Monday, July 20, 2009

Au revoir, mes amis

With a heart full of gratitude to the many people who have enriched my life over the past seven and a half years while I have maintained this blog, I am going on indefinite hiatus from blogging, effective now.

I have taken blog vacations before, but intend this one to be much longer -- for good, I hope.

When I started The Dawn Patrol in February 2002, it was with the goals of furthering my writing career and becoming a more social creature. With much thanks to readers, I have accomplished both goals beyond my wildest dreams, but now find myself at the point of diminishing returns.

Where writing is concerned, although I continue to freelance and would love to pen a second book if given the opportunity, right now I need to focus on my master's thesis. (I am preparing to enter my second year of M.A. studies and intend to earn a PhD, with the goal of becoming a moral-theology professor at a small Catholic college.) As far as being more social, although my blog continues to bring me into contact with wonderful people, the time I spend online now eats up my life to the point where I cannot well maintain the friendships I have -- let alone build new ones.

To be honest, I have suffered from an Internet addiction for the past several years. Just as there is no such thing for an alcoholic as "one drink," there is no such thing for me as a quick e-mail check and a perusal of the day's online headlines. If I sit down at the computer, I remain glued to it for hours on end. I might excuse myself by telling myself I am reading about important world events or doing research for school. But the truth is that I allow myself to be distracted by whatever comes to mind while I am at the computer, to the point where it becomes a self-medication for loneliness and boredom. And why do I become lonely and bored? Because I waste so much time on the Internet, of course.

St. Thomas Aquinas had a word for this vice that causes one to fail to moderate one's quest for knowledge: curiositas. With all the years of my life that I have spent in online curiositas, I have precious little wisdom to show for it.

There is no guarantee that forgoing blogging will make me become a better student, writer, or friend, but it will make it harder for me to excuse my spending so much time in the virtual world.

* * *

Although the topic has yet to be refined, the current plan for my master's thesis is to compare and contrast modern-day popular catechesis on marriage and sex with preconciliar popular catechesis on those topics. Although I expect to find ways in which modern-day catechists do a better job of explaining what the Church has always believed, my goal is to highlight pre-Vatican II approaches that are worth recovering.

For the preconciliar part of my research, I am using as a model the writings of Father Daniel A. Lord S.J. (1888-1955), particularly those from the collection of his works that is kept in the Special Collections section of the Georgetown University Library.

The Father Lord collection consists of 41 linear feet of material in 30 file boxes. Although it includes photographs and other memorabilia, more than 90 percent of it is Lord's manuscripts, published works, and letters. Even that is but a small fraction of his writings, especially given his prodigious correspondence. The Rev. Godfrey Poage C.P., who worked for Lord's Summer School of Catholic Action, later wrote of him:
In the five summers I spent with him I could not begin to calculate the number of letters he wrote. I recall how once he worked all day on letters as we travelled together across the country in a Pullman. At the station I mailed about forty letters for him and thought he was through for the day. Later that evening he came to my hotel room and inquired: "Do you know where there is a mailbox?" In his hand were seventeen more letters.

Lord's output included some 300 pamphlets, scores of books, and dozens of stage shows, including large-scale musicals whose casts numbered in the hundreds. As Father Poage observed, he often wrote them on the road, taking his typewriter on trains as he traveled the United States and beyond, giving talks and retreats. Sometimes he included his railroad mise-en-scene in his writings, as with the pamphlet "Man says -- 'If I Were God ...", composed June 1940:
As I write these lines, the Pennsylvania train is carrying me through the splendid valleys that lie between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. They are so glorious I find it hard to keep my mind on the work in the typewriter before me. A variegated flow of glorious countryside rushes by my Pullman window: green, warmly clear, friendly hills that rise above foamy streams; farms that alternate ploughed fields with vineyards and the bright beauty of springtime orchards, mountains so rich in minerals that men are endlessly digging up the coal and steel ore that make possible the train I ride, clay pits from which are fashioned bricks and china for the bride’s wedding table, man-made canyons rendering unlimited-supplies of building material; little green and blue lakes that furnish prosperous cities with cool, clear, refreshing water.

Just a moment ago we swung around the famous Horseshoe Curve outside Altoona and, though I have seen it a score of times, I had to stop typing long enough to drink in the beauties that the gracious Creator has laid as surface drape over the rich resources stored away in the earth for the needs and luxuries of His children.

I shudder to think how many fewer boxes would be in Georgetown's Daniel A. Lord collection, had the author lived at a time when he could take a laptop on a train equipped with wi-fi.

* * *

There is one reason for forgoing blogging that I have not mentioned. I believe that, as a student of theology, and as one who hopes to become a better witness for the Faith, it will help me to become less involved in the day-to-day dialogue about "inside Catholic" issues whose importance becomes magnified out of proportion within the blogosphere's insular walls.

Last week, at the Envoy Institute Catholic apologetics conference, I was approached by a young man who told me he had been raised Catholic but was now attending a nondenominational Protestant church. He said he got a feeling out of the Protestant services that was greater than anything he had felt at a Catholic Mass.

"But you realize," I said, " that at the Catholic Mass, Jesus is really and truly present on the altar?"

I expected an argument. Perhaps the man would say, "He's present at my church just as much as He is in the Mass."

But he didn't. He looked at me innocently and said, "No. I didn't know that."

I told him what I could, and urged him to ask one of the priests present at the conference what was really happening during the Mass. He did end up speaking to a priest there -- for about nine hours, I am told, praise God.

The experience left me thinking that perhaps it was time to reorient myself towards learning how to explain the Church's deepest and most basic truths -- and spend less effort writing about things that, while perhaps important, are essentially tangential.

This is, again, something I am learning from Father Lord. Many of his writings, as well as the wonderful audio recording of a sermon he gave shortly before his death, stress the importance of giving people a principle of return. However necessary it is to communicate the Church's teachings regarding the way one should live, I see more and more that the most important thing to share is how to get back to God if one has fled from His arms.

* * *

There are many other things I would like to write, but I need to finish typing in time to get some sleep, and I want to put this behind me so that I may no longer feel a responsibility to blog.

Many, many thanks to everyone who has read this blog, and especially those who have prayed for me. You have done more for me than I could ever express. Everyone who reads this blog has been, and will continue to be, in my prayers. I am forever grateful for your prayers, and for the feedback and encouragement you have given me over the years.

I continue to give talks from time to time, and from now on will update and with upcoming dates. (The page is updated more frequently, as I update it myself, while is maintained by a friend.)

With my newfound time, I would like to make more flesh-and-blood friends, as opposed to virtual "Facebook friends." If you are in the Washington, D.C., area and would like to meet, contact me via my feedback form.

I also remain in hope of marriage. My feelings about this have not changed since I wrote an essay on the subject a few years ago. Since writing that piece, I have been encouraged by Father Peter Ryan S.J.'s article on discerning the elements of one's personal vocation. Father Ryan stresses that, while we are all called to holiness, God does not require us to succeed in our calling. What He does ask is that we put our best efforts into whatever He calls us to do. For me, this is a great comfort, because it answers the question of how one can believe one is called to marriage, and yet perhaps never achieve marriage. It is not a issue of "missing one's vocation," as some would have it. It is, in fact, living out one's vocation to strive, and giving God the sacrifice of accepting His mercy.

One last note: Last year, I offered a free copy of The Thrill of the Chaste to any Catholic priest, deacon, seminarian, or vowed religious who requested one. However, I failed to fulfill all the requests. If you requested a copy then and did not receive it, please let me know and I will remedy the error.