Just as uplifting news stories seem to get buried under the more salacious and exploitative items, the efforts to spread goodness and well-being via technology are often overshadowed by mind-numbing games and unhealthy use of social media. Although we ought to tread carefully in the web-based world of content, we should also keep an open mind to where it can be beneficial to our psyches and spirits. Indeed, Pope Francis, though cautious, was optimistic when he stated that “a better world is possible thanks to technological progress, if this is accompanied by an ethic inspired by a vision of the common good, an ethic of freedom, responsibility, and fraternity, capable of fostering the full development of people in relation to others and to the whole of creation” (audience at the Vatican, September 2019).
There is a growing wave of people who are seeking more from their experience with digital media, something that connects them to faith, meaning, and healthier relationships. To meet this need, apps, podcasts, YouTube channels, blogs, and many other virtual spaces are springing up—so many, in fact, that it’s getting to be somewhat of a challenge to know where to start. To help you navigate this ever-changing digital landscape, here are six examples of the emerging presence of meaningful media.
The brainchild of Richard Rohr, OFM, the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) strives to enrich the lives of spiritual seekers by striking a balance between healthy introspection and outward expressions of responding to the Gospel call. Not long after moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Father Richard established the CAC in 1986.
Popular events such as CONSPIRE—an in-depth, three-day conference on contemplative living—and the two-year Living School program have attracted thousands of participants interested in the center’s inclusive and welcoming ministry.
Calling to mind Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, the location seems a fitting backdrop for an institution focused on mindfulness and soul-searching. And, again mirroring the life of Christ, whose ministry followed his time of self-discovery in the desert, the CAC encourages those who engage with its content to apply what is gained through contemplation back in the “real world.” According to the center’s website, their mission is to “open the door for a critical mass of spiritual seekers to experience the transformative wisdom of the Christian contemplative tradition and nurture its emergence in service to the healing of our world.”
Although visiting the CAC in person for its many retreats and seminars remains a popular draw, it has increasingly offered a variety of resources online. Four podcasts, e-learning courses, daily e-mail meditations from Father Richard, and an online bookstore are just a few of the items on the CAC website. One of the podcasts, Another Name for Everything, features weekly conversations between Father Richard and the two hosts, Brie Stoner and Paul Swanson, on a plethora of topics that unpack the concept of contemplative living.
Ever in tune with the times, Another Name for Everything doesn’t shy away from addressing current issues, such as living out our faith in an era of globalization and practicing mindfulness during the coronavirus pandemic. In a fast-paced culture that is increasingly fixated on immediate results, the CAC is an oasis of calm for the world-weary.
It all started with a parable. In it, a grandfather tells his grandson about the two wolves that are in a constant struggle within us—one that represents kindness, bravery, and love, and another that represents greed, hatred, and fear. The grandson asks which wolf will win the battle, and his grandfather responds, “The one you feed.” This parable is central to the ethos of the website and podcast named after the grandfather’s answer to his grandson.
Eric Zimmer, a life coach and author, certainly knows what it’s like to feed the wrong wolf. When he was 24, he was homeless, addicted to heroin, and facing serious legal consequences if he didn’t make a bold move to start being the best version of himself. For the past 20 years, Zimmer has fine-tuned his approach to behavior modification, coupling ancient wisdom with cutting-edge cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help people reframe their internal monologue in a positive light.
The One You Feed podcast is a weekly offering and the flagship of Zimmer’s efforts. The podcast, which numbers over 300 episodes, has more than 13 million downloads and was listed on Oprah’s list of “22 Podcasts That Will Motivate You to Live Your Best Life.” Although the podcast covers a wide range of topics related to well-being, most of the content falls within four main areas: anxiety and depression, addiction and recovery, habits and behavior change, and meditation and mindfulness.
Beyond the podcast, the website features a blog, two programs that drill down into Zimmer’s approach to self-improvement (the Spiritual Habits and Personal Transformation programs), and “Eric’s Bookshelf,” a list of both fiction and nonfiction titles that have been formative to Zimmer’s own personal growth. For those hungry for a life lived with more intentionality, The One You Feed is there to nurture the good wolf in us.
“Blessed is She is a sisterhood who desires two things: prayer + community. If that sounds up your alley, we’re so glad you’re here.” Site visitors are met with this warm salutation straight away—and that inclusive tone is used throughout this unique online experience. Founded by Jenna Guizar in the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona, Blessed Is She is a collective of dedicated female Catholic writers with the noble mission to share their love for the Catholic faith with like-minded women.
The Blessed Is She site is admirably simple—and attractively designed. Visitors can engage with their blogs and devotionals, and shop for gifts to feed the spirit. One blog in particular was both timely and relevant, “Tips for Attending Mass from Home with Kids.” Published during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, author Valerie Keinsley offered these sage words for parents on lockdown: “Nothing about this is normal or easy, and that’s okay. Pausing the live-stream to redirect rambunctious kids, adjusting your usual Sunday traditions, and longing for in-person community and fellowship are all going to take a lot of patience and flexibility on everyone’s parts. Pray for the patience to continue to adapt as this current crisis evolves, and trust that God provides everything you need.”
