I wonder how many of you have been surfing the 'Net over the last few weeks or months looking for some doctrinal, spiritual, Catholic nourishment. Knowing that the Internet is a quasi boundless ocean of Catholic information, I have decided to step off the curb and venture to cross the "Information Highway" without getting hit too hard.
There are many attractive invitations that draw people into the personal or corporate space of people who have answers concerning Catholic "questions". There are "chat rooms" where lively exchanges of ideas and opinions take place. There are "forums" where comments about previous articles flow fast and furious. There are priests, nuns, deacons and laity bombarding the surfers with a flood of "Catholic truth". There are also Protestant and Orthodox presentations of the Christian truths. It is not always easy to tell what is Catholic and what is not.
The latest ploy to which I have been introduced lately is the E-mail Bible. I have twice in one week received a complete Bible. Protestant version, of course. There is a way that you can tell if the Bible that you have received is one that has the complete list of books contained in the Catholic Bible. Go to the table of contents and look for "Tobit", "Judith", "Wisdom of Solomon", "Baruch", "1 Maccabees" and "2 Maccabees". If you cannot find these names in the table of contents, then you do not have a Catholic Bible. ParishWorld.net offers you three links where you can find a Catholic Bible. Click in the "Resources" tab and you will find three perfectly high quality Catholic Bibles, The Jerusalem Bible, The New American Bible and the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible.
It gets all the more difficult to tell Catholic apart from Non-Catholic, especially in some of the more "open" forums where some Christians, Catholic and otherwise allow themseves to be quite ferocious in exposing their personal opinions about people, behaviors and events. Christianity, and Catholicism in particular is really very complex. Catholicism alone has five prime sources from which it derives its understanding of God. a) The Bible; b) The Catechism; c) Church Tradition as communicated through the decisions of the 22 Ecumenical Councils; d) The Code of Canon Law and e) Timely letters of instruction from the central seat of the Church, Vatican City, the "White House" of the Church. As if that is not enough, the Catholic Church respects and accepts many of the pious practices and religious traditions that Catholics around the globe have developed and practiced over the centuries. It is clear that such a complexity of truth is not easy to keep organized even in the most intelligent brain that any of us may have. Yet, as you all know, we seem to have in us a sensitive corner that whispers something to us when we start to feel that what we are reading or hearing isn't ringing true. We call that the gift of Faith. This is a gift from God that gives us the light of truth about Him as we Catholics understand it. It's not always easy, but it is always there. We even have this sense of "feel" about what we hear or read from another Catholic person or article. So, let's always keep our hearts open to the "feel" of God.
There are some Catholic spaces on the Internet that are really vicious. It pains me when I read Catholics tearing their Pope, bishops and priests and teachers (universities and theologians) apart with terrible accusations in language fit only for the street. A dark street, at that. I want to jump through my monitor and choke them. Civility has never hurt anyone. The greatest orators in history succeeded at saying what they had to say very effectively in high language. Jesus hasn't been caught in a cruel attact yet, but He sure had a way of putting certain people in their place, did He not? He always based His assertions on facts. This is not always true when you tune in to some of the inter-active forums that I am talking about here. So I tell you, be careful and keep yourself sensitive to the statements that you read there.
There are Catholic spaces on the Internet that are very interesting, very useful and technically very satisfying. Some of them are generally quite correct in their doctrinal statements. Some of them are rich in 21st century technology, offering podcasts, video presentations by renowned theologians and interesting discussions about simple doctrinal questions. (Are there ANY of those?) These are places where the core expertise of the owner of the site becomes apparent after a few visits and at that point it is up to the visitor to stay if the information proves to be solidly orthodox, or leave if it is not, or if the style of the owner doen't fit the visitor's personality. Here again, the surfer must keep sensitive antennae connected to the gift of Faith so as not to be led into a dark corner. It could happen.
Do not be totally trusting of sites whose name starts with "Catholic..." Visit it a couple of times. Look at the source of its material. Look at the direction in which the site is driving the material. If you don't feel comfortable at the gift of Faith level, leave and don't go back. Remember too, you can always inquire from someone you trust if the site that you have visited a time or two is generally trustworthy. Remember also that on the Internet everyone is anonymous, even though the name of the person appears on the site. We rarely know with whom we are exchanging ideas. It could be anybody from Beelzebub to the Archangel Michael, from the Pope to the altar boy in Buenos Aires. We have to stay sensitive to that. If we care about the quality of doctrinal truth that we seek, we have to stay sensitive to the source that we are mining.
I suggest that you go directly to the site. Do not use Google unless it is quite necessary. Start by visiting the Vatican City site and use the search button there. Go to sites whose names you already know, Liguori, St. Anthony Messenger, Sisters of St. Paul, ParishWorld.net and click on the "resources" button where you will discover a boatload of trustworthy sites.
I leave you with a prayer that the Church uses to close the day. It is a quote from the first epistle of St. Peter, chapter 5, verse 8 through 11.
"Brothers, Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ (Jesus) will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. To him be dominion forever. Amen."
Pay attention and you will not have to cry at my funeral.