“Who better than a priest, as a man of God, can develop and put into practice, by his competence in current digital technology, a pastoral outreach capable of making God concretely present in today’s world?” Benedict XVI wrote in his Message for the 44th World Communications Day, which will be celebrated on Sunday, May 16.
The Holy Father says that a blog is a good way for priests to proclaim the Gospel, a significant message as the Church celebrates the Year for Priests.
Basilian Father Chris Valka has heeded the Pope’s message. Father Valka is one of four priests who contribute to Catholic News Service’s Year for Priests blog.
Ordained in May 2009, Father Valka says his posts reflect his daily life as a Catholic high school teacher and his ministry at two parishes in the Detroit area.
“The blog I write is meant to be personal. It is supposed to be a look at what I experience in the high school and what my prayer life is like,” explains Father Valka. “It is supposed to be an inside look at the life of a priest.”
In a recent post, he wrote: “If I were to tally the thoughts of gratitude and thoughts of complaint, I wonder how my sheet would look? I think I will title it ‘Gracious Living’ and see how I do. Maybe I can even find a few ‘warm fuzzies,’ like the ones I used to get in school, and give them to God. Who knows, next time you come to the parish, you may find one next to the statue of the Sacred Heart or on the staff desks at the office.”
His blogs have been well received by the young parents in his parishes.
“Parents kept saying to me that they loved my homilies but were always so busy with their kids and it was hard for them to pay attention and to get everything,” he says. “So I started recording my homilies and presentations, and it’s been a huge hit.”
In Chicago, Father Robert Barron takes full advantage of new media. In 1999 he began Word on Fire, a global media organization that supports Catholic evangelical preaching. The website includes a blog that tracks more than 2,000 visits per day.
Blog on Fire
“Through my blog and through the Word on Fire ministry at large, I hope to tell of the life and death of Christ,” says Father Barron. “I hope to do it intelligently and unapologetically, with an honest attempt to daily renew the mind of the Church.”
Ordained in 1986, he is a sought-after speaker, retreat leader and theologian. Among his current activities: teaching seminarians at Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago and filming “The Catholicism Project,” a 10-part TV series about the global culture of the Catholic faith due to air this fall. A recent blog post included a series preview.
Father Barron says the truth of Christ should be spoken online. He said as much in his contribution to the Register’s recent online forum "Priests Online": “What we can deliver through contemporary media is something much greater than the fleeting moment of an e-mail, a Facebook comment or a blog posting; we offer a new way of life, in this world, and in a world that is yet to come.”
Two beloved Church figures serve as inspirations for Father Barron and his media ministry: Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Pope John Paul II.
“I have often said that Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a champion of evangelization who used all the tools at his disposal to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, would have given his right arm to have the means of mass communications to which we have access today,” he says.
And he has taken Pope John Paul’s call to the New Evangelization to heart: “We have to meet people where they are in order to share the good news. We must convey the truth of the faith in all its beauty, intelligence, historical richness and drama. New technology permits us to do this effectively on a global scale.”
The Blogging Bishop
In the Archdiocese of New York, Archbishop Timothy Dolan is not ashamed to admit that he knew nothing about blogging when he arrived for his new assignment there a year ago. However, he kept running into people who thought it would be a good way for him to keep in contact with his flock. So, he gave it a try and signed on at The Gospel in the Digital Age.
“What I have found is that blogging does give me a chance to communicate with people directly and to hear back from them in the comment section,” notes the archbishop. “I’ve found that to be very refreshing and enlightening.”
The archbishop’s blog made national headlines last fall after The New York Times declined to publish an op-ed piece he wrote regarding an anti-Catholic bias that he detected in the paper’s reporting.
After being rejected by the Times, he hit the blogosphere with his piece. He was impressed by the hundreds of people who chose to respond and leave comments on his site.
“While most of the responses have been positive, many disagreed with what I had to say. I’m glad they felt free to offer their opinion, even those who disagreed,” he shared.
The Catholic leader of the Big Apple made use of his blog to further comment on anti-Catholicism in the media in light of the current scandals within the Church.
But that’s not all he blogs about. In a recent post, Archbishop Dolan reflected on his baptism: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, he won’t ask to see my passport, my stock portfolio, my résumé, my academic degrees, my certificate of priestly ordination or consecration as a bishop. But a baptismal certificate will be of immense interest!”
Father Valka says his fellow clergymen should embrace new media because going online is a wonderful way to share the Gospel beyond Sunday: “At the Mass and at the homily you are trying to explain the Gospel that you have heard. But on the blogs I think you are trying to explain what living the Gospel means from your perspective.”
Father Barron agrees. His advice for any priest unsure of diving into the blogosphere: “I would echo Pope Benedict XVI’s message: Now is the time!”
Eddie O’Neill writes
from Green Bay, Wisconsin.