The Problem with Being Busy
The ancients (those wonderful thinkers with plenty of slaves) had the attractive notion that a free man was one who had leisure time on his hands. They even developed the idea of the “liberal arts”, being those studies about the nature of reality which were characteristic of a free man. Slaves, servants and workers needed to study and apply themselves to more utilitarian subjects, which they could use to make a living. The free man was independently wealthy, and he could take time to understand the universe for its own sake.
Of course, the ancients didn’t know everything. We now have the modern university, in which one can make a living without being of any earthly use to anybody, and the mass media, by which we are able to make what is useless appear not only useful but necessary.
But what I want to stress is the fact that most of us have no servants of any kind, are to some degree wage slaves and, for many other reasons as well, are far too busy. It is no surprise that we look forward to retirement when we will be “free” to pursue a whole series of utterly “useless” objectives. Some of us look forward to retirement selfishly, as a time when we can pamper ourselves. But others among us simply want to live more integrated lives, exploring areas of interest we’ve had to put off far too long: reading literature, history, philosophy or theology; learning to play a musical instrument; sharing our knowledge and abilities with others; serving those who cannot pay; praying.
Now I have admittedly played fast and loose with the word “useless”. We often make it a synonym for "worthless", but I wish to employ the term more accurately, in the very specific sense of “not having a utilitarian purpose”. We generally don’t try to enlarge our minds, increase our experience of life, enjoy the arts, penetrate the nature of being, or draw closer to God for the sake of being useful, of serving some other concrete end, like earning money to feed our families. We pursue these studies and activities because they are goods in and of themselves. The problem, then, is that most of us are too busy most of the time to successfully turn our attention to these goods.
Fast Pace of Modern Life
Modern life, despite all the technological devices which do so much to reduce our physical labor, has not lived up to its hype: It has not genuinely freed us for higher, deeper and broader things. What it has done is accelerate the pace at which we are expected to “get things done”, while simultaneously increasing the number of things we are expected to “get done” each day. It has also provided us with endless electronic distractions which both mesmerize and titillate, frequently draining time from more deeply satisfying pursuits. How far have we really come from being “huddled masses yearning to be free”? And how often do we look for this freedom in all the wrong places!
This yearning for freedom is, of course, a spiritual problem. As such it cannot be completely addressed by superior time management. But the point here is to recognize frankly that not all of this incessant “busy-ness” is our own fault. We must cope with both real needs and a certain cultural way of pursuing those needs, and the best will and discipline in the world are not going to make these incessant demands go completely away. The result? Well, there really are many important things that we have legitimate trouble in getting around to. In fact, many of the most important things fall into this category, including Catholic things: Our knowledge of the Faith, our understanding of key moral issues, our ability to effectively defend the values we hold dear and to make informed contributions to the common good, our prayer life, our practice of the presence of God.
The New CatholicCulture.org
This leads me into a commercial of sorts, though far more than a commercial. The new CatholicCulture.org released on Wednesday morning (August 13th) has been structured with precisely this problem of time in mind. For years we’ve been adding documents, news stories, web site reviews, historic texts, and other important resources to our online library. We started creating, collecting and filing these materials over a decade ago, when authentic Catholic information was far harder to come by than it is now. Unfortunately, while this collection is assuredly admirable, it is now substantial enough that when a user searches for something on our web site, he will often come up with more “matches” for his search than he has time to sort through. Information overload has taken a new and unpleasant turn: Sometimes you can’t even get a straight answer on a vital Catholic topic without being presented with so much information that you don’t have time to get to the point.
The solution we’ve hit upon is Catholic commentary. Commentary is by its nature briefer, more relevant and timely, and more pointed—often even more entertaining—than most of the materials we have on file in our library. Catholic commentary provides a Christian orientation and a spiritual depth which nourish and enlighten while making specific, immediate and hopefully worthwhile points. Thus Catholic commentary is ideally both useful and enriching. Those who have little time to study theology, philosophy, history and politics can become increasingly well-formed in all these disciplines, and more focused on all their Catholic priorities, by regularly reading Catholic commentary.
The sheer efficiency of Catholic commentary recommends it particularly in our overly busy culture, our overly busy lives. Not only can sound Catholic commentary both form and inform the reader, but it can pique interest and provide practical solutions as well. It is the closest written thing we have to a cure-all for lack of time, a way of helping users to fulfill a larger number of their deeper Catholic objectives in less time. It is not the only worthwhile thing, of course. Indeed, one of the great benefits of CatholicCulture.org is that when time offers the opportunity to go deeper (or necessity demands it) , all of our other resources are just waiting to be mined: In-depth studies; encyclicals; writings of saints, doctors and Fathers of the Church; conciliar documents; the works.
The Purpose of Commentary
Our new site is divided into three major areas: Culture, News and Commentary. Even in the News area we don’t intend to waste your time reinventing the wheel. Often it will be more efficient to point to the best stories on other sites while offering editorial guidance as to what’s missing or misunderstood from the Catholic point of view. This way you learn what is being said and what should be said at the same time. But the Commentary section is where we will bring it all together: the news, the teachings of the Church, the Catholic tradition, the ideas of the greatest Catholic minds, the purposes and plans of the holy Father, our spiritual patrimony—all directed toward the specific issues and problems our culture demands we face.
Perhaps it is obvious that this is something no single writer can accomplish. Many readers have kindly stated that I have a gift for making abstract ideas eminently understandable, and I hope that this is so. That’s important to anyone trying to internalize the lessons of philosophy, theology and Faith. But whatever my own gifts, I know for certain that the founder and director of Catholic World News, Phil Lawler (who is now the Director of The Catholic Culture Project), has an uncanny ability to take Catholic principles, properly understood, and apply them clearly and precisely to the events and situations which clamor for attention in the Church and the world at large. And so, with help from guests, Phil and I together will endeavor to keep the CatholicCulture Commentary section going at full tilt. In doing so, we will do more than merely combine into one place what we’ve offered separately before. No, in addition to doubling up and providing two distinct personalities and voices, we’ll both be writing more.
Addressing the most important things is frequently very difficult in our relentless, fast-paced, time-driven culture. But with your continued support, Phil and I will slow ourselves down, think things through, and write what needs saying in our new Commentary section, starting this week. We are placing a high priority on this new section because we are painfully aware that not everyone can take the time to do it. In fact for reasons of study, preparation, personal gifts and time, most people are not able to take this on. Therefore, if what we write can help users in their own struggles to meld time and eternity in our frenetic era, it will prove a very valuable service indeed.
Service is the key word, for the new Commentary section is not supposed to be just a new way for us to hear the delightful sound of our own voices, the pleasant and intoxicating cadence of our own magnificent prose. No, this new initiative has one purpose and one purpose only: We’re writing so that our very busy (in fact very legitimately busy), intelligent and highly committed users won’t have to join the ancients themselves before they can more effectively address what is most dear to their hearts. We will give this our best and we’ll rely, as always, on your responses to make it even better. After all, we do share a secret formula for effective commentary, a strategy that always works. While many others have faced this problem of having so much to do in so little time, only one ever had an infinite amount to do, and did it, and broke all his bonds. His formula? “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31-32).
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