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Joseph Pearce

Joseph Pearce is Senior Editor at the Augustine Institute, editor of the St. Austin Review and the author of books on Shakespeare, Tolkien, Chesterton and other Christian literary figures.


Writing for Faith & Culture

We welcome the submission of articles of between 600 and 1,500 words on topics related to Catholic faith and culture. Articles should be emailed as Word attachments to Joseph Pearce.

Content of Questions

Content of Questions

Sometimes it is a little too easy to ask questions. It is especially easy to ask questions when we expect someone else to do all the work in answering them. Then the questions seem to fuel themselves. A child can keep asking “Why?” until the only real practical response is to stuff an old sock in his mouth.

This sort of questioning does not represent a true thirst for knowledge but rather a willful reluctance to accept the knowledge that has been offered, and an unwillingness to think for oneself. It is always easier to let someone else think for us. Children are usually genuinely curious, of course, but at times they can also be obstinate past all parental patience. In other words there is a difference between child-like wonder and childish stubbornness. “Child-like” is usually a virtue. “Childish” is generally a vice.

G.K. Chesterton, who never failed to adore the innocence and wonder of children as a quality we should all imitate and aspire to (for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven), also warned us to avoid the very different characteristic of childishness. Modern philosophy, for instance, is childish, and, according to Chesterton, is as stubborn as a donkey, “which wants kicking to make it go on.” The modern mind is just clever enough to take things apart but is not able to put the pieces together again. “No one, therefore, does any good to our age merely by asking questions - unless he can answer the questions… The note of our age is a note of interrogation. And the final point is so plain; no skeptical philosopher can ask any questions that may not equally be asked by a tired child on a hot afternoon. ‘Am I a boy? - Why am I a boy? - Why aren't I a chair? - What is a chair?’” Chesterton says that a child can ask these questions for hours, but modern philosophers, who should know better, have been asking them for the last few centuries.

What they haven’t bothered doing is answering these questions. There are answers, but the modern world does not really seek them. We hide behind our questions. Chesterton, however, reminds us: “The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty.”

No matter how many questions there are, there is ultimately only one answer. All questions are all spurred by a separation from truth. The answer is always a communion with truth. And the ultimate answer is the ultimate truth: it is Jesus Christ. Sin has separated us from God. It has also clouded our thinking. Christ has reconciled us with God. And he has given us the Church to clarify our thinking.

Here is the amazing thing. The Catholic Church has answers. All the answers. It really does have an answer for everything. It is a reliable guide through the world. The only difficulty comes when we decide we do not trust its guidance.

For the Catholic Church proclaims the truth and defends the truth. The first is evangelization, the second is apologetics. Evangelization is preaching the Gospel. Apologetics is giving an answer to the attacks on the truth. Evangelization is offensive. Apologetics is defensive. Evangelization is the sword of the spirit. It conquers. Apologetics is the shield of faith (and reason). It protects.

For those who are troubled that proclaiming the Gospel is offensive, I can only answer with the words of Christ: “Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:6)

Being offended is not an intellectual response; it is emotional. The intellectual challenges to the Faith are not the greatest barrier to believing. In the end, it is the stubbornness of the will. We address the intellectual objections only to clear the ground for the work of the spirit. We get the head out of the way of the heart. That is when an actual decision has to be made.

The problem, however, is that most of us are afraid either to proclaim our faith or defend it. G.K. Chesterton says, “We are children of light, and yet we sit in the darkness.” Why is that? I think one reason is that we do not avail ourselves of the fullness of the Catholic faith. We neglect the sacraments. We neglect the straightforward moral teaching of the Church. We neglect prayer. We neglect to do good to our neighbors. We even neglect to do good to ourselves. If we don’t fall into bad behavior we fall into dull behavior. We let someone else do our thinking for us.

Lent is a time to draw closer to God. Deeper prayer. Deeper spiritual reading. A time to get rid of all those things that prevent us from enjoying a fuller communion with God. Usually, in order to get rid of those things, we have to do penance. Penance is an act of separating ourselves from the things that have separated us from God.

Lent is a time to fill ourselves with truth so that we can proclaim the truth and defend the truth. So we can answer questions and not just ask them.

A Noble Mind

A Noble Mind

I Thirst

I Thirst