Building Straw Houses

Fellas, let’s talk about our incredible brainpower. If you don’t think you have incredible brainpower, please stick around for the rest of this post anyway, because I think you should hear what I am going to tell the guys who think they do.

Now, let’s say you do think you’re pretty smart, as I tend to think of myself. You probably get/got pretty good grades in school, yeah? Maybe you’ve got some expertise in something that few of the people around you know very much about, like mathematics, or programming, or political theory, or esoteric internet culture. Maybe you can impress friends and family by reciting information they’re not aware of. Maybe people flat-out tell you that you are one of the smartest people they know.

If this sounds like you, I have something to tell you, that you regularly need to tell yourself: you are not very smart in absolute terms. Your intellect, bound to grasp at the principles of reality through sensory input, is nothing before even the least angelic intellect, which has no need of learning, being instilled from its creation with direct knowledge of the nature of Creation. That goes without saying…but you are also not very smart compared to peak humanity. Have you ever read any of St. Thomas Aquinas’s writings? If you have not (and I do not just mean Wikipedia articles summarizing his writings) don’t go out and buy a boxed set, but try a little exercise: start with his commentary on Job, which I mentioned last week. First, read the text of the first chapter of the book of Job itself, see what you understand of the meaning of the text. Then, look at the meaning St. Thomas is able to extract from the same lines. Consider the depth he is able to perceive- and remember St. Thomas does not even bother here with the mystical reading, citing St. Gregory’s commentary as definitive. Have you read St. Gregory on Job? I have not, but it was well enough known to St. Thomas and his assumed reader that he does not even bother glossing it.


After you have read a bit, consider that this text is only one of many commentaries written by St. Thomas; he also wrote on many other books of Scripture, on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (as most scholastics did for their master’s work), and on much of the corpus of Aristotle, engaging with and responding to other Christian scholars as well as the writing of Islamic and Jewish commentators. He also wrote original works: to see what these are like, check out the first few questions of the Summa Theologiae. You will see that he begins by first examining the question of whether the subject he is writing about can be said to meaningfully/usefully exist, and whether men can study it fruitfully. Can you make such an argument for any of the subjects you have studied in school? It can be a good intellectual exercise to try, however good an answer you can muster.

St. Thomas is arguably one of the greatest thinkers of all time, and chances are, unless you have had a very unusual education, you have not only never read anything that he has written, but have also been primarily or exclusively taught by people who have never read anything he has ever written. All this is not to say our teachers are bad or that what we have learned is worthless, or that you need to become a Thomistic scholar, but merely to note how little of the world you or I actually understand or even know about. Indeed, knowing our own ignorance, we should rejoice with great relief that we do not believe, with the world, that only those who are especially intelligent are worthy of dignity and love. The Lord does not call us to become learned (although learning is good) but to become holy.

And if you are one of those blessed few who has read a great deal of Aquinas and other great thinkers, remember that the saint himself remarked that all he had written in life was “as straw” compared to the greatness of a true understanding of God and His creation. Indeed, he once said that He learned more from prayer than he ever had from all his studies (which for a man who had memorized as many texts as St. Thomas, was certainly saying something). As the book of Wisdom says: “And who shall know thy thought, except thou give wisdom, and send thy Holy Spirit from above…” (9:17) Whatever little knowledge we have has been given to us by God. Remember this.


A Little Yeast

Fellas, let’s talk about what we are feeding our souls. Most importantly, of course, we must nourish them through the sacraments, but there is another kind of food that they also need, and that is good and holy thoughts and words to ponder. Just as the health of your body is affected by what you eat, so the health of your soul can be affected by what you read. We have to be careful to consume what is good and avoid what is bad, lest we make ourselves sick.

Now, not all of us are quite as sensitive about such things (though all stand to be enriched by good and holy reading). Some have resolute temperaments that are hardly affected by the words and actions of others. This does not necessarily make such brethren better or worse; at times enduring much awfulness can be a great strength, and at times being unmoved by something of significance can be a great weakness. They have different needs; here I intend to concentrate chiefly on those of us who are deeply and easily moved by what we read or otherwise witness.

If you are like me, then you do not simply pass through what you read. You gnaw upon it, you digest it, you mull over it at great length. You can, if you are not careful, be completely carried away by even a little bit of it. Reading the news is an emotional assault. Comment boxes are utterly devastating and infuriating. An acquaintance posting something you strongly disagree with can threaten to ruin your day. Going online can be very dangerous, as we are confronted with a great deal of poison that we can hardly help but swallow in great gulps.

