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The Chronicles of Narnia – Reading Order

I have been reading a couple of articles on this subject recently. The first, by Brenton Dickieson, argues that “the best way to read Narnia is to re-read Narnia.” It’s hard to argue with that (and though I’ve taken a quote from the last paragraph in order to summarize the article, the whole thing is well worth reading). But he also argues that the “Published Order” is best when reading the Chronicles for the first time.

The second article, by Stephen Greydanus, argues that the Published Order is the only way to read Narnia, and goes so far as to say that the “Chronological Order” promoted by the publishers is a “travesty.” But I think Greydanus, too, is thinking mainly of first-time readers. Perhaps an unsuspecting parent will pick up The Magician’s Nephew and give it to his children, or even read it aloud to them! I’m not sure I would call that a “travesty” but it would certainly destroy the sense of wonder that one has upon reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for the first time, and discovering the world of Narnia along with the Pevensie children.

Unfortunately, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was not my own introduction to the world of Narnia, but neither was The Magician’s Nephew (I had an unusual teacher for fourth grade, and we read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in class – as well as The Hobbit), so I remember how odd Professor Kirke sounded when he counselled the older Pevensies, even though I only understood his words much later in life. And I do, of course, remember my older children’s wide eyes upon reading Lion to them.

That said, although I prefer the Published Order to the Chronological, I don’t quite agree with Greydanus’ assertion that “there is a natural break between the first four stories and the last three stories.” One could just as well argue that there is a natural progression between The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Last Battle, with The Horse and His Boy and The Magician’s Nephew as standalone stories. The Silver Chair isn’t the last of Eustace Scrubb’s adventures in Narnia, and it is also a “break” from the first three (published) books in that the Pevensie children aren’t in it.

As I’ve mentioned above, if the choice is between the Published Order and the Chronological Order, I’ll choose the former every time, at least for first-time readers. (When you’ve read the books as many times as I have, you can pretty much pick up any volume and start from there.) That said, I don’t think we need to be as rigid as that. In my opinion:

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe should be read first. This is non-negotiable.
  • Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle should be read in order.
  • The Horse and His Boy and The Magician’s Nephew can be read at any point after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and before The Last Battle.

So one “valid” reading order might be the following:

  1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  2. The Magician’s Nephew
  3. Prince Caspian
  4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  5. The Horse and His Boy
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle

All the above is, of course, just my opinion, and Your Mileage May Vary. But I hope it will be helpful if you’re a first-time reader of the “Chronicles” or thinking of introducing your children to them.

FNE Fundraiser! Ad Mariam America!

FNE Timber Wolves at play

FNE Timber Wolves at play

I have been involved with FNE (Federation of North-American Explorers) for a little over three years now. My group (“North Star”) was founded in 2011, and formally installed on November 5 of that year. We currently have 4 units within the group — boys’ and girls’ Timber Wolves, girls’ Explorers, and Otters (we don’t have mixed-sex units except in Otters) — with a fifth — boys’ Explorers — to start later this year or early next year.

With that in mind, we have partnered with Equal Exchange to raise funds for the entire group. (Our Explorer units do fundraising on their own as well within their patrols.) The fundraiser is running through the end of December:

http://fundraiser.equalexchange.coop/?fundraiser=FNEE001W

I know that this is a difficult time of the year for people to contribute, between holiday shopping and other organizations asking for funds. You might find a few things on Equal Exchange to give as gifts — for example, I bought some of their chocolate bars to give to the people who report to me at my job (and some for myself as well!). If you would like to help us another way, please see here how you might do that:

http://www.northstarexplorers.org/can-you-help/

Some of you, maybe most of you, might be asking what FNE is all about? We are a member association of the International Union of Guides and Scouts of Europe – Federation of European Scouting (UIGSE-FSE), a Catholic scouting and guiding association approved by the Holy See. (In fact, we are an international association of the faithful of Pontifical right.) Our programs are drawn directly from the work of Lord Baden-Powell (the founder of scouting) as implemented by Ven. Jacques Sevin, SJ. We are devoted to Holy Mass (of all approved rites), Eucharistic adoration, the Rosary, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

Our Polish brothers and sisters recently made a video, filmed at our most recent international gathering, Eurojam 2014, that may give you an idea of what we’re all about:

You might also check out our national web site to read more:

http://fneexplorers.com/

Or look for us on Facebook where we have many pictures!

Many thanks! We do pray for our friends and benefactors.

