Defragging our Minds - By Marcus Grodi

How does one determine truth? This was the core of my own journey to the Church, and though I won’t repeat the details here, I must admit this journey, for me at least, did not cease once I became Catholic. I knew my old Protestant ways of determining truth did not work and led only to a cacophony of conflicting opinions that divides Christians from other Christians. But then once inside the gates of the Church, I was sadly stymied by the unexpected breadth of opinions and sad divisions amongst Catholics. To some people these divisions seem no different than the divisions amongst Protestants. For others these divisions have caused them to leave the Church and return to the more comfortable confusion of their past. Then there are those who are not happy with the bishops and have begun defining a Catholicism on their own terms.

But how are Catholics to determine what is true when we are surrounded by so many seemingly faithful Catholics with conflicting opinions and lifestyles? Allow me to approach this quest with the illustration of a personal experience—of my own ignorance.

About fifteen years ago, when my wife, Marilyn, and I were but three years Catholic, we had a Christmas party at our home in Steubenville that many of our Catholic friends attended. At one point in the evening I was standing in the kitchen enjoying a beverage of preference with four theology and philosophy professors from Franciscan University. They were carrying on a lofty discussion, using terms my brain had never heard nor could wrap its flimsy muscles around. To be a part of the conversation, from time to time, loosened by my beverage of choice, I would interject a point of comic relief, maybe something I felt was particularly enlightening from the latest Far Side or Calvin & Hobbs comic strips. My interruptions, however, were generally met with blank silent stares, until they returned to their conversation, as if I was the butler imposing the mundane into a discussion of substance. I know my friends did not intend ridicule (they were probably just being kind) but when the party was over, I retreated alone to my office in the basement, wondering if I’d ever “get it” enough to hold my own in such a conversation.

I had come into the Church in search of truth, because I knew that the Bible alone was not sufficient to know what is true, but now that I was in the Church, I was so inundated with Truth at so many levels, I frankly felt I was drowning.

I turned my computer on to play my favorite computer game: Disc Defrag. Now you computer geeks out there know that I’m being tongue in cheek. Disc Defrag was not a game; it was a utilities program that defragmented a computer’s hard drive.

Think of a computer hard drive like a small library. All the books should be in nice order, arranged according to subject, title, and author, so that when you want to find something, you know exactly where to look. But suppose over time, people have added or replaced books to the library at random, not paying attention to subject, title, or author, just stuffing the books in willy-nilly, even sometimes taking the books apart, placing one half randomly in one place, and the other half in another place. The library would become a mess, nearly unusable, almost useless to find anything. What would have to be done to make the library useful again? A librarian would need to go in and rearrange the books, putting back together all the halves, according to the intended order: subject, title, author.

This is what Disc Defrag did. Over time, as a computer was used, programs and files were opened, modified, added, erased, all to and from the computer hard drive, the library if you will, and often without any discernible order. As a result, the disc library became fragmented, disordered, and the computer would slow, sloow, slooow down. But then Disc Defrag could straighten it all out. It would completely evaluate the condition of the disc, measure the level of disorder and defragmentation, and then through a process of cut & paste, put all the programs and files in a proper working order—an order predetermined and programed into the computer by computer technicians who knew far more than I did about how a computer ought to work. The programs and files were rearranged into a proper grid, putting the most basic programs first, then the secondary programs, and on and on until the least important less essential files.

Disc DefragNow the reason I considered this a “game” was because the computer gave a visual representation of this process: you could watch as the computer rearranged, moved, and sometimes deleted little multicolored boxes, bringing a haphazard collage of tiny specks of colors into nicely arranged, large, ordered blocks of colors. In the end the library was back in working order, and the computer could operate efficiently.

That night I sat watching the program Defrag my computer, watching the little colored boxes disappear from one place show up temporarily in another place and then finally reappear in their proper place, in working order with all the other programs and files.

And as I watched, I wished that somehow I could do that to my brain—to defrag the mess of random images, information, memories, and knowledge I’d picked up over the years, from uncountable sources, some trustworthy, some not so, some despicable and sinful. Oh, that I could rearrange my memory and my conscience into a more efficient, functioning, living machine, but how is this to be done? What criteria would I use to rearrange all of my knowledge, to put it into sensible working order? What criteria would I use to set priorities; which information is most basic and true, fundamental; which information is less so and therefore subordinate; and which information should be cast aside as unnecessary or untrustworthy or downright destructive to my life and soul?

