Fr. Raymond J. de Souza has said that, “If John Paul II was a great philosopher pope, teaching the wisdom of Saint Thomas Aquinas to the late 20th century, Benedict is doing the same for Augustine in the 21st.” There’s little question that Benedict would readily agree. In fact, he’s said that if he were stranded on a desert island, the two books he’d want with him are the Bible, and St. Augustine’s Confessions.
In Salt of the Earth, then-Cardinal Ratzinger explained that “from the beginning, Saint Augustine interested me very much – precisely also insofar as he was, so to speak, a counterweight to Thomas Aquinas.” With Aquinas, you see brilliant thoughts, laid out systematically. With Augustine, you get no less brilliance, but something much more human. As Benedict explained:
He was a real bishop. He wrote huge tomes, too, so that one wonders how he managed to accomplish that next to all the odds and ends he had to do. But as a bishop he had above all to deal constantly with all the quarrels of the state and the needs of the little people, and he tried to keep his structure together. It was an unsettled time, the barbarian invasions were beginning. In that sense, he was a man who was by no means floating in the clouds.In that organization of the empire at that time, the bishop was also a sort of justice of the peace. He held a certain level of jurisdiction and had to decide routine civil litigation. So he lived amid all that day by day and in doing so tried to mediate to men the peace of Christ, the gospel. In this sense, he is also an exemplar, because although he had such a great yearning for meditation, for intellectual work, he gave himself up to the small details of everyday life and wanted to be there for people.What moved me then, however, was not such much his office as shepherd, which I was not familiar with in that way, but the freshness and vitality of his thought. Scholasticism has its greatness, but everything is very impersonal. You need some time to enter in and recognize the inner tension. With Augustine, however, the passionate, suffering, questioning man is always right there, and you can identify with him.
I think that we can see these two camps even in the Catholic blogosphere. Plenty of blogs fall into the Scholastic camp. I admit that this blog is probably in this camp. I’ve tried to take John the Baptist’s advice to heart: “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). While I’ll occasionally share personal details, I want this blog to be primarily about Jesus Christ, not me. And I think you can see plenty of Catholic blogs with a similar ethos, whether they’re focused on apologetics, theology, Liturgy, or anything else.
There’s room for this approach: it’s great, even. (Obviously, I think this, or I wouldn’t take that approach.) Benedict’s point isn’t that Augustine’s good and Aquinas is bad. It’s simply two different ways of presenting the Gospel, and they should complement one another. So this first approach has its greatness, but with certain hazards: we have to avoid making everything so impersonal it becomes sterile, and avoid letting ourselves float off into the clouds, detached from the real world.
The second approach, the down-to-earth one favored by Pope Benedict and exemplified by St. Augustine, is also one we also see in the Catholic blogosphere. Nowhere, I think, do we see it done as well as with the so-called “Mommy bloggers.” Here we see women presenting and living the Gospel in an incredibly honest way, for all to see — and through the lens of their own lived experience. I mentioned a couple weeks ago to Fr. Kelly that it seems that having to interrupt writing blog posts in order to change dirty diapers does wonders for keeping you from getting lost in the clouds.
Here are some of the crown jewels of the blogosphere that I have in mind:
- Jen Fulwiler, Conversion Diary — This was the first of the Mommy blogs that I found. What struck me instantly about it was what a powerful apologetic tool her blog was. She related how she, as an atheist, came to find Christ and the Church. It wasn’t presented as “here’s an irrefutable logical proof,” but “here’s what I struggled with, and here’s the solution I found that struggle.” She didn’t focus her energies on attacking other religions, but on presenting her own encounter with the Truth, and how it revolutionized her life. Her blog is now one of the top 10 most-read Catholic blogs, and she’s used this popularity to promote emerging Catholic bloggers. Smart, holy, and classy.
- Leila Miller, Little Catholic Bubble – as she explains, her blog is “a teaching blog, primarily for Catholics.” Her focus is primarily on moral theology, and she’s unafraid to tackle the tough issues: abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and the rest, in between raising eight kids. She also knows apparently every Catholic blogger. Don’t ask me how she has time to do all of this: where I come from, there are only 24 hours in a day.
- Danya, He Adopted Me First – Danya’s blog offers a pretty unique viewpoint, in that she’s the mother of seven kids, four of whom were adopted. Her blog cleverly notes that as Christians, all of us are adopted (Ephesians 1:5), and of course, Jesus Christ was Himself adopted by St. Joseph. Given this, when she offers opinions on adoption, she’s worth listening to. But the blog isn’t primarily about adoption: it’s primarily about motherhood, and living for Christ. And in the process, it’s hilarious. She captures priceless moments from the lives of her kids, with witty commentary (see, e.g., here, here, and here).
- Brianna Heldt, Just Showing Up – There are two beautiful and well-written blogs about the joys and struggles of adoptive mother? Who’d have thunk it? Brianna’s the mother of five kids under the age of seven, and while she’s not Catholic yet, she appears to be on her way. Her blog is testament to one other feature of Mommy blogging, in the way that friendships and networks are formed across denominational lines, which makes for a unique (and healthy) dynamic. These ecumenical friendships don’t cause the bloggers to shy away from the potentially divisive issues, either. Brianna, for example, was unafraid to suggest Devin Rose’s If Protestantism is True for Catholics, Protestants, and everyone else. Within the adoption/motherhood vein, her recent series of posts on the struggles of adopting her two girls with Down Syndrome from Ethiopia has been quite moving.
- Simcha Fischer, National Catholic Register and I Have to Sit Down – Imagine if satirical author Dave Berry were a Catholic housewife, and you’re halfway to getting what I love about Simcha’s writing. She makes great points in an amusing way. For example, she makes a number of quite serious (even profound) points on religious art while making fun of Thomas Kinkaide’s art. Her conclusion (which I found myself agreeing with by the end) is that Kinkaide’s “vision of the world isn’t just tacky, it’s anti-Incarnational.” And her self-effacing post on “Decorating Tips from House Horrible Magazine,” was one of the funniest things I’d read in a while.
- Deltaflute, Diapers and Drivel – The sidebar on Deltaflute’s blog promotes everything from the Catechism and the importance of the seal of confession to breastfeeding. One of her most eye-opening posts was on the way that pro-life, pro-choice, and pro-abortion people react to the fact that she’s pregnant. Yet this is the most classic of the Mommy blogs on the list, in that the blog’s primary focus is on the joys and challenges of being a wife and mother — talking about various challenges, offering advice, and the rest. Like St. Augustine, she gives herself up “to the small details of everyday life,” in order to be there for her family. And in doing so, she’s serving as a witness for Christ.
- Stacy Trasancos, Accepting Abundance – Stacy describes her blog as “What a scientist turned homemaker and joyful convert to Catholicism is learning about faith, reason, order, infinity and life.” She’s brilliant, and her posts on science and religion should command the attention and respect of anyone with an interest in either or both of those subjects (each of which she knows a lot about). She’s also got an excellent eye for art.
- Michael Morris, Michael’s Musings – I know, Michael’s not a mother. But I included him to show that the phenomenon I’m talking about – about relating the working of Christ through one’s own life – isn’t something unique to women. Just read Michael’s post on being an advocate for his son, or his most recent Random Thoughts, in which he seamlessly combines the joys and struggles of fatherhood with a healthy dose of Catholic apologetics. You’ll see what I meant.