Vouchsafe, O Lord, for Thy name’s sake, to reward with eternal life all those who do us good. Amen.

Lord Baden-Powell says: “Don’t”

In a prior blog post I drew attention to an article published by on the UIGSE-FSE web site in which the author decried the modern tendency of making the Explorer (Scout) Law a matter of opinion. Today I was searching for a quote from Lord Baden-Powell, which I found, but I also found this brief article (entitled “Don’t”) from B-P’s “Outlook” (May 1914):

I NOTICE whenever we have people rising up to improve our code of Scout Law, etc., they are generally blind to the spirit which underlies it. They think that we have forgotten some of the boyish vices, and they start to set us right by ordering the boys not to do this and not to do that. What happened a few years ago in Ireland? A certain political faction there issued notices everywhere “No boy is to be a Boy Scout.” “Boy Scout? What is that?” at once asked every boy. When he found it was a young backwoodsman with bare legs and a hat and staff, and he was forbidden to be one, Patrols and Troops sprang up like mushrooms!

In other words, don’t change the Law!

Anti-War, but not, therefore, Anti-Military

I HAD, last month, a most interesting conference with a number of members of the Peace Society and of the Society of Friends.

They wanted to understand better the ideals underlying the Boy Scout training, since their attention had been drawn to the Movement by the fact that we had declined help from the Lucas-Tooth Fund.

I gave to the meeting a general outline of our work and aims, and invited questions and suggestions from those present. In reply to some of these, I made it plain that though we were against war, we were not, therefore, against self-defence.

Also, I pointed out that you cannot do away with war by abolishing armies; you might just as well try to do away with crime by abolishing the police. What would be the result in either case?

russia_ukraine_fse

As regards war with civilised nations, that is, no doubt, a brutal and out-of-date method of settling differences. But there are still, even in Europe, many nations only partly civilised. It is all a matter of education and character, and mutual knowledge and regard for each other. The only way towards bringing about universal peace in Europe is not by trying to cure the present generation of their prejudices, not even by building palaces for peace conferences, but by educating the next generation to better mutual sympathy and trust and the larger-minded exercise of give-and-take.

The only really practical step so far taken to that end is in the Boy Scout Movement, where, with our brotherhood already established in every country and getting daily into closer touch and fellow-feeling by means of correspondence and interchange of visits, we are helping to build the foundation for the eventual establishment of common interests and friendships which will ultimately and automatically bring about disarmament and a permanent peace.

Lord Baden-Powell, B-P’s Outlook, April 1914

Article on Miami’s Stella Maris FNE

I’ve not posted here in a while but I wanted to highlight a recent article on Stella Maris FNE published in Miami’s archdiocesan newspaper.

While sitting around a campfire in the Everglades with their sons in February 2013, a group of Catholic men dreamed about doing this regularly: to escape technology and spend quality time together, in prayer, out in nature with their sons.

During this conversation, one of the fathers, Jorge Escala, noticed a few boys from a different group were listening. Escala later approached the boys, who explained that they were camping there with a “last chance” school for children with problems – problems which included dads who beat their wives and moms who were alcoholics.

“That experience of us camping, the beauty of celebrating a Mass out there in nature, together with seeing these kids and what they lacked – God placed it on my heart that there needed to be something to fill these needs,” Escala said.

Please read the full article here: Explorers of the Faith

Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The FNE, along with the other national associations of the FSE, is consecrating itself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the feast of the Sacred Heart – June 27, 2014. Please read more about this at the following link:

Consecration of the Federation of North-American Explorers (FNE) to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

FNE coat of arms

The FNE coat of arms prominently displaying the Sacred Heart of Our Lord

The Joy and Freedom of the Timber Wolf

This picture sums it up far better than I ever could with words

The Joy and Freedom of the Timber Wolf

FNE and the Spirit of St. Francis of Assisi

I would like to call my readers’ attention to a very important (in my opinion) address by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

Without Gloss: Francis of Assisi and Western Catholicism

The figure of St. Francis of Assisi looms large in the Federation of European Scouting (FSE), of which the Federation of North-American Explorers (FNE) is a small part. St. Francis is the patron saint of our boy Timber Wolves (St. Clare of Assisi of our girl Timber Wolves; together, the patrons of the entire yellow branch), and our male Wayfarers (Rovers) wear a brown neckerchief in the Franciscan spirit (in addition, it is a square necker rather than the usual triangular one to symbolize their willingness to share with those in need). Our goal is to help our young men and women learn how to live a life of simplicity, joy, and freedom — much like St. Francis himself, who, as His Grace points out, is rightly remembered “for his joy and freedom of spirit.” It is not simply for his “gentle love of nature” that St. Francis is a patron of our movement. Like their patron, our Timber Wolves are very devoted to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament:

In his biography of Francis, Augustine Thompson — the Dominican author — notes that Francis had a passionate devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It was the heart of his life. The Mass was the grounding for all his work. There’s no way of reinterpreting Francis in generically do-gooder or humanitarian terms. He had hard words for those who oppressed the poor, but even harsher words for those who ignored the Eucharistic presence.