As a Protestant I would have answered the Bible alone. Or as a Presbyterian I might have answered biblical Theology. But as I sat there, a fairly new Catholic, reflecting on the conversation that had driven me to the solitude of my basement, I came to a new conclusion (for me) that the grid that put everything in proper order was philosophy: to understand the Bible and theology and all of life correctly and in the right order, one’s thinking and conscience must be built upon the grid of good trustworthy philosophy. And this is what I assumed, within the context of faithful Catholic teaching of course, for many years after. I would share my insight, this illustration of defragging our minds with philosophy, with my philosophy friends, and would receive in return a good hearty “at-a-boy” slap on the back!

But then, as I matured in the faith, reading and growing in Catholic teaching and philosophy, I came to the realization that my conclusion concerning philosophy was insufficient—as my previous conclusions that Scripture alone was insufficient or that right theology was insufficient—because I discovered that good faithful Catholics don’t always agree on philosophy. Some are Thomists, some Augustinian, some Suarists; others are Personalists or Phenomenologists, even Existentialists; and among these camps there are countless divisions as to which ideas are essential or non-essential. I became disheartened to discover that among Catholic philosophers there isn’t one essential philosophical grid upon which to arrange and order all truth. In fact, I discovered that there are divisions within the membership of the Church among otherwise faithful believing Catholics, based primarily upon their different philosophical understandings of truth and how to determine what is true; Catholics who lift themselves up above the Magisterium: believing they understand truth better than the bishops in union with Peter.

So if the corrective grid isn’t the Bible alone or theology or philosophy, what is it? Or is there one? Are we left to our selves to order our thinking and our consciences?

It is here that I more fully and humbly came to realize and appreciate the truth that every good Catholic knows, or at least should know, and in fact which draws near every convert to make their journey home. And at first mention of this, most Protestant listeners will cringe back in horror and disgust, even more so than the thought that philosophy could be any kind of trustworthy grid of truth. At first mention of what I now more fully appreciate as this gift of truthful and trustworthy order, some of you may wonder, “Wait, how does that help? Isn’t that just as subjective and intangible as the Bible alone, or biblical theology, or philosophy?” And my answer to that is no, not at all, if one trusts that Jesus established the Church—the pillar and bulwark of the truth—and established her Magisterium built upon the rock of Peter, guided and protected by the promised Holy Spirit.

What is that one trustworthy grid upon which we can build our lives, correctly order our thinking, and form our conscience? Sacred Tradition. But how can we know Sacred Tradition? Do I need to read all the Early Church Fathers, all the conciliar documents beginning with Nicea, all papal pronouncements, etc., etc? No, trusting the Church’s Magisterium, believing in humility that she knows better than we do that which is essential for us to believe and upon which to form our consciences, we must accept the gift she has given us for this purpose at this time in the life of the Church. That gift is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is crucial and important. If we reject the present Catechism because we prefer a previous one, or because we think the new one has changed what was said before, then we are lifting ourselves up above the Magisterium of the Church, thinking we know better than the Church, and essentially doubting that the Church is still being guided by the Holy Spirit. We are therefore setting ourselves up as the sole, trustworthy grid for determining what is true.

The reality is that if we died tonight and stood before God, and if being a good faithful Catholic makes any difference to our entrance into heaven, then the criterion will not be what it meant to be a good faithful Catholic 100 or 50 or even 25 years ago, or what it might be 25, 50, or 100 years in the future. What is essential is whether we are a good faithful Catholic, a trustworthy, humble, holy follower of Jesus Christ, today. And how can we know that? What has the Church given us to help us know precisely what this is, how to defrag our minds, to put everything in order, to move to the front those things that are essential, to move to the side the less essential, to put everything into the right context, to determine which things, ideas, and actions need to be set aside and cast out of our lives, and maybe most important of all, what things, ideas, and ideals are worth dying for? For this, the Church has given us the Catechism, in which she states: “This catechism aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church’s Tradition. Its principal sources are the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy, and the Church’s Magisterium. and her liturgy” (para. 11). Read it; know it; pray it; live it.

I invite you to share your thoughts on this article in the comments area below. — Marcus

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  • Truthseeker

    This article is so true.  I still am confused when well meaning, faithful Catholics tell me not to worry about missing Mass on Sundays, or are brought to tears at a friend’s church, because the pastor was a woman, and we will never have that.  I have become so thankful, that can trust the Magisterium to guide me.  I don’t open my Catechism often enough, but it’s there for me, when I really need it.

