Browse the Catholic realm of the internet on a fine afternoon following work, and what shall you see? Another day, another puerile fight. Such is, with increasing frequency, the life of internet “evangelization”. On a recent day I observed a respected professor announce an upcoming book, featuring various Catholic writers, which would examine the infallibility of canonizations. Whether or not one is perfectly copacetic with recent canonizations, such as Paul VI’s, the book itself would seem an attempt to provide much needed illumination on the issue.
But this announcement occurred on the internet. Who has time to sit down and read an actual book? Not when immediate reactions to the topic must be issued.
The well-meaning book announcement turned into yet another opportunity to drop the gloves and exchange unpleasantries. Lines were drawn. Sides were picked. It was like a group of boys in a field choosing teams before playing football – tackle football. Haymakers were fired back and forth. Careers were attacked. Accusations hurled. The professor seemed bewildered by the unwanted attention. Yet, it was just another day in Catholic-internet paradise. Traditional Catholic-internet paradise, I should note.
My immediate reaction to this all-too-regular occurrence was to pick a side in the digital codswallop. Alas, this time even I couldn’t help but recognize the doldrum of it all. Instead, there was a simple interior question to be asked: What do I need to do right now? What do we all need to do right now?
There must be a litany of human actions that would better serve us, none of which involve fighting over a future book we have not read. We all need to get out and play baseball with our children. We need to build sheds, bows and arrows, and planter boxes. We need to learn a new musical instrument. We need to tend a garden. We need to visit friends, in person. We need silence. We need to take up wood carving. We need to search for deer antlers deep in the bush. We need to read books (and not just talk about them). We need to host an elderly parishioner for supper. We need to pray more. In a word, we need to be more human, and less of this… whatever… we’re becoming.
Undoubtedly, I lack fortitude – and eloquence – in the matter. Yes, I do try to play ball with my boys, read books, hunt for antlers, tend gardens, and pray more. I also frequently stray from such endeavors, favoring instead to pull out my popcorn and watch the figurative Catholic fisticuffs unfold in real time. It is a sickness, self-induced, and deserving of no one’s sympathy. Do I want just a fake life where the purpose is to one-up a fellow Catholic on the internet? No. A thousand times no. I want an abundant Catholic life. I want what is real.
As a God-given response, two days after the described melee I was able to take my family to a traditional Latin Mass. More specifically, since government regulations finally loosened in my province, I was able to talk afterwards with many Catholics that I had not seen in over a year. What had these people been doing? Were they surviving? Or, were they busy lecturing others on the internet? One whole year! What do people do with their lives?
I did not witness any vitriol, haughtiness, or anger from anyone. I did not even witness a single word condemning Catholics who have not watched the latest YouTube video enlightening us of the New World Order. I witnessed instead Catholics who were human – and acted human. I witnessed people living real lives.
Bison farming is going well for one family. Another has finished their homeschool year, and everyone is enjoying planting a garden and visiting new places. There is a family ready for a new baby to come later in the month. Another will be moving to a new acreage in two weeks. One father is working towards a career change and was busy explaining the burdens and benefits of it. Still, another was catching his breath from a busy week of roofing. It was not all idle chatter either. At one point the topic of Pope Francis’ potential restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass arose. A wry jab from one man followed, “It’s as if the SSPX was right all along.” Many a truth said in jest. Yet the conversation flows onward and upward, to human, and even heavenly, realms.
After many invitations for brunch, I took my family to an acreage of some close friends. The children played, fought, and played some more. We chanted the angelus, ate, laughed, and discussed difficult topics, lighter fare, and everything in between. We were shown their new pigs, Sir Francis Bacon and Hamilton, saw the garden progress, the summer work plan, all the while musing on how to help Catholics live the liturgical life, even if churches close again. It was a visit with a family that has suffered much, yet still cultivates their land, children, and souls, with joyful vigor. They are not ignorant of the crisis in the Church, nor are they consumed by it. They have simply, to borrow from Tolkien, decided to actually do something with the time that is given them.
The next day it was back to the usual grind. After finishing my day’s work on a fine afternoon, I decided to poke around on the internet, only to encounter yet another Catholic civil war unleashing. I thought of the Catholics from the previous day. The laughs, the crosses, the work, the leisure, and the joys. “Why am I doing this?” was all I could muster.
When I say we need to play ball with our kids, host a meal, weed a garden, read, and pray, I do not say it as mere pleasant thoughts which will somehow build an idyllic Catholic life. But I do say it as normal thoughts necessary for any real human life. Tiresome are the Catholic squabbles about book titles and which podcast is superior. By all means read and discuss online with others the joys and perils of our faith, but, for heaven’s sake, and I mean for heaven’s sake, we need to live first. A life that is snide and invasive is no real life at all.
It can be done. It must be done. I have seen it. There are gladsome Catholics living a sincere life. But to find them, we must first traverse into the world of what’s real.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.