FNE Timber Wolves and Explorers adoring the Most Blessed Sacrament

Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament at summer camp

One thing that strikes me about St. Francis is how he is countercultural in every age. Abp. Chaput points out that, were he alive today, St. Francis would be seen as a “religious crank.” But this attitude is not unique to moderns. St. Francis was disinherited by his own father and later fought his own brother friars who wanted to modify the Franciscan rule “to the times, and make it less demanding.” How often do we hear today of how this organization or that must change its teachings to conform to contemporary attitudes, whether it be in the Church, with calls for the ordination of women or the reception of Holy Communion for those in irregular marriages, or even among youth movements tracing their origin to the work of Lord Baden-Powell, with calls to abandon the traditional Promise (or Oath) and to modify the Law to make it relevant for today’s youth. St. Francis reminds us that we must stay true to our principles even in the face of opposition from today’s culture.

Timber Wolf joy and freedom

The joy and freedom of the Timber Wolf

Before I close, I would like to call attention to two articles on the UIGSE-FSE web site. The first is a brief recounting of the status of our movement today:

The UIGSE Today

The author reminds us that the Law was given to us by our founders and it is not something that can be changed to keep up with society:

The talks that we regularly have with the Pontifical Council for the Laity comfort us and encourage us to go on working at the service of families and youth, not in a “new wave” scouting but on the contrary by releasing nothing of what is the heart of our proposal. The values which are at the centre of our method cannot be changed. Technology, philosophy, fashion, habits or other things have no grip on what we want to be, because our values are anchored on natural morals, which is at the basis of any education. We can observe it during the last forty years: every time an association has put in perspective* the scout law, it has been gradually deleted. These examples should help us not to fall into the trap of fashions or momentary mistakes but on the contrary to do our best to make as many boys and girls as possible discover the scout joy and share it around them.

*This is a literal translation but I think a better way of putting it into English would be “relativized” or “made a matter of opinion.”

The second is a wonderful talk was given at a conference for FSE religious advisers. While it has not yet been translated (at least not officially!) into English, those who read French can read it in its entirety here:

La Loi Scout. Le Programme d’une Vie Droite et Attrayante (“The Explorer Law: A Program of a Righteous and Attractive Life”)

There are many beautiful exhortations and reminders in this talk. For example, the author reminds us that Lord Baden-Powell (in Rovering to Success) reminds young people to resist the tendency to go along with the crowd:

I think the idea of B-P’s, when he invited young people to go against the current, to know how to “paddle your own canoe,” is still extremely valuable today, when fad and fashion, so to speak, and even thought are so influenced by the mass media. And cuckoos and charlatans are found everywhere, unfortunately also in high places!

However, the author does devote a section to St. Francis of Assisi and this is worth quoting at length (my apologies for the translation):

St. Francis was chosen as the patron of Timber Wolves because he is a saint full of goodness, gentleness, and sensitivity. He is strong. His figure is not steeped in legend as is that of St. George, but is concrete, historical, and documented.

And yet there is also about St. Francis a legendary aura of candor, present especially in the “Fioretti” [the Little Flowers of St. Francis, stories from the saint’s life and work]. But it must be a candor born of wonder, felt the brothers who followed the master, enchanted by his holy simplicity and his friendship with animals both mild and fierce. The Saint spoke to them with the simplicity of heart of one who has gotten rid of all human “packaging” before developing an appetite for luxury, power, or success.

This behavior is full of instruction for Timber Wolves, boy and girl, and can fill us, especially leaders, with shame, if we fail to match this sensibility — happy in freedom from greed — with our own — sometimes too dependent on the opinions and requirements expressed by what we call “society,” an ambiguous word that allows us to justify ourselves perhaps a little too quickly.