Our interests also tend to consume us. We can obsess over minor details of whatever it is we have an interest in –a book, a show, a game, a sport- scrutinizing it with a fervor that others find impressive but perhaps also somewhat excessive. We can become frustrated when such a thing fails to hold up to our examination, such that we wonder whether we actually enjoy the things that we profess to love, given how painfully aware we are of their imperfections.

Since so much of our world is deeply flawed, it is easy for us to become quite sickened, either by the failings of enjoyable things (which others who are not so inclined to over-scrutinize find perfectly agreeable) or the preponderance of loathsome things (which others who are not so sensitive quickly dismiss from their minds). We can begin to become overwhelmed by the mediocrity and wickedness of this world, and it can make us miserable. We must beware: the devil loves it when we are miserable, because it makes us far more susceptible to his assaults.

This is why we must take great care with what we “eat” in our reading. First, we must limit our consumption of what is bad; we, more than anyone else, should consider it a matter of our spiritual health to avoid reading comments, to remove people or accounts whose words or deeds are regularly upsetting from our feeds, to avoid following the news more than is absolutely required for our duties. We must, in a sense, cut out what is unhealthy for our cognitive diet, and create for ourselves a sort of spiritual monastery within our environment where we can take shelter from the world.

This alone is not enough, however. If we merely reduce what is bad, we shall still need something to occupy our minds. Hence, we must also consume that which is nourishing and wholesome, and allow ourselves to chew upon it. I do not here mean merely that which we personally enjoy and find pleasant, for as I said we will often find that all too wanting. We must turn our attention each day to that which is infinitely good, which withstands and excels all our pondering and scrutiny, to the only thing which can truly satisfy our hungry minds: the infinity and infinite perfection of God.


St. Dominic, who as a young canon was known to retreat regularly to study whenever he was free of other duties.

 How can we do this? Our minds wander easily, and they pick up whatever they encounter like a hungry dog. Thus we must each day read text which is wholesome and religious in nature, even for just a short while, keeping in mind our temporal duties. We must insist upon doing this even when we feel bad or when we feel good. Like any diet, we must hold to it whether it feels necessary or effective or not.

There are several ways to do this, but reciting at least part of an office is an excellent way to begin. In particular, I recommend starting with Lauds of either the Liturgy of Hours or the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Read it when you first get up so that you can return to it in your thoughts throughout the day. If, during the day you find your spirits turning downward, recall to mind your morning office, and reflect upon it.

It is also good to assign to yourself some regular reading from the writings of a saint, if not every day then at least for an hour on Sunday. The letters of St. Catherine of Siena ( , do note that the translator here is a 19th century Episcopalian woman) and St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on the Book of Job ( ) are both beautiful and easily accessed online, but it might also be wise to consult with your spiritual director for readings appropriate to your own situation. Again, even if you do not always feel it is necessary, you must make this reading a priority for your health. What you read becomes what you think. What you think becomes what you do. What you do becomes who you are. Remember this.

The Importance of Praying For Ordinary Things

Fellas, let’s talk about what we’re praying for. You do ask for things when you pray, right? St. Louis de Montfort says that asking for nothing is a great pitfall to avoid when praying one’s rosary. This is usually pretty easy to do, also, if we remember to do it: simply tell God that the prayers we are offering are for some specific intention, if it please Him to grant it. If your mind begins to drift in prayer, this can even help you to remain focused, by calling to mind that you have asked God for this favor from Him and so the least you can do is pay attention in the act of asking. Indeed, Christ assures us that if we ask our Father for an egg, He shall not hand us a scorpion. This is mostly a metaphor but hey, if you really need an egg, you could do far worse than asking the Lord who has formed every bird that flies beneath Heaven.

de montfort

St. Louis de Montfort


What should you pray for? Probably whatever you need most at this moment, for starters. Everything you have and are has come to you from God, so it’s not like it would be a change of pace for Him to give you something. Your mind is incapable of imagining most of reality (only a little bit of which is material) so it’s not like you are capable of making a request God does not understand. You can ask for a safe drive home for yourself or your loved ones. You can ask for a job. You can even just ask for the strength to somehow get through to the end of an awful day you are having, if you should be so afflicted. St. Louis suggests that you ask in particular for whatever virtues you find yourself struggling with.