  • Francisco Ramirez

    We really do not know what we are missing for not reading the Catechism. It is a treasure. Thanks Marcus

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonmarc.grodi JonMarc Grodi

    Agreed Francisco! What a treasure.

  • Meadowbird

    I found your analogy to the defrging of a computer brilliant.  I am not a heavy thinker, but the analogy falls into the latter.
      
    Thanks!

  • Mgilliom45

    Thanks for this article.  I am a relatively recent convert and often find myself reading 3-4 books at a time in an attempt to “catch-up”.  The result is I am left feeling overwhelmed.  I think I will back-up and start with the Catechism!

  • Desertmonk

    I was somewhat confused with what you are driving at in this article (Defragging our Minds).  Are you saying that

    the bulwark of the Roman Catholic Faith is the “New Catechism”?  I would have to disagree.  The New

    Catechism, like everything else evolving from Vatican Two, is vague, long-winded, and eschatolically barren.  

    And even the best catechism that a catholic could posess, The Catechism of the Council of Trent, is rather

    useless if employed by a wrong spirit.  Toward the end of the article, you make the statement…”The reality is

    that if we died tonight…the criterion (for judgment unto beatittude) will not be what it meant to be a good faithful

    catholic 100 or 50…years ago” and that statement is exactly false.  Heaven is eternal, and the standard to enter

    therein is equally eternal.  St Paul talks about the Faith ” …Once for all delivered to the Saints”.  We also profess

    belief (at least I do) in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Some there are who want to get rid of that

    fourth mark, and make the Vatican the standard of truth, my pope right or wrong.  Some there are who even

    want to claim there is salvation outside the catholic Church, and therefore nullify all four marks.  Unfortunately,

    in these days of great Apostacy, such men are legion.  If you really want to defrag your mind, I suggest you read

    Sr Lucia’s comments to Fr Fuentes.

    • Frank

      Although Desertmonk’s comment is expressed a bit acerbically, his point is worth considering.  While I argue that Mr. Grodi is correct that the new Catechism is a “sure norm of faith” (because the Roman Pontiff, both former and current, have told us so).  On the other hand, to prefer another Catechism is not to reject the current one.  The production of the Compedium is a great witness to the fact that a Q&A format (Baltimore or Compendium) may be more conducive to overall learning, while using the more verbose Catechism.

      Finally, I think Desertmonk’s point is indisputable, and that Mr. Grodi is mistaken, when he says that we will be judged by the same criterion as any Catholic of any age: have I died in the state of grace as a believing Catholic?  Now, the manner in which what a Catholic 100 years ago believed was articulated and the manner in which it is now articulated may be different.  However, it is clear that what is believed must be in the same meaning, in the same sense.

    • Quang Jd

      Hello Desertmonk, 

      I can’t read Marcus’s mind but I think you misunderstand him. These are my thoughts and understanding of this article. From what I read it isn’t saying that teaching changes, it is the way we live it out changes because people change. I also read that obedience is a hallmark of humility. Great Saints that disagreed with the Church didn’t contradict her. Instead they were obedient and allowed the Holy Spirit to work within them and the rest of the Church for what God wills — even if that work takes years or decades.

      The Church is Apostolic but how does a person understand what is being taught. It is said in their own words and in their own time. The Catechism provides a way to understand and is consistent with previous teachings so I’m not sure why humility and obedient wouldn’t obligate Catholics of this day to faithfully follow this catechism. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/jonmarc.grodi JonMarc Grodi

      I agree with Quang. The article was not about doctrine changing but about obedience and the practical way we navigate through the thousands of Catholic viewpoints. If we want to be safe and sure that we are following God, the best thing we can do is to simply be obedient to His church. We certainly have to follow the teachings of Church in earlier ages too, but we must be careful not to set ourselves up as the one to interpret what past church teachings meant when there is a question of nuance, development, or disagreement.

      Since there are many, many questions of nuance, development, and disagreements about church doctrine among even faithful Catholics, the safe, practical way that we can know we are following God is by obeying the church. This means being obedient to Mother Church in the present day and the Churchin the present day has articulated the faith in the Catechism.

      It is easy to make obedience something abstract and vague, full of loopholes and fine print, until it almost looks nothing like the virtue of obedience any more. It is far more difficult to be concretely obedient in the here and now.

  • Montanamary

    Thank you so much Marcus.  You are the calm, clear voice of reason I so often crave. At times all of the “noise”, the messages, the confusion, rob me of inner peace and I need to defrag, great analogy! I am a cradle Catholic so very in love with the Lord and His Church and so grateful to Him for bringing men like you into the Church. We so need your insights, your enthusiasm for the fullness of truth. God is so good and He continues to guide His Church which is so evident in the testimonies given by you and the others He has led Home to breathe new life into His Mystical Body.
    May God bless you all, what an exciting time to be Catholic!

