why I never see them on sale in nuChurches.
The Internet made this possible, and in fact I own to the Internet my re-discovery of Catholicism. The availability of serious texts on the net allowed me to research and instruct myself past the usual waffle I was surrounded with in my younger years, when Vittorio Messori and the likes of him were – amazingly – believed to be sources of proper Catholicism. The priest read once at school some pages of one of his books. Never in life had I met such a sugary succession of vapid common places, and inconsequential wannabe logical arguments. Even the believers among us laughed out loud at the idiocy but boy, the man sold well in the sugary atmosphere of the Seventies and Eighties, which demanded “feel good” platitudes and this ever-present idea now everything is done better and smarter. Unsurprisingly, the man supports the Medjugorje scam.
The priest couldn’t defend himself and the book from the logical remarks of seventeen years old accustomed to think logically. He abandoned the experiment. This was, by the way, the priest who once said in class (whispering in that too-clever-by-half way which conveys the message “boys, I’d get in trouble if my wisdom were known to my superiors”) that “the devil does not exist”. I kid you not. I hope they have retired him by now; and I hope he will save his soul, fat ass as he was.
Therefore, we see that the Internet is, in this as in pretty much everything, a double-edged sword. A wonderful source of knowledge and mutual enrichment (I am always rather pleased at thinking from how many countries my half-dozen readers connect to this blog…) and the source of endless drivel, trite common places, or much worse.
Use the Internet well, is the counsel I would give to your “curious” colleague or acquaintance. For example, by using it to purchase a Penny Catechism in your winter coat pocket, a small thing he can read three minutes at a time when he queue for the train ticket or at the post office.
Already this would be an excellent start.
Catholic bloggers have been somewhat at the centre of the attention in the recent months, as even the Vatican starts to see the role they can have in spreading – in the absence of proper catechesis due to the many cowardly or even heretical priests; which btw the Vatican doesn’t tell you – Catholic values.
Still, the reality of the matter is that Catholic bloggers will never be able to reach a vast part of the Catholic population, but only that relatively tiny minority interested enough in religious matters to devote some of their free time to them. In addition, it is clear that not everyone has the time, the inclination, the writing ability or the fighting attitude necessary to be an effective Catholic blogger.
Therefore, the question arises as to what the real effectiveness of Catholic blogging can be. My answer is that Catholic blogging should – particularly as long as the appalling absence of proper catechesis continues – work as a kind of Catholic starter engine for a broader public. Not everyone can be as articulate as a good blogger, but everyone can and should: a) use Catholic blogs to remain on the straight and narrow path of Catholic orthodoxy and b) become fit enough to offer a good argument in every discussion with friends, relatives, and colleagues.
In my opinion, every reader of Catholic blogs should see himself as not only a receiver, but a transmitter of values. He should see this not as an option, but as a duty as Christianity is not a private hobby, but something we must share with the world around us. Therefore, a Catholic should read Catholic blogs with his evangelisation work in mind, remember the frequent discussions in his own circle of acquaintances and use good Catholic blogs to seek Catholic answers to it. In time, he will become fit enough to be able to give a tremendous contribution to the spreading of Truth in his own circle.
I would suggest to every Catholic to do the following:
1) buy a good consultation work, like “Catholicism For Dummies”. These works are well organised, explain everything in simple words and can be used again and again examining only the part one is interested in at the moment;
2) use one’s own free time for instructive reading. Books like “Why Do Catholics Do That?” are not only extremely well written, but in convenient pocket format and easy to read on the train, or carry around with you wherever you go;
3) buy and seriously read a simple Catechism, like the excellent Penny Catechism. This little, beautiful booklet has been learned by heart by countless young Catholics. A thorough knowledge of this little book alone will put you ahead of most of your Catholic friends and acquaintances, and will allow you to validly oppose the inevitable verse-spitting, bible-worshipping Protestants. This little booklet can also be carried with you almost everywhere;
4) use your technology: Kindle, Ipad, Iphone & Co. offer more and more opportunity to improve your knowledge, and they will only increase in the future. For example, you can buy a kindle edition of the excellent Catechism of St. Pius X, or of the “Catholicism for dummies” mentioned above, or perhaps try something new like this one. Think of it: always in your Kindle at no additional weight or inconvenience, ready for you to instruct yourself whenever you have three minutes available.