Providing faith-based tips for navigating life’s peaks and valleys is in abundance in their ministry and on their site.
“You belong here”: These three words can be found on their “About Us” page. Blessed Is She welcomes weary seekers to visit, get comfortable, and be inspired to celebrate the richness of the Catholic faith. To those in need of community and spiritual nourishment, welcome home.
One of Life Teen’s missions is to bring teens closer to Christ with the Blessed Virgin Mary as their intercessor and guide. Interesting enough, but nowhere in their “About Us” page does it boast their strongest asset for such a noble mission: Mark Hart. As the CIO and executive vice president of Life Teen, Hart, also known as “The Bible Geek,” is an evangelist, writer, speaker, and educator to reckon with. (Search his name on YouTube, sit back, and enjoy the ride.)
But to be fair, Hart is one branch on a mighty tree. This is a ministry that seeks to invigorate the faith lives of young Catholics. And while the feel of this outreach is perhaps more traditionally Catholic than others, they provide a cornucopia of rich materials for young Catholics and their parents to feed on.
The site might seem a bit overwhelming at first, so start with their Catholic Youth Ministry blog, which offers a variety of topics for readers to savor. They address front-burner issues that teens face daily, such as depression and anxiety. Other blogs tackle struggles that are of-the-moment, such as maintaining faith and your sanity during a pandemic. The writing is crisp, and the wisdom shared in these blogs can soothe a weary heart. The site also offers materials for middle school and high school kids who might be struggling with their faith.
But back to Mark Hart, who has amassed quite a loyal following among young Catholics: Rare is it that you find a speaker, author, host, and humorist who can merge youthful energy and powerful catechesis. Hart is a speaker in demand—and his popularity is due, in part, to the delivery of his message. He doesn’t pander. He relates. The same can be said for Life Teen.
It’s always refreshing to see a young person energized by faith and eager to share it. That feeling takes on a special form when that young person is a tech-savvy professed Franciscan, proud to wear his brown robe. Part blog, YouTube channel, and social media presence, Breaking in the Habit is the evangelization tool of Father Casey Cole, OFM. On the homepage, a number of topics slide automatically across the top of the screen, with titles such as “Can a Christian Be Rich?,” “An Open Letter to Christians,” and “Eight Hilarious Religious Jokes.” Right from the start, visitors can tell that Father Casey is here to engage, ask some tough questions, and also share in some levity.
There’s a pop culture awareness and sensibility to Breaking in the Habit that is at once disarming and thought-provoking. In a blog entry where Father Casey sings the praises of the TV comedy Scrubs, he also makes a subtle call to honor the doctors and medical professionals working on the battlefront of the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s the perfect example of how Father Casey evangelizes: He finds common ground and works from there. He asks questions about faith and doesn’t pretend to always have the answers, but his keen insights and popular approach will appeal to seekers who might not otherwise see the Catholic faith as welcoming.
Breaking in the Habit has a strong social media element, including a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But it’s on YouTube where Father Casey has truly crystallized his evangelization efforts. Now with over 60,000 subscribers and well over 5 million total views, the Breaking in the Habit YouTube channel is clearly doing something right.
The welcome video that Father Casey features on the channel’s homepage is titled “50 Reasons I Love Being Catholic,” which includes items such as Reconciliation, charity, and the friar’s appreciation of sacred art and architecture. A quick scroll through other videos has Father Casey reflecting on what it’s like to walk around in public in his habit, talking about the day of his priestly ordination, and examining our constant struggle with sin.
The wide variety of topics and the sincerity the friar brings to his videos meet a felt need for the people in the pews to connect with the clergy, and he’s clearly having a lot of fun doing it!
Don’t let the “.com” fool you: Busted Halo is a ministry of the Paulist Fathers. Though this popular resource provides content for all Catholics, irrespective of where they are on their faith journeys, it’s the mysterious seeker demographic that seems to benefit most from its offerings. And they have a big job on their hands: According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of millennials say they attend a religious service once or twice a month/a few times a year. While studies show the majority of this generation believe in God, there seems to be a general apathy for celebrating it formally. And this is why Busted Halo is such a strong resource.
Through articles, videos, podcasts, radio, and a bustling social media platform, the content creators behind Busted Halo infuse their materials with humor, heart, and catechetical prowess. Their audience is nourished spiritually without being judged.
Their podcast, Busted Halo Show, hosted by Father Dave Dwyer, is particularly strong. Father Dwyer, who has an infectious sense of humor and energy to spare, spearheads this punchy podcast that is at turns fun, funny, and rife with Catholic wisdom. Recent shows tackled the COVID-19 crisis, human trafficking, and surviving the loss of a loved one. You can find the Busted Halo Show wherever you get your podcasts. It’s time well spent.
As for the name of this organization, their website says it best: “Catholic belief is that all God’s children are ‘saints in the making,’ yet our life’s journey is fraught with imperfections, struggles, and mistakes. Each of us sports a halo that is either dented, scratched, tarnished, or in some way busted. God loves us despite this and continually calls us to polish our halos up to a nice golden shine.”