Betty Duffy

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bright Shiny Catholic Stuff

I was in a Catholic bookstore this weekend, looking for some good religious books to put under the tree for my kids. I’m sure the Stations of the Cross coloring book will be tossed over their shoulders like a pack of underwear, in favor of the Legos and dolls. But until some Catholic entrepreneur comes up with something bigger and shinier to command my children’s attention, a coloring book it is.

On one of the shelves in the bookstore, I picked up a book for grown-ups that looked interesting. I read the back cover, absorbed the synopsis, then looked for an author bio. “Well what do you know,” I thought, “It’s that angry man on the internet,” and re-shelved the book. I’d recently happened upon the author’s blog, on which he peeled apart the writings of some bad Catholic with whom he took issue.

The author bugged me, not because of his lack of charity. Mean people are a curiosity. He bugged me because his self-appointed Catholic gate-keeping functioned as a sort of literary terrorism, scaring anyone who writes with a “Catholic” next to his or her name out of writing anything interesting.

As Pentimento suggests in a recent comment here:

“If your Catholicism is an openly-stated aspect of your writing and your consciousness, you may find that some of your equally open and self-conscious co-religionists are standing by waiting to judge the way you express your faith and tally how well you live up to it…. I was surprised a year or so ago to receive deeply hurtful criticisms in my comboxes from some who thought my writing was inappropriate, and from others who called my faith into question and even slandered me in the comboxes of a friend. My best friend in real life… took me to task after that because she thought my writing had become bland and cautious.”

Who wouldn’t write cautiously when our writing about our personal experiences as a member of this Catholic Community faces such vicious scrutiny? Fundamentalism in our readership makes for fundamentalism in our writing. We constantly check ourselves to make sure we don’t commit error that might lead others into sin.

And by extension, we create for ourselves a new problem: thinking of blogging as an “Apostolate.”

Is there one single person who has been converted to Christ by reading blogs? Please stand up and be counted.

Of all the crazy substitutions for Church, of all the absurd rationalizations for our addictions: “The blog is my apostolate.” Unfortunately, casting ourselves as spiritual internet gurus produces reams of boring and unreliable content in the Christian blogosphere. And it forces our readers to become their own Magisterium, sifting and sorting through the web for strands of truth. Hence the angry author whose book I encountered at the Catholic bookstore. It’s a vicious cycle.

Here then, is one Catholic blogger who will say without shame, I write this blog only because I enjoy doing it. It is not my apostolate. I might lead you astray. I might cuss. If you want edification, information, tips for domestic bliss, and a deeper spiritual life, please seek it elsewhere. Come here only for your entertainment, and even that I cannot guarantee.

Likewise, when I go out in the Catholic blogosphere, I will click away from the author who has a chip on his shoulder. I will click away from blogs with a faulty sense of humor, from lay blog homilies, from links without a back story, from recipes, parenting advice, and anything with the word "musings" in the title. And if I don't know the author, I also click away from people’s prayers—toss them over my shoulder like a pair of underwear in a child’s Christmas stocking.

I don’t come to the blogosphere to pray, actually, nor to be edified, chastised, convinced, converted or transformed. And I definitely don’t come to fight. Maybe it's shallow of me, but I come to be entertained.


BettyDuffy said...

...and also for the sense of comraderie with people who are screwing up in the same ways I am.

Eric said...

I understand.

I think I hesitate myself out of fear of providing ammunition to anti-Catholics -- which are quite pervasive -- and their contentions that Catholics are not Christians.

We all have sinful thoughts, ideas, actions. Is it possible to be entertaining without leading a fellow traveler into sin or to be entertained similarly without sin?

Unlike you (apparently) I enjoy good rhetoric and am entertained by many apologists blogs -- many of whom may seem to have a chip on their shoulder. I'm not sure it is possible to call a spade a spade without pissing off the spade, sometimes.

Darwin said...

And yet you won't tell me what naughty movie set south of the border you were watching the other day.

None of this bland and cautious behavior! Pleeeeeeease?


BettyDuffy said...

Eric, you make an interesting point about non Catholics. Anti-Catholic, I tend not to think about, because if they are anti, they're nowhere near thinking anything we do is good. But if they are non-Catholic, and they are reading our things, I would assume they are Catholic friendly. From experience however, the one thing that stood between my college self and embracing my Catholic faith was the fear that life as practicing Catholic would be terribly boring: white robes, psalter and harp, the absence of conflict. Meeting real people (not perfect people) who were Catholic helped alleviate that fear.