5) Use internet resources available. Since inception of this blog less than a year ago I have endeavoured to put together those blog post meant at Catholic instruction in the “Catholic Vademecum” page you find at the top. The idea is that as you keep (hopefully) returning to the blog you have an opportunity to rapidly and conveniently peruse my take on each one of the points dealt with and to be constantly reminded of basic Catholic fare (you’ll note that the Rosary is paramount. The Rosary is, in fact, always paramount). Also, I have a series of commented Vintage Catholic booklets sections. Whenever you visit a good blog, check whether it has general knowledge parts that you can use to improve your instruction.
In the end, one doesn’t need to become a theologian, nor does he need to have rhetorical skills. Even a solid knowledge of basic Catholicism will put you ahead of most of your friends and relatives and allow you to effectively transmit the Catholic truth to them. In time, you’ll become more and more persuasive as your knowledge improves, but in the face of attack it is better to oppose a moderately articulate resistance than no resistance at all.
In the end it is not so important how many bloggers are around; but whether everytime that Catholicism is challenged there is some good soul around able to say an honest, intelligent word about the matter.
Reading here and there, I sometimes have the impression that there is some misconception about what a catechism is.
Particularly the younger generations (those grown up in the doctrinal vacuum of the Paul VI – JP II era) must be under the impression that the one issued under Pope John Paul II is the Catechism, either believing that there was no catechism before it or that this catechism made everything that came before it superfluous.
I would like to point out to a couple of concepts and give the reader some background and reading hints.
1) A catechism is not infallible. Every catechism is nothing more than an attempt at explaining Catholic teaching in a way easily digestible for the non theologically trained laity. Similarly, no catechism is mandatory. There is an official catechism, but every catechism approved by ecclesiastical authority (particularly if in tempi non sospetti, as we say in Italy) can be used with profit.
2) Catechisms are broadly of three types: for small children (that is: coming from the time when people still cared to convey Christianity to children); for boys and girls approaching the age of confirmation or preparing to it and, lastly, for adults and confirmed youth. In some cases, entire sets of catechisms were released at the same time (the Catechisms of St. Pius X and the Baltimore Catechisms are probably the best known examples).
3) As a result, some catechisms can be of better quality than others, and some better suited to the intended readership. Always for this reason, catechisms can be criticised if someone believes that they contain doctrinal errors. As a catechism is never ex cathedra, it is never expression of papal infallibility.
4) Typically, a catechism was written in question/answer format, a remnant of a time when important things had to learned by heart (and as a result, remained impressed in the faithful’s memory) and the question/answer method made it easier both to learn the subject matter and to control the level of preparation of the pupil. I don’t need to comment about the consequences of abandoning this method.
5) There are many catechisms and every good catechism can be used by you with profit. With the recovery of Catholic tradition and the advent of the internet, the access to catechisms is nowadays certainly better than at any other time in the history of Christianity. Therefore you can easily pick a catechism that suits you and start working seriously on it. Catechisms are also more and more available as applications for smartphones, which means that you can have your favourite catechism always with you and read from it on the train, in a queue, etc.
Following, I will give some information about the catechisms I know myself. I am grateful for every indication of further catechisms available in English.
