Vox Populi: By Sam Sawyer, S.J.

In 2012, the bishops of the United States commissioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University to study how Catholics use “new media,” including the Web, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. The CARA findings suggest that American Catholics are not rushing to the Web as a means of exploring their faith. Slightly more than half of the Catholics surveyed (ages 18 and up) said they were unaware of a significant Catholic presence online; only one in 20 reported reading or following a Catholic blog.

And yet an impressive number of efforts are underway to produce Catholic websites of quality, authenticity, and freshness. These sites—some of them less than five years old, others the outgrowths of institutions of long standing—contribute articulate voices to a discourse on contemporary American (and world) Catholicism, offering a window into the life and perhaps the future of the Church. As a young Catholic growing up in the Internet age, as a graduate student in theology, and as a cofounder of a new website (thejesuitpost.org), I offer this guide to a variety of sites I’ve found interesting, though I make no claim to a full accounting.

Busted Halo (bustedhalo.com) is an online magazine—and if it were in print would be glossy. It is sponsored by the Paulist Fathers, and its creators describe it as being “based in wisdom from the Catholic tradition” and intended for spiritual seekers “whose journey has little to do with traditional religious institutions.” The site offers one-stop shopping for young adults interested in “the spiritual dimension” of life; from the homepage, visitors can select themes from among tabs that include “sex & relationships,” “entertainment & lifestyle,” and “politics & culture.” A recent post by staff member Joe Williams, a former Peace Corps volunteer and corporate events worker, considers the latest Oscar-nominated films: “What spirituality have you found in the cinema this year? What moral questions have arisen for you while at the movies? And who do you think deserves to win?”

Busted Halo was founded in 2000 by Brett Hoover, CSP, and Mike Hayes, a campus minister serving the University of Buffalo. The site’s philosophy might be summarized by the words of a staffer who said in a recent Sirius radio broadcast, “We have busted halos because nobody’s perfect, but we’re all on a journey toward God.” With its densely packed front page and audio-visual content, the site resembles a Catholic, young-adult-focused Slate, if you can imagine Slate attempting to engage in online catechesis.

There’s an old joke that not even God knows how many kinds of Franciscans there are; I doubt he’s keeping track of the number of Catholic blogs either. A ready-made sampler—running the spectrum of opinion within the Church, though with a slightly conservative tilt—can be found at the Patheos Catholic channel (patheos.com/Catholic). Launched in 2008 by a former software executive, Patheos attempts to be the place on the Web for conversation, information, and inspiration of a religious and spiritual nature—a feistier Beliefnet.com—hosting “channels” for atheism, paganism, and faiths in between. The Catholic channel contains more than 30 blogs, by priests, professors, and freelance writers, spanning subjects from politics to motherhood. A recent visit turned up new posts at regular blogs such as K-Lo @ Large (by Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor-at-large of National Review online—the topic was “How Do We Live Authentic Faith?”); the Deacon’s Bench (by Deacon Greg Kandra, a long-time CBS News producer, who wrote “Crime wave hits New York churches”); and Bad Catholic by Marc Barnes, who is barely of age to vote and is too young to drink and whose posts include “Why Are Catholics Still Whining about the HHS [contraceptive insurance] Mandate?” and “Why Science Doesn’t Disprove Religious Experience.”

Most of the blogs at Patheos are well written and frequently updated. One of the more interesting is Leah Libresco’s Unequally Yoked. The 20-something Libresco moved over from Patheos’s atheist channel in June 2012 when she began her conversion to Catholicism. A virtue of the channel approach at Patheos is that the bloggers are often in conversation with one another on the issues of the day, and many, such as Libresco (whose blog is subtitled “a geeky convert picks fights in good faith”), are also engaged with bloggers far outside their respective spheres (Libresco attended a “rationality camp” last year and keeps up with the back-and-forth among the atheist blogs as well).