The great thing is, there's plenty of everything on the internet. So if you like rhetoric, have at it. I guess, my hope is that people will not be afraid of those spade-callers when writing their stories.

And sometimes I actually do like to observe an internet fight. I just don't want to be the subject of one.

Darwin, I never said I was immune to the fear of leading others to hell. I'm still not telling.

Emily J. said...

Betty, I'm sure you've earned your share of scorn from people who are holier than you.

But I bet there's someone else whose faith has been strengthened by your testimony. I just read this quote in my Advent book about the Church being lived in community which I can't find right now, so you could probably make an argument that your blog is a form of community building exercise that encourages others to hold onto their faith; hence, an apostolate.

Darwin, I know the name of the movie, but since I'm the more discrete sister, I won't tell either. I don't know why she's not telling, but BD is famous in the family for making "I know something you don't, and I won't tell" type statements. But here's a hint: since you know it's south of the border, think of controversial award winners from down there. This was not a little known film.

Sister, I give you permission to delete my comment if you like.

Anne said...

Well, Betty, I am liking you more and more every day! Ditto to your sentiments.

For the longest time, I wanted to be published. I wanted to write a book, a magazine article, a newspaper story-something! But after a million rejections, a friend of mine suggested I start a blog. She said "Write it for yourself, not for anyone else."

So, I write what I want, when I want. (Which happens to be almost daily!) I get out all of my inner angst and turmoil, my love for God and my family and my church. It feels good. I love it, it is the best thing I have ever done! If you like it-great! If you hate it-I'm sorry. But I'm sure there is no better therapy for me, apostolate or no.

Also, regarding your previous post- I love cows, also glad that I am not one, although sometimes I do eat like one!

Owen said...

People say my blog is entertaining. Oh, gosh, that was shallow of me.

Meredith said...

So glad to see someone take a stand. In our gradual shift from Sunday Catholics to every day Catholics, I've found myself studying more traditional blogs for cues. Why does everyone in the church bow at one point during the Mass, when no one did that in our last parish?

I was ignorant enough to ask a sincere question at one of the big blogs. Let's just say I won't do that again.

I got answers, but none that reflected charity instead of superiority.

BettyDuffy said...

Em, I absolutely agree with the community aspect of blogging. I should have mentioned that in my post. I come to the blogosphere for cyber-human contact. That just sounds weird.

Anne, you have a great attitude about blogging. It does seem that as bloggers we have a better chance of getting 50 people to read our work than we have of getting a single editor or agent to read it. Why doesn't everyone skip the middle man, I wonder? Mmmm, I guess some people do like to get paid for writing.

Owen, I love your blog. It IS entertaining.

Meredith, you raise an interesting point. When I came back into Church, I went to a Parish that had a more traditional liturgy. Then, when I went home to visit my parents and attended our old Parish, I felt so superior, that I knelt and stood as we did at my traditional new Parish, rather than doing as the Romans did at my old Parish. I thought that if more people knew the traditional way of celebrating the liturgy, there would be fewer fallen away Catholics. I still believe that's true, but I've come to see it as a matter of humility and obedience to worship as one body in whatever Parish I may be in--rather than to insist on liturgical correctness everywhere I go. It doesn't benefit the Church when its members love the law more than charity, humility, or other people.
There's a time to take a stand for what is right, but that time is not in the middle of Mass.

mrsdarwin said...

...anything with the word 'musings' in the title.

Oh, sing that sweet music, sister! I think that the whole blog-as-apostolate thing is faintly ridiculous, when it doesn't assume a more malicious "purifying fire" aspect.

And Darwin points out, in regard to "since you know it's south of the border, think of controversial award winners from down there", that most controversial award-winning movies are about "down there".

Anne said...

OK, I've been feeling remorse about my previous comment here. Although I do agree that mean-spirited blogs and books benefit no one and hurt everyone, including the author, I'm sorry that I said I write only for myself as a form of therapy.

What I should have said is that I write for God, yes, as a form of prayer, and I read other blogs also as prayer. I do feel that I grow closer to God because I learn so much in this blogosphere. Also, I am entertained. I don't think that my blog is especially entertaining, but hopefully, simply uplifting. Lord knows that I need lifting up again and again, so I take from what I read, and hopefully, I give back from what I write.

Betty, I receive much spiritual benefit from reading your highly entertaining blog. It is the best of both worlds! Thanks for what you do!

BettyDuffy said...