And yet, one who has learned to take the road less traveled, who has enjoyed the water of clear mountain streams, who has felt the goodness, beauty, and warmth of the evening fire, who has felt his face touched by a warm breeze on a spring day or whipped by the cutting wind of winter, who has helped a brother in difficulty, shared with him a last sip of water, can understand the message of the revolutionary “Poverello” [little poor man] of Assisi. This message is not revolutionary merely because of the refusal or extreme reduction of wealth — for which, nevertheless, many men sacrifice attachments, time, and energy — but because it is a message of simplicity, and only those who are as simple as children enter the kingdom.

Thus it is that whoever drives in a car can hear the whisper of wind through the woods in a mysterious rustling; thus it is that one cannot stop himself from facing, in ecstasy, the splendor of a hidden mountain flower giving glory to its Creator with all its beauty, impossible to reproduce.

In the message of St. Francis, there is great poetry, great philosophy, and especially a great faith that pacifies the soul of one who does not deal in the petty quarreling and desires of the rich.

Let’s do what we can to keep the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi in our own lives and in the lives of the youth we serve. As Abp. Chaput puts it in his closing paragraph:

From the cross at San Damiano, Jesus said to Francis: Repair my house, which is falling into ruin. Those same words are meant for every Christian life and home and parish. How we respond is up to us.

“Up to Valley Green” by Christopher Morley

When I was going through my father’s things, I found a book titled Travels in Philadelphia written by Christopher Morley, bound in red leather and held together with duct tape. There was a folded piece of paper inside marking an article entitled “Up to Valley Green.” My wife and I have always loved this part of Fairmount Park and we go there as often as we can. It is wonderful to see how little it has changed in the 90 years that have elapsed since Morley wrote these words:

==========

UP TO VALLEY GREEN

MADRIGAL had a bad cold, and I was trumpeting with hay fever; and we set off for consolation in a tramp along the Wissahickon. In the drowsy stillness of a late August afternoon, with a foreboding of autumn chill already in the air, we sneezed and coughed our way along the lovely ravine. Those lonely glades that once echoed to the brisk drumming of horses’ hoofs rang with our miserable sternutations. The rocky gullies and pine scented hillsides became for one afternoon the Vallombrosa of two valetudinarians. Thoughts of mortal perishment lay darkly upon us. We had lunched gorgeously with a charming host who was suffering with sciatica and had described this affliction to us as a toothache as long as your leg. Then the Ridge avenue car carried us between two populous cities of the dead — Laurel Hill and Mount Vernon Cemeteries. Was this, we thought, the beginning of the end?

The Ridge avenue car set us down at the mouth of Wissahickon Creek. We each got out a clean handkerchief from a hip pocket and determined to make a brave fight against the dark angel. Under the huge brown arches of the Reading Railway which have all the cheering gayety of an old Roman aqueduct we entered the valley of enchantment. At this point it occurred to us that the ancient Romans were really prohibitionists at heart, since it was on aqueducts that they lavished the fullness of their structural genius. They never bothered with vinoducts.

Perhaps Philadelphians do not quite realize how famous the Wissahickon valley is. When my mother was a small girl in England there stood on her father’s reading table a silk lampshade on which were painted little scenes of the world’s loveliest beauty glimpses. There were vistas of Swiss mountains, Italian lakes, French cathedrals, Dutch canals, English gardens. And then among these fabled glories there was a tiny sketch of a scene that chiefly touched my mother’s girlish fancy. She did not ever expect to see it, but often, as the evening lamplight shone through it, her eye would examine its dainty charm. It was called “The Wissahickon Drive, Philadelphia, U.S.A.” Many years afterward she saw it for the first time, and her heart jumped as hearts do when they are given a chance.

The lower reach of the creek, with its placid green water, the great trees leaning over it, the picnic parties along the western marge, and the little boats splashing about, is amazingly like the Thames at Oxford. I suppose all little rivers are much the same, after all; but the likeness here is so real that I cannot forbear to mention it. But one has an uneasy sense, as one walks and watches the gleaming motors that flit by like the whizz of the Ancient Mariner’s crossbow, that the Wissahickon has seen better days. The days when the horse was king, when all the old inns were a bustle of rich food and drink, and the winter afternoons were a ringle-jingle of sleigh chimes. Then one turns away to the left into the stillness of the carriage drive, where motors are not allowed, and the merry clop-clop of hoofs is still heard now and then. Two elderly gentlemen came swiftly by in a bright little gig with red wheels, drawn by a spirited horse. With what a smiling cheer they gazed about them innocently happy in their lifelong pastime! And yet there was a certain pathos in the sight. Two old cronies, they were living out the good old days together. Only a few paces on was the abandoned foundation of the Lotus Inn. And I remembered the verses in which Madrigal himself, laureate of Philadelphia, has musicked the spell of the river drive —

On winter nights ghost music plays
(The bells of long forgotten sleighs)
Along the Wissahickon.
And many a silver headed wight
Who drove that pleasant road by night
Sighs now for his old appetite
For waffles hot and chicken.
And grandmas now, who then were belles!
How many a placid bosom swells
At thought of love’s old charms and spells
Along the Wissahickon.