What if God does not give you what you ask for? First you must keep in mind that God always hears your prayers: there is nothing in the impossibly brief instance that is your earthly life that is hidden from the Divine Sight. Hopefully you are asking Him for something which is truly a good, even if it is a fairly low order one (if you are asking Him for something you know is evil you need to stop and go to Confession). You might even be asking Him for something which is pretty huge, and this is indeed fine to ask of the Lord who has measured the heavens in a span: St. Teresa of Avila says “you pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.” But God is not a vending machine: if you ask Him for what you think you need, and in doing so place your trust in Him that He will give you what you need, then He in His love will give you what you actually need, whether you realize that immediately, or a year from now, or on the Day of Judgment when all things that have happened in Heaven and on earth are laid bare to all. Whenever you do realize, be sure to thank Him.

Do not make the mistake of thinking there are things that you can do “on your own” and that you should only trouble God with requests to miraculously heal chronic diseases. You can accomplish nothing worth accomplishing without His help, whether or not you realize you are receiving it. God is perfectly deliberate; every breath that you draw has been prepared to you since before time by His will. Every moment you continue to exist is at His forbearance. Every good thing that comes to you has been granted to you because He loves you.


Hannah, who asked God for a son.

He knows everything you need before you ask, it is true; but this also does not mean you should not ask Him for things. The beasts and plants receive all that they need from Him as well, but He has raised you above them by giving you the chance to contemplate Him, as the angels do. He waits for you to pray to Him so that in asking for lesser things you might be helped in raising your mind to the best thing, His infinite Self. It was the Lord of Heaven made flesh who told you “Ask, and you shall receive.” Remember this.

Man’s Paining

Fellas, let’s talk about suffering. Obviously there is a great deal of it in the world- you are on the internet, you can see plenty of it. People commit horrible atrocities against one another or very petty ones. People do terrible things to themselves. People suffer calamities which befall them seemingly at random. The world seems full of darkness and misery; it seems, as the words of the Salve Regina describe it, to be a “vale of tears.”

And in many ways, it is, even for those of us who embrace the true faith and attempt to follow Our Lord’s commands for how to live our lives. Of course, we were never promised an absence of suffering in this life. In fact, we were promised the exact opposite: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Where do you think we are following Him to, brothers? To Heaven, yes; but the path to Heaven runs through Golgotha. St. Faustina Kowalska says that if angels could envy men (which they cannot), they would envy them for Eucharist and for suffering, because in suffering, offered to the Father, we are united to the glory of the Cross.

Now it must be said that the Lord forbids us from seeking out suffering on our own; He does not permit us to destroy ourselves, in whole (by suicide) or in part. Indeed, every good we receive is a gift from the Lord, and we should not deprive ourselves of them except in favor of higher goods: this is why fasting and celibacy are permitted (and indeed praiseworthy), while starving ourselves to death or castrating ourselves are not. Sometimes it can be difficult to judge whether we are truly working towards a higher good or merely acting out of pride, which is why particularly severe austerities ought only to be undertaken as we wield what St. Benedict calls “the weapons of obedience” against the Enemy; that is to say, we must submit to the supervision of a trustworthy and competent spiritual director.

But what about that suffering that has already found you, as you scroll through your timeline and your heart aches and you feel sad about who you are and what you do? Sure, you’re not dying of thirst (buddy if you are, hydration break rn) or being tortured creatively by Roman soldiers, but not all suffering is so dramatic. Sometimes it just feels like we simply cannot go sit to dinner with the family members that do not understand us, or figure out how we are going to get through all the work we have done this week, or like we simply cannot stand to live another day with that feel when no gf.

But my brothers, you are not alone in that time. The Lord is close to you, chained up alongside you in your moment of torment. He has been through this all before, and if you only reach out to Him and ask, He will lay His hand upon you to steady you through it. He will never leave you no matter how bad it gets or how viciously you betray Him. Remember, before He permits the devil to torment Job, God says “Have you seen my servant Job? There is no man like him among those who walk upon the earth!” He only permits Job to suffer so because He loves and prizes Job, and because He knows that Job will not fail.

St Job the Longsuffering

Cry out, as Christ did, to the Father He has given you to share, and Your Father will hear you. Literally if you must, whisper or shout “Father!” Your Father, who hears all and knows all and has foreseen all, will not allow His child to suffer in vain. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)

You are the Body of Christ. It is by the wounds which pierce that Body that God’s saving work is completed. Remember this.