Thank you Anne. I have left many comments around the blogosphere that I wish I hadn't. And your comment reveals to me that I, too, may have been a little too strident in making my point about prayer. I do, like you, see writing as an extension of my relationship with God--which is a form of prayer. And this community of believers is somehow a part of that. Thanks for your comment.

Julie D. said...

To answer your question about conversion: Jen Fulwiler (Conversion Diary) - became Christian from atheist. Will Duquette (View from the Foothills) came to the Catholic faith to a very large degree through blog reading. Both those with stated apostolates and those that don't think of it that way but are indubitably Catholic. Jen and Will have blogged about it at length.

There are others I am sure but those are the two that sprang to mind instantly.

I also go where the entertainment is which leads me to people who I have to then put warnings next to when I use their jokes. Since I'm less scarred by bad language than some.

However, I also realize that everyone isn't looking for what I am in a blog ... or indeed cares about the stuff that I do. Pity my friends who used to receive via email most of the sort of things that I post now.

On the other hand, I hope that you could hear how hard I laughed when reading about how you want entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. Because really, by those standards, you would not read your own blog would not be one you read. You are personable, enjoyable to read, and all that jazz ... but you relate every single thing there is to your faith. Every single thing.

I LOVE IT. But entertainment as most define it? Nope.

Just because you don't define something as a ministry don't mean it ain't. It's just more attractive if you don't.

AND I think it depends to a very large degree on the individual as to whether a stated apostolate leads to fussin' and feudin' ... or not. The internet fosters that and it is sad that Catholics fall prey to it, but it is very human also. It is how we recover or handle ourselves throughout that helps people see how our Catholicism helps us strive to become more like Christ's image. Or not.

NOW to the important stuff ... c'mon ... you brag that you might lead us astray. Live up to it! NAME THAT MOVIE! :-D

BettyDuffy said...

Julie D, You've called me out! What fun!

See, I say I don't like conflict, but anyone who knows me would testify otherwise, I'm sure.

But I think that's the point: I am full of crap, and therein lies the problem.

In order for this Catholic faith to be the least bit attractive to me, it must be an incarnate one that takes into consideration these bodies and brains and their fallible chemistry. It's too easy in the Christian blogosphere for us to become disembodied voices, or oracles of the Gospel, which is good, on one hand, that we act on the desire to proclaim the Gospel from our keyboards. On the other hand, I don't want the responsibility of being that disembodied infallible oracle. I just want to tell stories about my faith and my life, both of which are terribly prone to error. So I feel a need at time to send out these disclaimers and warnings. I'm full of it. Other people probably are not. Other people probably have much more confidence that they are doing exactly what they need to be doing, and the proof is in the pudding: you say they have born fruit, and I believe you. The thing is, I have to tell myself that this is just entertainment because if it's not, and people's souls really do hang on these words flung out in cyberspace, then I'm scared shitless.

But you're right, I probably wouldn't read my own blog if I didn't write it myself. Actually, that's disingenuous of me: I probably would read it, and wonder how in the heck this woman got inside my brain. I'd probably want to be my friend.

And on the movie, it's probably more honest to say that I'm embarrassed I even checked it out. I knew the premise, I knew the reviews. If I told you the title, you'd say, "Well of Course it was bad!"

TS said...

Ha, I love it. Oh so true. I recall when I got placed on the Catholic blog search engine how I was suprised, not sure if mine was a "Catholic blog" other than it being written by a Catholic. So I never felt constrained by that label.

Enbrethiliel said...


Ah, Betty! I've been feeling bad for so long about not picking up other people's 'blogged prayer requests. Your post reassures me, somewhat.

Julie D. said...

Dang, I DID call you out! And actually thought I was just blathering along .. . though now that I reread what I wrote I can see how badly it was written. Phew. Talk about fallibility! ha!

Well, here's the thing. You are absolutely right about the fact that more than anything else in blogging "I gotta be me." Truth is all. And to do anything else is to turn into one of those people whose every comment whether on weather (ha!) or shoes or groceries turns into a sermon about God. Boring and makes people flee in the other direction.

Because, if I may take the liberty of linking it all to GOD (yes, run now, while you still can), He put us here to be ourselves. Whether in person or on the internet, we're what He uses to touch other people. But since HE is the one doing it while we are busy being ourselves the best we can ... then it's not up to us.

Or something.

I have now confused myself and am going off to continue doing some page layout. (Which my husband, co-worker will be devoutly thankful for). :-D

sriddle415 said...

Dear Betty,

I hope, given the brief nature of our acquaintance, I do not presume by writing so familiarly; however, I did want to say, ca m'amuse--and that comment in itself was too short.



Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Is there one single person who has been converted to Christ by reading blogs? Please stand up and be counted.

Me! As Julie D. said, blogs were a huge part of my conversion (I wrote an article about it here if you have any interest). It started out with reading the combox at one of the biggest atheist sites, The Raving Atheist, back when I was an atheist. I saw these debates between Christians and atheists break out in the combox and was astounded at a) how reasonable and b) how charitable and loving the Christians were. It piqued my interest in their religion. (Interestingly, the Raving Atheist famously converted to Christianity last year, in large part because of the influence of some Catholics he met through blogging.) Also, because of the nature of my blog, I regularly hear from people who are considering converting to Catholicism based primarily on something they encountered on blogs.

I do agree though about the whole "blog as apostolate" thing. Although, wait, I'm not sure if I know what the word apostolate means, so maybe I shouldn't talk about that. If it means "thinking blogs are more important than they are," then yeah, I'm with you on that.

I think of blogging as no different than any kind of public communication. We shouldn't pretend to be apologists or Catholic gatekeepers, and we definitely should be "real" and not hold ourselves out to be boring, perfect cardboard cutouts. But I do think that we should remember that it's public, and that whether we like it or not there are going to be non-Catholics and non-Christians reading what we write and thinking, "so this is what Catholics are like."

Anyway, thought-provoking post, as always. And I will just admit that I spent way too much time snickering because I was pretty sure I knew exactly which author you were talking about.

berenike said...

I'm dying to know who the snide author is.

Pentimento said...

Well, I am going to admit something really cheesy. I come to the interwebs to try to connect wit people who love the things I do. And cheesier still, I think of my blog as a kind of apostolate. It's a very small apostolate, however, and specific to my life as a post-abortive Catholic revert. I sincerely pray that just one woman who's been in my shoes might take heart from what I write. If I didn't have that hope, which is the hope of sharing the message of the Divine Mercy, I would abandon my blog completely.

BettyDuffy said...

I’m not sure how many times I can contradict myself in one thread, but I’m going to keep going for it.

First this: Pentimento, I don’t think your comment is cheesy. I think it’s true that blogging is an apostolate in the sense that every aspect of our lives is an apostolate if we take our Christian vocation seriously. You do a beautiful job of telling your story with thoughtfulness and a Christ-centered heart. You write beautifully and the final package is entertainment that is edifying and apostolic, even if that is not a stated purpose of your writing.

I think my understanding of “apostolate” has been colored by my experiences with Regnum Christi, in which apostolate is related to recruitment, and is worked on during hours specifically designated for Christian work. As that Movement undergoes purification, I am also rethinking how I use certain words I am in the habit of using. Part of my objection to the “blog as aspotolate” idea is that it compartmentalizes aspects of our Christian life.

I appreciate what Jennifer says about our blogs being public, and I agree, as such that it requires prudence and savvy, just as any public life does.

I’m not sure, however, that I can “prayerfully consider” every word I put up here. I think it might make me scrupulous and defeat anything I write before I write it. And even if I agree that I should do it, the fact is, I won’t do it. Just as I don’t always prayerfully consider every word I say to my children when I discipline them. And never am I more entrenched in the work of forming Christian souls than when I am at home with my kids. But if I dwell on the damage I may or may not cause my children in my moments of non-reflection, I would probably despair of my vocation to motherhood, and my Christian vocation alike.

I learn from story. I experience my faith in story. Stories can glorify God, but sometimes they don’t. I have personal experience of coming to a deeper embrace of my faith through stories that might even be considered anti-Catholic. I think God can use every aspect of our lives for his Glory.

In “Blogging,” which by its nature orients us towards stories about ourselves, I have to trust that God can use my stories however he wants, even when my intentions are not entirely pure, even when the inevitable self-promotion sneaks into my writing.

If my entire life is an apostolate, of which blogging is a part, then my Christian work must include my errors. It has to include writing that is sometimes just cathartic for me. It has to include my parental and spousal missteps.

And as all this relates to Catholicism, traditionalism, fundamentalism and art, I think that what’s missing from a lot of blogs, and a lot of Christian writing is a humble and deep acceptance of God’s unconditional love and mercy. He forgives us our sins. He uses our sins for his ends. So I think we can relax our fears a little concerning writing with honesty about our lives. If the future of Christian story-telling is in the blogosphere, and I think it might be, then I would be sad if our stories were lost because we were afraid to tell them.

BettyDuffy said...

Thinking of great Christian stories...