Some Catholic websites operate from a more deliberately theological and academic perspective: Three good examples, all group blogs, are Women in Theology (womenintheology.org), Daily Theology (dailytheology.wordpress.com), and Vox Nova (vox-nova.com)—again spanning a range of opinion. Predominately but not exclusively Catholic, the graduate students who contribute to Women in Theology have posted recently about the latest volume of Pope Benedict’s lengthy study Jesus of Nazareth, theologian Karl Rahner’s views on the Assumption of Mary, and the immorality of unmanned drones. Daily Theology, in addition to its regular attempts to connect academic theology with contemporary culture, occasionally asks its cast of contributors (mostly theology professors and graduate students) to blog on a single topic, resulting in what the site calls a “Theological Shark Week”—inspired by the Discovery Channel’s annual televised week-long festival of shark videos. The “Why I Am (Still) Catholic” week is well worth reading. Vox Nova examines the intersection of theology, culture, and politics, exploring such themes as the practice of Christianity in a consumer culture and “how the church can better carry out its mission in the world.” Its bloggers are a truly mixed lot, ranging from a mathematics professor in Connecticut and a theology doctoral student in Toronto to “a radical Catholic mom” in Alaska and a former federal official in Washington, D.C. In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Boston College graduate students and faculty contribute to all three of these sites.

Almost all of the traditional Catholic media outlets have strong web presences now, fertile sites loaded with audio and video material and individual and group blogs. Among them are America‘s In All Things, Commonweal‘s dotCommonweal, and First Things‘ On the Square and First Thoughts. These sites have also spun off bloggers who can be followed independent of any particular publication. Whispers in the Loggia (whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com) is the work of Philadelphia native Rocco Palmo, a former correspondent for the London-based Catholic weekly the Tablet and a member of the Pastoral Council of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Started in 2004, Palmo’s blog has become the go-to site for coverage of the Catholic hierarchy; it is reliably early with news of appointments of bishops and cardinals and the latest statements from the Pope (or as Palmo calls him, “B16″). Last year, Whispers in the Loggia averaged 500,000 unique visitors a month. For all the reportorial vigor, it is an idiosyncratic site, dotted with personal asides from Palmo and reflections on the liturgical calendar. Lengthy excerpts from sermons and other transcriptions lend it a C-Span tone at times.

Other individual, unaffiliated blogs deserving of a visit include Dating God (datinggod.org), by Daniel P. Horan, OFM, who writes about building a relationship with God “in the everyday and ordinary experiences of the 21st century world,” through the lens of Franciscan spirituality. Recent posts include “The Church as (Un)equal Society” and a brief, rounded rumination on service to others as the model of “true Christian discipleship.” The blog Felice Mi Fa (felicemifa.wordpress.com), by Margaret Felice ’02, MAPM ’12, runs under the tagline “religion teacher by day, opera singer by night.” Felice frequently looks at spiritual issues from a musical perspective, as with her pre-Christmas series of posts on the “O Antiphons” (which comprise the verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”).

The Twitter feed (@JamesMartinSJ) and Facebook page (facebook.com/FrJamesMartin) of James Martin, SJ, M.Div.’98, Th.M.’99, best known as the author of the 2010 Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and as the chaplain to Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, are in a class by themselves. In addition to linking to pieces elsewhere on the Web and hosting a conversation among social media users, Martin summarizes the daily Gospel within Twitter’s 140-character limit—on January 11, for example, “Gospel: Even Jesus needed quiet time with the Father in prayer. If you think you’re too busy to pray, think again.”

The effort I am involved in is the Jesuit Post (thejesuitpost.org), which sits somewhere between a group blog, a web magazine, and a platform for ministry in new media. Founded in January 2012, the site is the undertaking of Jesuits-in-formation from across the country. We try to point out evidence that God is at work—if often unnoticed—in secular events and cultural matters, be it the U.S. immigration policy debate or the continuing fascination with superheroes. Last fall, for example, I covered the conversation about faith and humor between Cardinal Timothy Dolan and comedian Stephen Colbert at Fordham University, and earlier in the year, Michael Rozier, SJ, a Boston College M.Div. student, wrote about the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act from his perspective as both a seminarian and a public health professional.

Most of the websites and blogs mentioned above include a “blogroll,” listing blogs that the authors themselves read, thereby creating a nearly endless tour of what the Web has to offer on religion and spirituality. At the Jesuit Post, we have a section (“All Things Linked”) in which contributors detail what they’ve found on the Web worth reading. Get a good cup of coffee and make sure you have a couple of hours free before diving in.

 

 

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