Michael Stark has set out on a monumental mission: "We want the world to get into reading the Bible and hearing the Bible."
As executive producer of the well-received "Truth & Life Dramatized Audio Bible New Testament," Stark has found the ideal way to fulfill this goal: a "Download Jesus" app, or software application for mobile devices.
The app is available on DownloadJesus.com and TruthandLifeApp.com for iPhone, Android, iPad, iPod Touch and Kindle Fire. The app can also be used on a personal computer via the same websites, and a downloadable version for computers with all of the app’s features is forthcoming.
"We have developed a powerful app for the ‘Truth & Life Dramatized Catholic New Testament,’" he explained, "and we are giving this app away free to anyone in the world. We want to get people into the Bible in such a way that they’ll never turn it down again."
"Free" is no misprint. But there is more to the app than just the dramatized New Testament.
This easy-to-use app includes the entire Old and New Testaments of the Revised Standard Version Second Catholic Edition, plus the audio for St. Mark’s Gospel (each verse is highlighted at the same time it is being dramatized; an added bonus is Gospel study notes from theologian Scott Hahn).
With this new app, Stark and those working with him took to heart what soon-to-be-St. John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter The Rapid Development: "In the communications media, the Church finds a precious aid for spreading the Gospel and religious values … to expand the boundaries of evangelization, of catechesis and of formation … as a response to the command of the Lord: ‘Go into the whole world, and proclaim the Gospel to every creature’ (Mark 16:15)."
Stark sees his "Download Jesus" app fulfilling that papal vision.
In addition to the valuable content, the app offers a simple search tool, easy-to-navigate index and highlighting option. App users can type in a word or phrase, and all of the matches in the Old and New Testaments will come up. Tap on the index at the top of the page, and a grid of all the books of the Bible comes up, too. Simply tap on a chapter and then a verse to start reading.
For a modest price, users can purchase two enhanced add-ons that include even more content. One is the audio add-on for the entire dramatized New Testament; the other is the study add-on that is the extensive Ignatius Study Bible, with tools developed by Hahn and Curtis Mitch, a research fellow at Hahn’s St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Tap on underlined words or phrases, and a "footnote" pops up with an explanation as well.
This app furthers the audience of the "Truth & Life" audio Bible that was co-produced by Raymond Arroyo, host of EWTN’s The World Over. Premiering in 2010, the extraordinary 18-CD, 22-hour New Testament features more than 70 world-renowned actors, including Neal McDonough, Julia Ormond, Stacy Keach, Blair Underwood, Michael York, Kristen Bell and John Rhys-Davies.
The audio Bible is endorsed by the Vatican, with a special foreword by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Among Church officials who approve of and support it are Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.
Father Robert Barron of Word on Fire Ministries also endorses it.
"The audio Bible was one of the most moving presentations of the Scripture that I have experienced," Father Barron told the Register.
The app is also getting a lot of attention. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago wrote a letter informing all pastors in his archdiocese about "Download Jesus."
Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., finds the app a positive tool for the faithful.
"St. Jerome once declared that ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.’ The app puts the word of God directly into people’s hands," he said. "In a secular world where people are hungering for truth, having the ability to listen to the words of Jesus spoken aloud helps people to cultivate the habit of reading and praying the Scriptures each day."
"A busy father, mother or family can listen to the Scriptures as they are getting ready for school or for work," Bishop Ricken added. "Many of the narrators are successful Hollywood celebrities, so their voices are recognizable, especially by youth and young adults."
The way spoken phrases synchronize with verses on the screen through the app draws readers in.
"It really makes Scripture literally come alive," said Michael Wick, executive director of the Institute on Religious Life in Libertyville, Ill.
Wick likes the way things can be bookmarked and favorite chapters and verses are highlighted.
In the religious-education class he teaches, he had his students download the app. Said Wick, "We’re encouraging young people to get it. They’re already technologically connected. This gives them a way to dig deep into the richness of their faith."
Lent is the perfect time for Bible reading, according to Stark. He wants to "encourage every Catholic to ‘Download Jesus’ and read all four Gospels for Lent. We always try to give up something each Lent. How about adding something important every day as well?"
He said families or individuals can start on Ash Wednesday with Matthew; by reading two chapters a day, one can make his or her way through all of the Gospels, finishing the last chapter of John on Holy Saturday.
"This is right in line with what Pope Francis says in his apostolic exhortation [Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel] — get back to the Gospel," Stark said, encouraging fellow Catholics to "commit to our Catholic faith and get back to basics, as Francis wants us to."
The app is a great tool for sharing the Gospel as part of the New Evangelization, too, said Bishop Ricken: "The New Evangelization calls us to hear the word of God at ever deeper levels and to share that word with the world. As bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, I encourage the use of technology that brings the word of God alive in people’s hearts and minds."
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.
Editor's Note: The app will debut and be available in Spanish on Ash Wednesday.
App developer Michael Stark will appear on EWTN’s Bookmark on April 6.