Fancy Cups

Fellas, I want to talk to you a bit about taking care of sacred vessels. Ever watch the priest at the Mass, and notice how careful he is to keep the chalice covered, to wash and wipe every vessel used to hold the Body and Blood of Our Lord? This isn’t because he doesn’t otherwise have enough to do up there; we believe that these objects touch God Himself, so you better believe we want them to be as clean and nice as our weak hands and feeble senses can make them.


(Pictured: a Chalice and Paten of Bl. Pius IX; image source:

We also usually try to use the nicest objects we have available for such things, as a way of showing how highly we regard the function those objects provide– but it is the function that makes them holy, not the quality of their materials. There is a story told of Dorothy Day, that in the wild early years of the Catholic Worker, no chalice was available for Mass, and so the priest (being presumably caught up in the low-church fashion of the time, as many were) used a coffee mug from the kitchen to hold the sacrifice. When Dorothy Day heard this, she was appalled, and demanded to be shown which mug had been used. When it was produced, she took the mug and reverently buried it; for it was now no longer a mug but a precious chalice that had contained within itself the Holy Sacrifice of Christ- it was sanctified forever by its close contact with God, and could never again return to its previous function.

If you think that’s intense, consider what else touches the Eucharist: you. Much like the chalice and the paten (protip: that’s the little plate the Host sits on), you are a receptacle for the physical presence of Christ- the priest literally puts God into your mouth! This is almost unbelievable, and it would be absurd for a creature as frankly unimpressive as you or I to presume to do it if God did not explicitly command us to do so. But you have already been set apart, ritually prepared for this sacred duty: you have been washed clean in the waters of Baptism and (hopefully) anointed with the holy chrism of Confirmation. Just as the priest prepares the vessels to receive God, the Church has also prepared you- those sacraments are not nothing, and they have permanently set you aside from the great mass of humanity for a sacred purpose.

You should probably try not to screw that up then, huh? You do though, because you suck. It’s okay, I suck too- God knows this, and this is why He has given us the sacrament of Penance to absolve us of any sins that make us egregiously unfit to receive Him. But we must also try, and ask God to help us try, to suck less. Not every bad thing we do is so defacing to our soul as to make it wholly unfit to receive the Eucharist, but it is still a scuff, a little scratch, a slight smudge; a reminder we are not being as careful as we should be with the sacred vessel that is us.

We need to take care for ourselves, and treat ourselves with the dignity appropriate to a receptacle of the substance of God. Part of this means not using our minds or our bodies or our senses for anything that is unclean ([whispering] guys this means porn) and part of it means respecting ourselves. Every time we bathe or brush our teeth or eat or sleep or exercise we need to remember that we are caring for a sacred vessel used to contain the presence of God. Thinking of yourself as a “human dumpster” is not a good way to treat yourself- a sacred vessel should never be used as a dumpster! You are not a dumpster, you are a chalice. Remember this.


Hey fellas, happy feast of St. John Bosco. You know why we use his image here? Because he took care of young lads everyone else thought were unsalvageable losers. Hmm, unsalvageable losers…does that description match anybody we know? Maybe better to ask whether it fails to match anyone we know, amrite?




Now, we gotta examine ourselves without giving in to despair, but also without being prideful. It’s important to remember you are not a saint yet. It’s probably a bad idea to spend too much time interacting with habitual grave sinners if you can avoid it, because you will start to think you are some kind of shining pillar of the Church just because you don’t sleep around or skip Sunday Mass- these kinds of things are not impressive, they are the bare minimum to avoid killing the grace which God places in our hearts to help us grow. That others fail to do them is something sorrowful; it should not be a source of self-satisfaction. If you can’t see somebody’s posts without thinking “smh this thot at it again” then you need to mute them or unfollow them until you can kill the root of pride within yourself, which you are only going to do through the cultivation of humility.

If circumstances require you to deal with this person regularly (and I mean real circumstances, not ‘oh I am sure if I just message them enough they’ll come around’- part of humility is accepting that you are not going to be the one to personally convert everyone you meet) you need to realize that you are possibly one of the only ways this person sees Christ– as a member of His Church, you are part of His Body. This means you need to become a role model: you need to show this person that you are living rightly, seeking to know and love God, and pursuing the natural virtues of temperance, justice, fortitude and prudence, as well as the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Does that sound hard? It should. You’re not going to do it yourself-you need to be praying regularly that God will give you what you need to serve others and to live rightly yourself. Don’t expect the person to care how you think they should behave if you can’t behave yourself.