  • Jackie

    I found it interesting you wrote this and OSV this week came out with an article titled “Where Have All the Catholics Gone”.  After 45 years away from the church, I recently returned this past April.  I was a part of a large Methodist Church locally and my husband is an ordained Methodist minister so this has been a difficult journey for me but one I have fully embraced.  Your article hit on a couple of topics that I have found having just become somewhat involved in the Catholic church since I returned.  I too have seen the diversions among fellow Catholics and have been given some bad advice by those who use what is called “primacy of conscience” to determine how to follow Catholic teachings.  Thankfully I have read many books by authors such as you and have used these to base my foundation of faith on which to hold onto for guidance back into the Church.  I too have had to “defrag” my mind at times simply because I find myself caught up in so many books, topics, well-meaning advisers and so forth, causing me much stress and loss of sleep.  Sometimes it can give me pause to think “did I make the right choice coming back” and of course the answer is “yes”.  I put it in perspective, give it to God and find solace in the reading of scripture and of course the Catechism is the final word.

  • Anonymous

    As Catholics we
    are very much aware of the dangers of human weakness in all spheres of our
    existence, but in matters of faith and morals, as trusting children we must
    take as a matter of faith our Lord’s promise that the gates of hell shall not
    prevail against His Church. Marcus is right in implying that newcomers to the
    Church should not be surprised by divisions and contradictions in its human
    part. Marcus is also right in seeing the present Catechism of the Catholic
    Church as the reliable guide that will lead us to heaven.

    Furthermore, we
    must always remember that Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and
    also gave him the power to bind and loose. Any Catholic that chooses to question
    or disagree with this directive from Christ does so at his own peril. I see
    Marcus implying this much in his article.

    The lesson should be that as children obedient
    to Mother Church, we must trust her to leads us to the truth, in this case by
    way of the Catechism. Once we begin to rationalize if the right approach should
    be according to the old Catechism, or Pope Pius X, or Thomas Aquinas, or even
    dare to second guess the authority of Peter’s present successor, we are in
    reality second guessing Jesus when he said that the kingdom of heaven belongs
    to those like children.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6WDHTTHC6GJ4RV5K6ECMUX2OPA WorBlux

    There was a novice who learned much at the Master’s feet, but felt something to be missing. After meditating on his doubts for some time, he found the courage to approach Master Foo about his problem.”Master Foo,” he asked “why do Unix users not employ antivirus programs? And defragmentors? And malware cleaners?”Master Foo smiled, and said “When your house is well constructed, there is no need to add pillars to keep the roof in place.”The novice replied “Would it not be better to use these things anyway, just to be certain?”Master Foo reached for a nearby ball of string, and began wrapping it around the novice’s feet.”What are you doing?” the novice asked in surprise.Master Foo replied simply: “Tying your shoes.”Upon hearing this, the novice was enlightened.

  • Kdciupek

    The “Journey Home” was the first Catholic program I ever watched on tv; and it became one of my guiding lights during the journey from Protestant to Catholic (an adventure lasting almost 3 years). I read your recent article with great interest, because having been Catholic, now, for over a year, I, too, have discovered the “breadth of opinions and sad divisions” among Catholics. As  Protestant for 48 years, I was searching for 3 essential things–Truth; Unity; Authority.Because the CC rests upon the Authority of the Magisterium/Pope/Sacred Tradition, we have a grid for Truth…and a reason for Unity. I have heard past shows with guests who touted philosophy as a trustworthy grid for understanding the Bible/theology/dogma/doctrines etc. And I see the wisdom of that. However, it is enlightening to learn from your article that after your own experience and study, you have determined that there isn’t “one essential philosophical grid”, nor consensus among Catholic philosophers (good to know now, especially since I will be studying philosophy as part of my graduate studies one day!). When you finally revealed Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium as our trustworthy grid upon which to build our lives, I was relieved! Jesus paved the way, when He “added” to the Torah, reinterpreted the Law, showed by his life, miracles and teachings that living the Christian life is more than following the Hebrew letters on a scroll of papyrus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Sacred Scripture is illuminated by the prayers and study of various councils, reflected in the Church teachings (i.e. Catechism), and given to us for our edification and training in holiness. I don’t have to think twice about what I need to believe about any issue–I turn to the Catechism. Thank you, Marcus, for your leadership and sensitivity to so many issues facing Protestants-turned-Catholic. I still enjoy watching/listening to “The Journey Home,” and I wish you all blessings! —Kira C. (a 50 year old mom of 3 returning to school with hopes of becoming a Professor of Religious Studies!)

