Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review:The Church and the New Media: Bloggers, Online Activists and Bishops Who Tweet

Here is a book review I wrote. It was published in the Archdiocese of Baltimore Deacon's Newsletter

  “Today in particular, the pressing pastoral task of the New Evangelization calls for the involvement of the entire People of God and requires a new fervor, new methods, and a new expression for the announcing and witnessing of the Gospel”   Blessed John Paul II , Pastoral Exortation Pastores Dabo Vobis

On the day of our diaconal ordination each one of us was handed a copy of the Book of the Gospels while we listened to the bishop’s words: “Receive the book of the Gospels, whose herald you have become”.  This short rite is unique to diaconal ordinations. It emphasizes the deacon’s exceptional character as communicators of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Throughout our ministries, every Sunday, we strive to fulfill this important office through the reading of the Gospels and our preaching at mass. But, in a world of instant communications, 30 seconds news clips, and the ability to touch millions of lives by the pressing of a single key on our cell phones, is our Sunday service enough? How can we extend the reach of our ministry to not only the people who come to mass on Sunday but the ones that stay away? What about the millions out there who hunger for the good news that have never been exposed to the Catholic truth?

These were the questions I found myself asking while browsing the book stacks at last March’s Mid-Atlantic Congress in Baltimore,  when I came across this little book:  “The Church and the New Media: Bloggers, Online Activists and Bishops Who Tweet” By Brandon Vogt  (Amazon $11.17)

This read is a great point of departure to find the answers to these questions. The book is divided into 11 chapters; each written by a New Media personality; each bringing their unique perspective and particular experience of online pastoral and lay ministries. Some names will sound familiar, Fathers Robert Barron and Dweight Longenecker, Mr. Mark P. Shea; others might be less easy to recognize, but all engage you in a direct and simple manner. You do not need an Information Systems degree to understand what each writer is saying.

In here you will find advice ranging from how to engage people and perform online apologetics, to how to use social media and collaboration tools to reach the people of your parish beyond their Sunday mass experience. The beauty of this little book is that each chapter stands on its own, but each is part of the overall idea that “the church belongs where the people are, and in this day and age the people are online”.

The only critique I give to this work is this: If you are looking for help creating a blog for your homilies or a mailing list for your CCD class, you will be better served by consulting some other book. The Church and the New Media assumes you either have the knowledge to do this or you can find someone who will help you; however once you are up and running, this is the definite source for making the greatest impact in the least amount of time.

On a personal note, the most helpful chapters to my ministry have been Scott Landry’s “Innovative Shepherding: New Media in the Diocese” and “High Tech Community: New Media in the Parish”. Both gave me great ideas for adding a “New Media dimension” into my own ministry by helping me with placing my homilies online and creating my own personal blog.

In short, I think every priest, deacon or bishop who is serious about expanding the reach of their ministries, should make reading this book a priority.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

   The other day I was watching one of those Discovery Channel programs which had Norman Freedman talking about how big the universe is. He was saying that just within our galaxy, the Milky Way, there are about 300 billion stars, and in the whole universe there are about 500 billion galaxies. The farthest galaxy we have been able to see with the Hubble Telescope is so far away that it takes 13.5 billion years for its light to reach us here in planet earth.
   As mind boggling as these numbers might sound, we Christians understand that our God is bigger than this, not in the sense of size, but in the sense of its power and influence. It was King David who after experiencing the divine presence said in psalm 147 that God, the creator of this almost inconceivable number of starts knows each one of them by name!  Not only has he known all these since their creation, but nothing that happens in this vast expanse happens without Him noticing and allowing it, even to the smallest events. The average person might have trouble imagining how big the universe is, but it is infinitely easier to understand the depth and size of the universe than to wrap our minds around how magnificent and powerful our God is.

   Our Lord Jesus lived a life of poverty and simplicity, but not only this, he spent a big part of his ministry teaching about how the true heirs of the kingdom of God are those who are humble either by choice or by situation. In the example of His life we see how Jesus felt most comfortable with the children, the poor, the sick, the ones who live without false pretenses and pride. The ones who were humbled not by choice but by circumstance. In the Gospels we also see how many times Jesus gives his apostles advice about how to be humble. Today’s Gospel reading is a good example.
   I have to admit that when I read today’s Gospel I found it strange that Jesus, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity,  instead a revealing to the Pharisees some great mystery, like the true nature of the divine persons, instead takes this time to teach the proper sitting arrangements in a banquet. Why? In a universe this big, does it really matters that much where do I sit at a table or who do I invite over to diner?  
   My brothers and sisters, the fact is humility is an act of the will. The average person has to make a conscious decision to embrace it. It does not come naturally to us. We have to be taught how to speak and behave humbly, and even when our parents teach us, it is a personal choice we all make. Jesus knowing the importance of been humble, takes every opportunity he has to teach his disciples about how to live a life of simplicity.
   There is a reason why Jesus spent so much energy teaching and preaching about humility. We tend to think that the best way to encounter God is through prayer, and prayer does help but the fact is, the easiest way of encountering God in a personal way is with a heart full of humility. It is when we recognize our own lowliness when confronted with the infinite God, creator and sustainer of this universe, that we can experience the divine presence.  It is only when we lower ourselves that we make enough spiritual space for God to enter into our lives.
   We live in a world in which humility has no value.  We live in a world in which we are encouraged to be the biggest, the best, and the most powerful; in a world in which selfishness and self-centerness is praised and rewarded.  That is not the way of our God; His way is self-sacrifice, and meekness. 
   Today’s readings are a reminder of how important it is to act humbly under any circumstance and that, If we want to encounter God, if we want to experience His divine presence, we must start by following  Jesus example and embrace a life of simplicity and humility. Amen.

  And yet, as powerful and magnificent as He is, He has decided to reveal Himself in complete humility.  We don’t have to look far to prove this point; from His birth to the moment of His death our Lord Jesus is the image of God’s absolute humbleness. In one of my most favorite passages in the bible, St Paul in the Letter to the Philippians puts it in very simple terms: “Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped, took the form of a slave, born in the likeness of men, and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” It is as if the one thing that can only match God’s greatness is his meekness.