"The Power and the Glory" : God loves us and uses us in spite of our addictions.

"The End of the Affair":God loves us even though we have committed sexual sin.

"Silence": God loves us in spite of our apostosy, even if he doesn't "use" us in any outwardly visible way.

Who's writing these stories now? I need them. But maybe blogs just aren't the medium for this kind of story telling.

sriddle415 said...


Difficult company to keep pace with. And I ask the same question and inevitably face the accusing finger that says, "You should be. I've given you the ability, the ideas, the interest, the passion, the wherewithal. . ." And I say, "Yeah, but You didn't write them for me." I'm such a whiner.



BettyDuffy said...

Alright Steven, I'll do it if you do.

Though I surely won't match Greene or Endo.

Julie D. said...

Ok, your last post ... and a good one too ... which had a comment from here ... sent me back again.

She is no longer with us but I definitely encourage you to read Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede and/or Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy. Not new, but a new discovery at whatever age of the book is still new. :-)

And on a lesser level and as a big surprise, Dean Koontz is infusing his horror with Catholic values. As I said, very surprising.

Melanie B said...

Late to the party but that's typical for me.

Betty I am with you 100% about all of it but especially about not prayerfully considering every word I post online (or that I say to my kids). Trying to do that would give me the greatest case of writer's block the world has ever seen.

I had a crisis once about what my blog's mission was and it lasted about five minutes before I remembered that it's all about me. I write for myself and maybe occasionally throw up a piece thinking of one or two specific readers. But in general if other people are entertained or enlightened, that's great but sort of beside the point for me.

I do occasionally throw up a prayer asking God to use what I write for his glory and to not let me lead anyone astray. But, like you said, that's of a piece with my mothering and the desperate prayers I throw out to God, begging him to not let me mess up my kids too much. It's there in the background, that desire to do good and not ill, to be Christ to everyone I meet. But if I tried to make it a part of every step I took, I'd rapidly become paralyzed and curl up in a ball, afraid to move.

I don't think that's the Catholic way, anyway. I think we are supposed to become Christ-like but not necessarily by a process of continual navel-gazing. An examination of conscience at the end of the day and a good confession serve to help me conform my heart and will to his. But it's a gradual process, this interior conversion and I'm going to mess up. I just have to pick up the pieces when that happens and keep going.

I think I have to just write. Write the stories I need to tell and let the sticks fall where they may, remembering that God can redeem my mistakes and make crooked paths straight.

Anne said...

Was it Julie who suggested "In This House of Brede" and "Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy"? Both excellent books, I'm sure you'd like them!

Dawn Farias said...

Oh excellent: I like cussing. I got here from Conversion Diary today, and recognized your blog from a quick click over last week (??) from Happy Catholic, I think. I enjoyed this post very much and think I'll be staying now.

BettyDuffy said...

I have "In This House of Brede" on my desk, waiting to be read. I'll move it up in the queue.

Wow, this is the first time I've ever had thirty comments.

mrsdarwin said...


I heartily second the recommendation for In This House of Brede -- I read it in one sitting (in a very late night) -- it's just that engrossing. Now there were women who understood their "apostolate".

Enbrethiliel said...



(I'm sorry if it's just annoying! I'll stop now . . .)

Warren said...

First, a totally off topic, remark:

Those old book plates ("She contemplates going to the convent.." et cetera) are awesome. I wish I had a complete set of those in book form.

Re: Blogging as an apostolate

The Blogosphere: A Bunch of Human Beings Who Haven't Done The Stuff They Were Supposed to Do Today, Frothing, and Making Much Ado about Nothing instead of getting stuff done.

In other words, for me, sitting on the internet reading and commenting (or writing blog entries) is a poor poor substitute for living.

I have been deeply hurt by blog commenters, people I thought would be friends. I think I assume too much of my co-religionists. They may believe in the Virgin Birth, and have an opinion one way or the other about communion-in-the-hand, but but do they believe in not being a complete buffle-headed clunch? Not so much.


Cathy Adamkiewicz said...

Bravo! So glad I came across your blog today. (thanks to Jen at Conversion Story.) I'd invite you to visit mine, but there are just a lot of crickets chirping there these days.
I'll be back, and I welcome all the cussing, humor, faith and reality you can dish out.
Bring it on, sister!

beachbabies said...


meg said...

Another great Christian story: I'm just finishing Kristin Lavransdatter - deep and rich and Catholic and...long. But worth it - it's actually three books in one, would make a great movie trilogy a la Lord of the Rings.