“But, my dear fellow,” said one of these silver-headed wights to Madrigal when he had written the poem — “it wasn’t chicken, it was catfish that was famous in the Wissahickon suppers.” “All right,” said Madrigal, “will you please have the name of the creek changed to Wissahatfish to fit the rhyme?” The necessities of poets must be consulted, unless we are to go over, pen, ink, and blotter, to the blattings of vers libre.

But a plague on the talk about the “good old days!” Certainly in those times the road along the creek was never such a dreaming haunt of quietness as it is today. An occasional proud damsel, cantering on horse, accompanied by a sort of Lou Tellegen groom; a rambling carriage or two, a few children paddling in the stream, and a bronzed fellow galloping along with eager face — just enough movement to vary the solitude. The creek pours smoothly over rocky shelves, churning in a white soapy triangle of foam below a cascade, or slipping in clear green channels through an aisle of button woods and incredibly slender tulip-poplars. Here and there is a canoe, teetering gently in a nook of shade, while Colin and Amaryllis are uttering bashful pleasantries each to other — innocent plagiarisms as old as Eden that seem to themselves so gorgeously new and delicious. The road bends and slopes under cliffs of fern and evergreen, where a moist pungency of balsam and turpentine breathes graciously in the nose of the sneezer. Gushing springs splash on the steep bank.

Already, though only the end of August, there was a faint tinge of bronze upon the foliage. We were at a loss to know whether this was truly a sign of coming fall, or some unnatural blight withering the trees. Can trees suffer from hay fever? At any rate we saw many dead limbs, many great trunks bald and gouty on the eastern cliffs and a kind of pallor and palsy in the color of the leaves. The forestry of the region did not seem altogether healthy, even to the ignorant eye. We have seen in recent years what a plague has befallen one noble species of tree: it would be a sorry thing if Philadelphia’s dearest beauty spot were ravaged by further troubles.

Talking and sneezing by turns we came to Valley Green, where a placid caravanserai sits beside the way, with a broad, white porch to invite the traveler, and a very feminine barroom innocently garnished with syphons of soda and lemons balanced with ladylike neatness on the necks of grape-juice bottles. Green canoes were drawn up on the river bank; a grave file of six small yellow ducklings was waddling toward the water; a turkey (very similar in profile to Mr. Chauncey Depew) was meditating in the roadway. A bantam cock and his dame made up in strut what they lacked in stature, and a very deaf gardener was trimming a garden of vivid phlox. Here was a setting that cried loudly for the hissing tea urn. Yet to think again of refreshment seemed disrespectful to the noble lunch of a noble host, enjoyed only four hours earlier, and we passed stoically by, intending to go as far as Indian Rock, a mile further. But at a little waterfall by the Wises Mill road, we halted with a common instinct. We turned backward and sought that gracious veranda at Valley Green. There, in a pot of tea and buttered toast with marmalade, we forgot our emunctory woes.

We set match to tobacco and strode upward on Springfield road, through thickets where the sunlight quivered in golden shafts, toward the comely summits of Chestnut Hill. Let Madrigal have the last word, for he has known and loved this bonniest of creeks for forty years:

There earliest stirred the feet of spring,
There summer dreamed on drowsy wing;
And autumn’s glories longest cling
Along the Wissahickon!

Catholic Scouting or Catholics in Scouting?

[This is an expanded version of a blog post first published on this web site on February 21, 2014 and later taken down because, frankly, it didn’t say very much!]

At home I have a book entitled Scouting for Catholics: Adding the Supernatural. This book was, I think, first published in the early 1940s, although according to this “Brief Chronicle of US Catholic Scouting” there was a similarly-titled work published in 1928. The book’s history is beyond the scope of this blog post, however — I want, instead, to consider the term “Catholic scouting” and what it means.