This is, if you ask me, the worst catechism of them all. I mention it first so that you are not tempted to waste money by buying a paper copy of it. This catechism is written for a more mature audience (priests themselves, and well-instructed laity). It is not truly fit for summarily instructed Catholics (that is: most of them). Furthermore, it is burdened by an obsessive need to justify almost every concept with V II documents, which besides being grating in itself gives the not properly instructed Catholic (that is: most of them) the impression that Catholic doctrine is obsolete if not confirmed by the Council; furthermore, it makes the printed work bulky and unpractical to carry. This catechism is also notable for the huge effort of political correctness and attempt at making people digest uncomfortable concepts (say: doctrine of war, or capital punishment) by formulating them in the most clouded way as possible. This is clearly wrong as Truth must be given straight, not diluted according to the readers’ dalai-lama-cum-ghandi prejudices.
This catechism is also notorious for having been heavily attacked by a noted theologian of the XX century, simply known as the Abbé de Nantes, who accused it of being heretical on a dozen of counts. Whilst the Abbe de Nantes was a man not noted for mincing words and prone to extreme criticism, on this occasion he must have found attentive ears in the Vatican, as you will read below.
If you need to improve your Catholic instruction – let alone if you need to begin with it – the best thing that you can do with this catechism is to stay away from it.
This is a serious catechism. It is commonly called the catechism of Benedict XVI because published during his pontificate and probably with his massive intervention. The date of publication is so near to Pope Benedict’s accession that it is widely thought that this catechism was ready and – so to speak – waiting for the end of JP II’s pontificate to be published. This beautiful catechism is notable for the following elements:
1) It recovers the traditional question/answer form.
2) It is easy to read and to carry and it does what a catechism is supposed to do: provide a short but effective and orthodox instruction for everyone.
3) It reacts to the criticisms of the Abbe’ de Nantes – to the full, widely published satisfaction of the latter – on all accounts.
This practical, beautiful, unimpeachable work should find a place on the shelves of every Catholic.
This catechism, now available online, is a masterpiece of Catholic writing. The extreme elegance and beauty of the language is the more astonishing, because still very clear and easy to understand even for a foreigner. This work is kept short and to the point, and its question and answer system is extremely effective. This is a diamond of a catechism. You compare this and JP II’s work and can’t avoid thinking that the ability to write properly is not what it used to be.
This is another little pearl of a catechism. It was issued In Pennsylvania but being very little and cheap to buy probably owes its name to the penny it cost to purchase it. It has accompanied the formation of countless young Catholics. Its English is not as elegant as the Douay’s, but this is a highly effective instrument to learn the basics quickly and seriously. The 370 answers/questions were meant to be memorised and digested one a day for around a year. This little book will easily bring every Catholic to a level of orthodoxy and knowledge of Catholic doctrine far surpassing that of most Catholic politicians, and of the totality of “liberal” Catholic bishops. At the same time, such catechisms give one the entire measure of the massacre of basic Catholic instruction coldly perpetrated and ruthlessly executed after V II.
This is also a product of the US clergy of the XIX century. Three catechisms of increased levels of difficulty were issued, plus a fourth one that is the No.3 with an added commentary. As you can expect, the quality of the work is very high and the availability of different versions allows one to pick the catechism most suitable to his needs. We can note from this catechism that a seven-to-eight-years-old child was fitter in his Catholic instruction than the vast majority of nowadays’ cafeteria catholics and – possibly – than a good number of regular churchgoers. Go figure.
This is the unofficial translation in English, made a couple of decades ago to encourage the diffusion of one of the catechisms of St. Pius X. The great Pope and Saint was responsible for the creation of three such catechisms (again: for little children, for more advanced young men and women and for adults), though their adoption never became mandatory and they only found regional application. I found years ago (and lost in a hard disk casualty) the Italian version some years ago and once again, the clarity of the Italian therein used greatly impressed me. The English translation seems rather good too, though it is important to remember that this is not an official version.
These are the choices I would recommend. Again, I don’t think it wise to waste money on the V-II ridden, politically correct, bulky and unsuitable for beginners JP II’s product.
I hope this helps. Best wishes of progress in Catholic instruction to you.