In Response to IRL, by Amy

It’s an odd feeling to find myself even in partial disagreement with my friend Amy Welborn, and I am now doubting myself, but I will press on nonetheless. Amy is writing this week about technology and today she writes about the Church, evangelization, and technology.

To be sure, there’s much I agree with. Like her, I believe that parish and diocesan websites are vitally important and need to be done better. Parish websites, first and above all, need to make it easy for people to get the information they came for, usually the Mass times, including the holy day of obligation Mass times. They also need to be kept up to date. The worst failing of parish web sites is out of date content and the second worst is the failure to put new content up. I have held that every parish needs someone whose primary job is to go to every meeting possible and otherwise to badger the staff for stuff to put on the web site (and in the bulletin). Read More and Comment

Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too): A Book Review

There are lots of books that outline all the reasons one should give up atheism or other religions and become Catholic and with good reason: Because the path to the Catholic faith has its origins in many places and wends its way through a myriad of obstacles, challenges, and objections.

Brandon Vogt—one of the smartest, engaging, and energetic young Catholics out there—has written a new book, “Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too),” that offers his own take on why one should consider the Catholic faith, a take that is aimed directly at the “nones”, the large and growing percentage of mostly young Americans today who tell pollsters that they have no religious preference, and does so in a way that should appeal to a younger audience, characterizing becoming Catholic as a way of “joining the Rebellion”, rather than giving into a massive institution.

I’ll admit it’s a weird decision. It goes against the grain. It’s radical. It is, in a word, rebellious.

In this concise, yet compelling book, Brandon outlines the reasons why anyone seeking the truth should become Catholic, using arguments both old and new. Brandon is an engineer by training and a philosopher by avocation so it’s no surprise that the book and its arguments are laid out in a logical progression, from whether God exists, to the necessity of religion vs. pure spirituality, to the supremacy of Christianity over other religions, to the Catholic Church. Read More and Comment

A lesson in the sanctuary for Catholic parishes?

This is a fascinating story about a small liberal Congregational church in a Boston suburb that is seeing its congregation age and dwindle and sees the writing on the wall of their coming demise. So they decide to take a chance, sell the church, and open a storefront church with the intent of being more of a community center. It's a story of a lot of conflict, and there are no easy answers or satisfying resolution.

Internal strife had contributed to the congregational collapse that forced the sale of the old church. Sanctuary is too small to survive another exodus. They need to pull together, Paul thinks, and focus on the most important questions: Who are Sanctuary’s neighbors, and what do they need?

Amid all the frustration at church lately, Paul has been thinking about his parents, both gone a long time now.

His dad, the Rev. Norman Roberts, was a tall, balding man with a booming voice who hunted and fished with his congregants and gave a children’s sermon every week. Paul’s mother, Grace, led the women’s groups at church; in another era, she might have been a minister, too. They lived their faith. They were tolerant and loving of those who were not.

Their churches sometimes writhed with conflict. But they believed in church as a way of being in the world.

As a fairly conservative and orthodox Catholic, I think I can see the reasons why they struggle, yet I admit that many Catholic parishes suffer from similar problems and struggles, albeit on a different scale. It's a long read, but well worth it. Some of it may be that the world has changed and people are no longer expected to be churchgoers. Maybe that just means we need to start thinking more like the apostles did 2,000 years ago and leave behind some of our expectations and assumptions.

Gaga Responds

When you’re blogging, you can sometimes forget that the whole world can read what you write, and when you write about a particular person, even if (perhaps especially if) they’re a celebrity, they will sometimes respond.

Case in point: Earlier this week, celebrity entertainer Lady Gaga posted an Instagram photo of her with a Catholic priest and mentioned his beautiful homily last Sunday, intimating that she’d been to Mass and thus is an active Catholic. Becky Roach at wrote an article about the phenomenon of celebrities expressing their faith in public and how we should remember that celebrities can sometimes use the trappings of faith to be trendy or appear down-to-earth, and so on. I’ve often cautioned others about getting too excited about celebrities who appear to agree with your viewpoint, whether it’s religion or politics or tastes in music, because (a) they’re usually just people like you and me with no special expertise and (b) they are fallible and subject to doing others things that can work against whatever cause you make them the poster child for (cf. Mel Gibson).

Interestingly, Lady Gaga saw the Catholic-Link piece and took umbrage: “We are not just ‘celebrities’ — we are humans and sinners, children, and our lives are not void of values because we struggle. We are as equally forgiven as our neighbor. God is never a trend no matter who the believer.”

First, good for her. That is a laudable outlook and understanding of faith. Second, I don’t think Catholic-Link was necessarily criticizing her the way it appears she took it, and in a response they make it clear that given the context of the whole article, they essentially agreed with her.

Like I wrote at the top, when you write online it can be a temptation to forget that we’re usually writing about real people with real lives and real struggles and a real relationship to the Lord (of whatever stripe). To quote Ian McLaren, “Be kind, for every man you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

God’s Mercy Runs to Meet Us

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston has issued a new Pastoral Letter on Divine Mercy called “God’s Mercy Runs to Meet Us.” The title recalls the parable of the Prodigal Son and how the father looked for his son’s return and when saw him a long way off, ran to meet him. The parable is on the one hand about a son who sins and repents, but it’s also about how the son who stayed home needs to learn mercy from his father.