  • James A. Kramer

    Hello! My name is Jim Kramer. I enjoy watching The Journey Home when I am at my mother-in-law’s in Arlington, MA.
     I am not a Roman Catholic. I enjoy watching The Journey Home. I identify myself now as “catholic” with a little “c”, as in the Apostle’s Creed. I am from a Dutch Reformed background, in my early years, we went to a Faith Reformed Church, which was part of the “Reformed Church in America” (RCA) in a working class neighborhood of Wyoming, MI, a southern suburb of Grand Rapids, MI. My mother was from a Christian Reformed Church (CRC)  background, my parents sent us to the local
    Christian school mostly supported by Christian Reformed Church families, and some Reformed Church of America families,
    and probably some other families of other Church background. I don’t believe we had any Roman Catholic or Orthodox families at the Christian schools my parents sent me to. Later I decided to go to Calvin College, the college run by the Christian Reformed Church. I went wishing to try to understand my own church better, and where it fit in within the context of the larger church. I ended up doing a Theology major when I did not pass Greek for the pre-seminary course. I choose to study to become a missionary, a social worker, or a hospital worker as that is what my vocational giftedness tests said that I should  pursue for my vocation based upon my results. I have done this in my career. I am now 57. I work now in the In Home Senior Care Field, with my wife, Liz. We are just doing it for my Mother-in-law now. My in-laws are Christian Scientist, but they sent my wife to a Lexington Christian Academy,(LCA) in Lexington, MA. LCA is a school that is a ecumenical Christian school. It
    is mostly of various Protestant families, but it also has some Roman Catholic students. Well, I need to make a fire in the fireplace for my mother-in-law now. My the resurrected living Lord Jesus Christ be with you-all. I am now into researching Protestant and Roman Catholic friendships. The one I am researching now is the friendship of the late Fr. Henri Nouwen and the late Rev. Fred Rogers (of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood). God bless, bye for now.

  • Greg Dolezal

    Hello Mr. Grodi

     

    First, I also am a convert. I’ve “come home”. I
    read and agree with your column “Defragging Our Minds”. I am
    committed to the CCC. Yet, as the famous line “Houston … we have a
    problem”, there is a problem. I would request a follow-up article on your
    views or suggestions on how to balance it.

     

    I know of diocesan formation leaders, priests, deacons,
    college professors and lay leaders in the Church who have a great resistance to
    the CCC as indicated in Wrenn’s & Whitehead’s book “Flawed
    Expectations” and beyond. They would vehemently disagree with your
    article. Collectively they’ve said, “We disagree that the CCC is a true
    representation of Sacred Tradition.” or “It is too difficult for
    ‘regular’ people to understand.” or “It is verse-texting like the
    Protestant converts like to do.” or the worst (to me) “People don’t
    need that much doctrine.” This attitude, in different forms, has been
    absorbed by the people they lead or instruct who have never tried to read the
    CCC. There seems to be little effort on helping people actually use and study
    the CCC, the Compendium, or the USCCB’s great RCIA manual based on the CCC.
    I’ve often seen people try to use the CCC as the accusation above of verse
    texting and not take the paragraph within the article, within the section,
    within the chapter, etc.

     

    How can we rightly interrupt, study, learn, use the CCC?

     

    Thanks

     

    Greg Dolezal

     

  • Dioce3

    I was born a Roman Catholic and will die as one.  Thank you for clarifying my choice.

  • Jo

    This article was just so well written! I really enjoyed reading it!

  • Tkhillman

    Just read Marcus’ article, and found it exceptionally insightful.  The analogy and logical progression presents a compelling case for primal role of the Magisterium and in particular the gift of the catechism in our life of faith during our earthly journey. 
    I can understand the concern one might feel egarding the apparently disputed assertion that the criterion of our
    judgement when we stand before God is different today than it was in the
    past.  I admit my mind slowed down a bit to take in his meaning – but I think if one reads carefully, Marcus is encouraging us to rely on the fullness of Mother Church’s teaching as she speaks to us today.  The teachings of the past do not go away, but they get ever richer and deeper as the Church militant moves through time toward the final, eternal union with Christ.  Our best opportunity for happiness now and after we die is to stay in tune with her as she continues to reveal the truth.

    Tom