In the United States, and in the Anglo-Saxon world in general, the preference has been to have a single national scouting association. In Canada, for example, scouting is monopolized by Scouts Canada, and a similar situation prevails in the United States. Oddly enough, in Great Britain itself there are a number of “alternative” associations but (and this will be important later) they tend not to be confessional. In fact the British member association of the FSE was forced out of the larger FSE movement at least in part because it rejected the confessional nature of the FSE (while the FSE is open to non-Catholic Christians, an individual unit cannot have a mixed religious identity).

The above has implications for the meaning of the term “Catholic scouting.” If a country has a single national scouting association, and this association is privileged in law, then “Catholic scouting” means nothing more than “Catholic members in scouting“; at best it means the ability to have a Catholic unit within a non-confessional scouting association. The book mentioned in the first paragraph (Scouting for Catholics) recommends that exact approach — Catholics should be members of Catholic units; Catholics should have their own distinctive units within the single association.

In 1926 Lord Baden-Powell was asked about the place of religion in scouting. His response: “It does not come in at all. It is already there. It is a fundamental factor underlying scouting and guiding.” Now one can, I think, respectfully differ from our founder on this point — not that scouting can exist without a religious basis, but the degree to which that religious basis is already there — but there is an important truth here. Can a scouting program truly be said to have a religious basis if religion must be added to it? Or should religion be integrated into the program from the very beginning? Scouting for Catholics includes a lot of advice about how Catholicism can be added to an existing program, one might say “tacked on.” For example, a period of reflection before the Blessed Sacrament might be recommended prior to making the promise. This is all well and good, but again, it is simply adding Catholicism to a program developed without Catholicism in mind. (It is true that Baden-Powell sought the advice of then-Archbishop Bourne and the Benedictines of Downside Abbey before publishing Scouting for Boys but the Catholic influence on the work is not immediately apparent; furthermore mainstream scouting in the United States has never used Baden-Powell’s original program anyway.) Why not a program developed with Catholicism in mind in the first place?

With all this in mind, I would like to consider an article published on the web site of the UIGSE-FSE: Catholic Scouting or Catholics in Scouting? [PDF].

The author points out what has already been noted above, namely the preference for a single national scouting association (the author’s term is “unique”) throughout in the Anglo-Saxon world (Great Britain, Canada, and the United States). On the other hand, European countries (apart from the UK) have tended to have separate scouting associations for separate confessions. In France, for example, we see scouting associations with a Catholic identity (the FSE or as it is known in France, the AGSE, is one of these). So while in the United States, or Canada, the term “Catholic scouting” is generally used to apply to Catholic members in scouting associations of whatever stripe, in Europe it refers to the type of scouting practiced by associations with a Catholic identity. Little wonder since Catholic scouting associations in the USA are relatively new and have a tiny footprint in comparison to mainstream scouting.

So tiny is the footprint of American Catholic scouting associations that many if not most Catholics have never heard of them, and when faithful Catholic families are looking for “alternatives” to mainstream scouting for their children, non-scouting programs and organizations (such as Blue Knights, Columbian Squires, Kepha, Troops of St. George, etc.) are suggested in response. (Please note that I am not debating the relative merit of these programs; I am simply pointing out that they’re not scouting.)

So we are left with the term “Catholic scouting” and two possible definitions of it: One, Catholic members, individually or by unit, in a non-confessional scouting association, and two, a Catholic scouting association. I think it’s pretty clear that the second definition is a better fit. We might speak of Catholic computer programmers but not Catholic computer programming; Catholic physicians and Catholic nurses but not Catholic medicine; and Catholic scientists but not Catholic science. Similarly, if one is a member of a non-confessional scouting association, then he is a Catholic scout but he is not practicing Catholic scouting, rather he is practicing (just) scouting. We can try to Catholicize science, medicine, even computer programming, even scouting; but since these things were not built from the ground up as specifically Catholic endeavors, they are not specifically Catholic.

The question of whether families should allow their children to be involved is, of course, a separate one — and like the question of the provenance of Scouting for Catholics, beyond the scope of this blog post, or any blog post for that matter. And parents will have to decide for themselves anyway — as a layman I have no authority and (for better or worse) we’re long past the era in which faithful Catholics obeyed their shepherds in the choices they made for their families. No bishop could tell his flock to pull their children from mainstream scouting and expect to be obeyed (which is one reason why lamentations about a lack of episcopal backbone are wrongheaded). But what a layman can do, what a parish priest can do, what a bishop can do, is offer an alternative. I am not of the mind that staying in this organization or that is always the best option.