But dude, you may be thinking, I can’t live rightly, I am actually a loser! I gently lean towards your ear and whisper, I know you are. But just because you are a loser right now doesn’t mean you will be one forever. God didn’t bring you this far, to knowing about and caring about the faith, just to leave you a sorry sap. He is not finished with you yet! But you must learn where you are starting from before you can move in the right direction. And you need to start moving, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s getting you anywhere yet.

What do I mean by that? I mean you need to do things. But doing things is hard; before you can do things, you need to do a thing. Every day this month, I want you to set yourself exactly one goal of something you need to do or should do. One task. Do a load of laundry. Read a chapter of a book. Write 300 words of a term paper. Something, anything that is beneficial or necessary. And only pick one a day. Write it down in the morning, and check it off when you have done it. If you need to put it in a .txt document and write “DONE” next to it. Ask God to help you do it, and thank Him for His help after you have done it. At first it might seem silly, or you might come to a day where you decide to blow it off. It is not silly, and you’d better not blow it off- but if for some reason you are unable to do it one day, don’t sweat it; just get up the next day and get right back at it. And make sure you are picking something you can do in a day- if it turns out to be too big, scale back and just do part of it, but do part of it!

We have to prove ourselves trustworthy in small things, so that we can be ready for large ones. St. John Bosco, ora pro nobis.

Mail-Bag: Priest Material

Looks like we’ve already got some correspondence here, excellent:


yall really think that screwups that can’t get a gf (namely me) are priest material? let us be serious, any order that doesn’t have the sense to screen us out isn’t worth joining. guys who had it together in their youth can be priests, pious chads will get the good girls, our vocation is depressed alcoholic bachelor sitting in the back at mass


Thanks for writing, my bro. Sounds like you could use some help- that’s what we’re here to do.


First of all, I have bad news: you are such good priest material that you are already a priest. Ever hear of the Baptismal priesthood? That’s you, man– like all Christians you are called to make of your life a daily offering to God in imitation of Christ. You should probably get on that right away: thank Him for what is good in your life, and offer your least suffering as a sacrifice for your sins and those of others. Keep His commandments and guard your purity, because you belong to Him now. Receive the sacraments of Penance and Communion as often as you can to cleanse your soul and fill it with His presence. You also need to be praying daily; remembering that it’s a spiritual work of mercy to pray for  the living and the dead. I’m afraid you don’t get to get out of the call to seek holiness just because you haven’t been ordained.


As for getting ordained: if you think only people who have been paragons of holiness since childhood can be priests, you need to review the lives of some of the great saints of the Church. Many of them, it turns out, started as colossal failsons: John Vianney was a tremendous disaster in the seminary, such that he repeatedly failed to learn Latin and got punched out by other students for being a dumbass. In fact, he was considered such an ass that after failing an exam he got called up by the seminary rector who called him an ass to his face. He replied, “Monsignor, Samson killed one hundred Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. What do you think God could do with a whole one?”




Vianney was eventually ordained, and by the end of his life he was spending 16-18 hours a day in the confessional because of the thousands of people that were coming to him. What’s the takeaway here? Not having it together right now is no indication you can’t be a priest. The only way to be sure of that is to never get up the nerve to talk to the Vocations Director. And remember that the bishop putting his hands on your head and ordaining you does not magically make you holy (or require you to be particularly holy to work); priests still have to go to confession and struggle with sin just like the rest of us. Pray for them!


[One more thing: speaking of not being particularly holy, if you think all us married dudes arrived at our present situation by being “pious chads” then man I gotta tell you something. Women, it turns out, are not perfect angels waiting in heaven to come down and reward Good Catholic boys for being sufficiently holy. They have their own struggles and imperfections just like we do; a marriage of two saints is an ideal that requires a lifetime of work by both husband and wife. Most marriages are two very imperfect people making the very bold claim that they’re going to stay together no matter how hard it gets- and believe it or not this is such a hard thing to do that you are only going to manage it through the grace of God. We’ll talk about this more in the future, but getting married (like getting ordained) is only a beginning of holiness, not a prize for its achievement. It is an assignment of responsibilities, not a reward.]