CHICAGO — Looking for prayer and penance ideas for this year’s Lenten journey? Or a faithful guide and friendly reminder to practice virtue, do good works and read Scripture? Whatever you’re searching for to help you draw closer to Jesus Christ these 40 days of Lent, there’s an app to help you.

“It’s a beautiful thing to have access to, and it expands our growth and understanding of the faith or an aspect of our spirituality that we need to develop,” said Daughter of St. Paul Sister Anne Flanagan, a social-media authority  who is known as the “Nunblogger.”

“An advantage of these technological tools that we have is that it reminds us that we’re not [going through Lent] on our own as individuals,” she added.

Sister Anne pointed out that apps, along with smartphones and tablets, are a “normal part of life” in the digital age, adding that Pope Benedict XVI strongly encouraged Catholics to take advantage of them — and so has Pope Francis. She said apps are particularly valuable to help people fight individualism in their faith and “keep each other in mind and in prayer.”

“This is really part of a communal sort of retreat that we’re all making together,” she said.

The sister’s “favorite” app is “Lentsanity” from Fellowship of Catholic University Students (Focus), a Catholic outreach program on college campuses.

For Catholics who need a helpful reminder that Fridays are meatless throughout these 40 days, the Lentsanity app can be a Catholic’s Lent-saver. The app sends a person a message before lunch and before dinner each Friday reminding him or her not to eat meat.

It also includes a daily short Lenten reflection, access to Focus’ Lenten blogs and videos of the “Meat Police” for a bit of Catholic humor.

“It’s helpful, and it’s not just helpful so you can keep the rule — it’s helpful because it also reminds you why [the rule] is there,” Sister Anne said.


Scripture and Stations

Catholic apps are steadily increasing, and Catholics are having more and more choices for their mobile devices. (Read the Register’s review of four different apps for Lent.)

“Almost everybody has a smart phone, and apps can carry with them volumes of information [that’s the equivalent of] books and books and books — and you can carry all of that with you in a simple phone,” said Jeff Hahn, online services director at the EWTN Global Catholic Network, the parent company of the Register.

Some apps take advantage of incentivizing a user to do more, such as with the “Daily Lenten Scripture Reading Challenge,” recently added into the EWTN app.

Hahn noted that St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

“So what better [way for] preparing to celebrate Easter … than with Scripture and reading the life of Christ?” he said.

The goal of the Lenten challenge is for the app user to read all four Gospels (taken from the Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version) in 40 days. The free version of the EWTN app has St. Mark’s Gospel available on audio, while the paid version has all four Gospels available. The daily Lenten challenge has a play list that will pull up the Gospel reading for each day of Lent, beginning with the Gospel of Mark.

“If you’re on the go — and everybody’s on the go at some point — we want to be there [with the app],” Hahn said. “People can take us with them — and take the rich expressions of their faith, prayers and all that — all on their cellphone.”

He added that EWTN is releasing an app called “Daily Lenten Reflections With Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan,” in which New York’s archbishop offers inspiring thoughts for Lent.

There are other apps to help Catholics stay in touch with Scripture, too.

Sister Anne said Father Robert Barron’s “Word on Fire” app is an exceptional resource during Lent. She also pointed out that Logos software has a Catholic division called Verbum. Their app has a daily lectionary, but also thoughts from the saints, with a daily Lenten reflection that was put together in collaboration with the Daughters of St. Paul.

What about other devotions during Lent? Catholics who want to pray the Stations of the Cross devotion can check out the Daughters of St. Paul’s “Stations of the Cross” app. Sister Anne explained the app has two different visuals for users to choose from, one traditional and a more modern version called “Stations of the Cross: The Master Beckons,” which focuses on the face of Christ.

 “For prayer, I find it really helps to be listening to something, and this is the sort of thing that helps me to pray,” she said.


Apps for Lent — and All Seasons

As Catholics investigate apps during Lent, they should also realize that apps not specific to Lent are valuable, too.

“The same apps that are good for Ordinary Time are good for Lent and Easter,” said Jesuit Father James Martin, author of the new book Jesus: A Pilgrimage and editor-at-large for America magazine. Father Martin said he chiefly uses an app that downloads the daily readings from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ site. “Nothing so grounds you as the Lenten readings.”

Father Martin added that people wanting to experience “Ignatian contemplation and meditation” should take advantage of Lent as their opportunity to start that journey through the Jesuits’ new “Moved to Greater Love” app.

“[It’s] an invitation to Ignatian contemplation and meditation for nine whole weeks,” he said, “all the way through the entire Easter season.”

He also suggested the “Pray as You Go” and “Sacred Space” apps, which offer invitations to pray.

Sister Anne also pointed out that the faithful can draw closer to the Holy Father in Rome during the Lenten period by taking advantage of such apps as “The Pope App.” People can receive Pope Francis’ Twitter messages during Lent, see live feeds from the Vatican and keep up with official Vatican news.

She said that many of these apps also provide people with opportunities to evangelize by sharing what they’re doing on their social-media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Ultimately, taking advantage of apps in Lent, said Sister Anne, is an opportunity to gain experience with these spiritual resources that can be used all year.

“These new technologies are not a separate part of our life. They’re part of our normal life, so you’d use these apps just as you’d use any other available tool — with moderation, of course.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.