Just as the father goes out to embrace the prodigal son and bring him home, he also searches for the elder son to teach him to be merciful. The father loves and forgives both sons and wants them to live in peace and harmony. The father rejoices over the conversion of the younger son and hopes for the conversion of the older, hard-working, responsible son who finds it so difficult to pardon his brother. The father explains to his elder son that he has always been with him and that all that he has remains his inheritance, but that his brother was lost and his return is worth rejoicing. The father is unconcerned about his property and his honor. He is concerned only about his sons.

He then adds other elements, including 7 ways for Catholics in the archdiocese to live mercy in the Jubilee year.

Woohoo! We’re Number 1 …. Oh, Least Religious

The latest Pew Research poll shows Massachusetts ties for last among the states for religiosity. Only 23% say they attend worship services weekly, which is better than the Archdiocese of Boston in which 13% of Catholics attend Mass on any given Sunday. We’re also dead last in the percentage of people who believe in God with absolute certainty.

Last year, Vermont was the least religious, but this year two other New England states, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, beat it out, while Maine rounded out the top four. Connecticut was next, but Rhode Island, the fifth New England state, came in near the middle of the pack. I wonder what’s different there.

I joked with Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, that the only thing that changed on the religious landscape in Vermont since the last poll was his tenure. Could that be why they’re creeping back from the edge?

The difference one priest can make

The difference one priest can make:

“Over the past eight years, by God’s grace, Father Angel’s efforts have completely reversed the fortunes of the struggling parish community. In one church, Mass attendance exploded from 25 people to 200. Another saw its numbers grow from 40 to 250. In all the churches, weekend Masses became standing room only affairs, with people coming to church even when they knew that might mean standing outside in the hot Georgia sun.”

This Colombian native in a missionary diocese in Georgia had a simple formula for turning his parish and missions around. First, he enabled parishioners’ sense of ownership and pride in their churches by initiating a top-to-bottom cleaning. Then he got people to stop treating the sacraments like a one-time purchase by offering to baptize any child, no questions asked, if the parents attended Mass every week for three months prior and then required parents of religious education children to come to “Ask Father” sessions in the church while the children were win class. He uses the time to catechize parents.

I’m sure there are other steps he’s taken that have contributed to this success, but these are quite remarkable because they strike at the heart of the problem: a lack of a sense of belonging and a lack of doing what a Catholic does.

Photo: Courtesy photo via OSV

Evangelization by Press Release

When most people think of press releases, they generally don’t think evangelization. In fact, for those who tend to receive mailbox-clogging numbers of press releases, they are convinced they come from the other direction. But press releases can be a helpful tool for evangelization by parishes and other ministries.

I’ve been on both sides of the press release divide, receiving them as a magazine editor and radio producer and sending them on behalf of parishes and ministries with whom I’ve worked, and I would say that a press release  functions as a way for an interested party to generate interest by an uninterested party in something potentially interesting. That isn’t to say that press releases are always unwelcome. A reporter or editor or producer on a deadline and looking for new ideas and interview subjects will welcome a timely offer of a person or thing of interest to the audience which will also fill an empty slot. However, the PR must stand out, clearly offer value, and fit the mission of the media outlet. But I’m not here to offer a manual on effective press releases.

Parishes and small ministries should recognize that local media, especially small hometown newspapers or local radio stations or online news sources like, can provide them with a platform for reaching the unchurched and the curious. For example, the collaborative of two Catholic parishes in Medford, Massachusetts, recently launched a new combined web site with a companion smartphone app. Many parishes launch new web sites but how many send press releases to their local paper about it. The Medford collaborative did and it was published in the North of Boston Wicked Local news site, which also publishes a bunch of small community newspapers in the Boston area. With this simple news story, the parishes are able to showcase their new site, create buzz, and set themselves up in the mind of readers as savvy users of technology. For non-parishioners, this could be a moment where an impression of the churches can be set. Perhaps it’s the moment they decide to try out a Sunday Mass. Maybe it’s one more step which builds on other positive local news stories about events and happenings in the parish which will lead the curious back to church.

Parishes should look at their local media outlets as another resource for communicating with the community alongside their Sunday bulletin and social media accounts. Not just for Mass times on the religious services page, but for real stories in the news section.

Do you have a parishioner doing something extraordinary? A youth group going on an interesting trip? Are you organizing a big festival? A Christmas concert? Are you holding any event to which the general public will be invited? And I don’t mean just prayer and devotional events, but social gatherings and service opportunities as well. Write a press release and make it interesting, not just self-serving. Think of what would interest you in a story about a church that isn’t yours. Make it succinct, compelling, and well-written. Include a high-resolution photograph or two. Find people willing to be interviewed. And then send these press releases regularly. Become visible in your community’s media outlets as a first step to reaching out to the curious as a first step in your evangelization efforts.