St. GKC: Ora pro nobis!

A reader asks:

My problem is more a question of where to go to interact with people who are wading through the same texts at the same time, to get the benefit one would get with well-guided classroom discussion.

Think of it! We are living at a time when we all have direct access to papal encyclicals, right here on our desktops courtesy of But where can one go to chat with other lay people who actually read any part of such things?

Rule 1: Don’t wait around for some priest or religious to start a program. Begin yourself.

Rule 2: Draw on every resource and connection you have already. Do you know any Catholics in your parish who are interested in such things? If you, say, hang out on comments boxes, ask Der Blogmeister to put in a bulletin like “Hey! I’m starting a Catholic reading group in Bugtussle, Oklahoma! Anybody in driving distance who’d be interested in joining?”

I’ve participated in three different wholly-lay-owned-and-operated study groups. The first was the Seattle Great Books Reading Group. The basic format was easy. Get together with people who want to read Great Books and talk about the Book of Choice once a month. Bring food. Yak. We got kick-started because the people who operated the local Logos bookstore (a happy mix of Protestants and Catholics) were literate Christian bookophiles.

If you have a Christian bookstore in the area, see if they’d be interested in pitching such an idea to their clientele. If not, ask around your parish or St. Blog’s.

My second experience with small group self-education was the Seattle Catholic Study group. We got started because, not to put too fine a point on it, catechesis in the Archdiocese of Seattle stank. We could not get the teachers to teach us. They all wanted to affirm us in our okayness instead. So being adults, we decided we’d educate ourselves (this sort of initiative in religious matters is enculturated into Evangelicals with our mother’s milk). We didn’t think we were doing anything that any sensible person wouldn’t do. So we got together every few weeks, chewed over the teaching of the Church we had trouble with till it made sense and, when our questions were answered, moved on to the next question. (For the full story of my experience of struggles with catechesis in coming into the Church, go here). A very workable model and useable for discussion of Church documents. There’s something to be said for pooling your ignorance.

There’s also something to be said for pooling your knowledge. Another model (workable in any community with a reasonable size college or university) is for faithful Catholic academics and fellow travelers to start a “G.K. Chesterton Society“. That’s what Catholic academics from Seattle U, Seattle Pacific University and the University of Washington (as well as some enthused laymen) did. It’s a group organized with one purpose: to help students and laypeople, whether Catholic or Protestant, to discuss the life of the mind and the Catholic Tradition. We take Chesterton as our patron because GKC was a layman who knew that everything from pork to pyrotechnics was related to the Lord of all.

None of these endeavors was all that hard. It’s basically “Buy a pizza and talk about a text or have a guy over to tell you of something he knows a thing or two about.” If you don’t know any faithful academics, try the Great Books reading group approach. The point is: in an urban area it’s not that hard to make connections with other Catholics who are also hungry for education if you set your mind to it.

Give it a whirl. If you want a bit of advice on what it takes to do G.K. Chesterton Society type stuff, go to our website and write Phil Goggans. We’d love to see more such societies spring up across the world.

Oh, and of course, one excellent place to start is with the literary font of western civilization and the Catholic Tradition: Holy Scripture. It will not only make you more educated in a secular sense, it will help you get to heaven. I recommend a small group study of Catholic Exchange Catholic Scripture Study materials. It puts you in direct contact with the text of Scripture itself, as well as giving Scott Hahn’s and my exegetical input, catechism references, a papal quote relating to the text and lotsa chewy questions that help you both understand the author’s meaning and give you a shot at applying it to your life.