When it comes to technology and from my experience, the paradigm of “Yesterday’s technology… tomorrow!” is the approach that many dioceses, parishes, ministries, and apostolates adopt, often unconsciously.  However, there’s a wave of revival currently taking hold from within the bosom of the Mystical Body of Christ, and it is pushing sectors of the Church from maintenance to mission.  This is a revival born from the infusion of the new media with the riches of divine revelation, and I have experienced it firsthand.  (In fact, I’m writing this review from my alma mater – Franciscan University, where I’m presenting at the  St. John Bosco Conference on “Catechesis and New Media” to catechists and catechetical leaders who are hungry to grow in this area!)

When I was largely uncatechized as a sophomore undergrad student at Texas A&M University, my faith was transformed as I discovered St. Thomas’ Summa at NewAdvent.org, well-written articles from Catholic.com, apologetical resources at CatholicConvert.com, and a slew of great content from numerous other online sources.  Literally, my own catechetical formation occurred by means of the new media, as I often relate when I give presentations on the subject.  My own experience is simply one sentence in a novel that is currently being written as thousands discover the riches of Christ via Catholic new media ministries and apostolates.

To serve as a catalyst for this Catholic new media revival, Brandon Vogt has compiled and edited a fascinating and encouraging book titled “The Church and New Media” (coming August, 2011 from Our Sunday Visitor).  The lineup of authors is a veritable “Who’s Who” of the Catholic new media universe.  Of course, the list isn’t exhaustive.

  • Foreword by Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston
  • Introduction by Brandon Vogt

New Media & Evangelization

  • Ch. 1 – Fr. Robert Barron
  • Ch. 2 – Jennifer Fulwiler
  • Ch. 3 – Marcel LeJeune

New Media & Formation

  • Ch. 4 – Mark Shea
  • Ch. 5 – Taylor Marshall
  • Ch. 6 – Father Dwight Longenecker

New Media & Community

  • Ch. 7 – Scot Landry
  • Ch. 8 – Matt Warner
  • Ch. 9 – Lisa Hendey
  • Ch. 10 – Thomas Peters
  • Ch. 11 – Shawn Carney
  • Conclusion by Brandon Vogt
  • Afterword by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York

The foreword and afterword are both written by blogging archbishops who take the new media very seriously and are leading the Church in the U.S. in this respect as successors to the Apostles.  I have particularly enjoyed Archbishop Dolan’s blog and have forwarded several of his posts to friends and family in the past.

Below, I will give one to three sentences on each chapter and a snippet of my favorite paragraph from that particular author.  The book also contains a wealth of sidebars featuring various Catholic new media profiles and projects.

In the book’s introduction, Brandon Vogt gifts us with a crash-course in the history leading up to the advent of the new media.

“The Church can’t change her responses to Gutenberg’s printing press, the radio, or the television; they are forever fixed in history. But at the onset of this digital revolution, her response to New Media is wide open.”

Fr. Robert Barron recounts his own experience of engaging young adults (particularly agnostic men) via the commenting feature on YouTube.  His dialogue with the unchurched in this manner is simply fascinating.

“Since I can respond to these postings, I have an opportunity I would have in no other way, namely, to engage people who would never dream of coming to any of the institutions of the Catholic Church.  Though some of my interlocutors are simply thoughtless or obscene, many of them are sincere seekers who, perhaps to their great surprise, find themselves in dialogue with a priest in regard to some of the deepest questions.”

Jennifer Fulwiler gives her conversion story from atheism to Catholicism, which was due largely to the witness of the online Catholic community.

“Reading Catholic bloggers’ explanations of this odd faith of theirs helped me understand it even more than the books I read: the blog posts were much shorter and easier to digest than the heavy books I was slogging through, and the ability to ask questions and receive a quick answer via the comment form allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of concepts that confused me.  Through these interactions over my computer screen, I slowly came to see that the Church had a vast body of knowledge under its hood and that its reasoning for even the craziest-sounding doctrines was impeccable.  In fact, I was starting to believe that it was the most reasonable believe system I’d ever encountered.”

Marcel LeJeune wakens us to the alarming reality of a post-Catholic age wherein only 15% of Catholic Millennials go to Mass regularly.  He recounts the astounding success that St. Mary Catholic Student Center has had at Texas A&M University and how this campus ministry is using the new media successfully.

“While many parishes and ministries might be behind in using New Media, we must quickly gain back the ground we have lost in the electronic mission fields.  These are valuable tools, which bring unprecedented access to our fingertips at the press of a button.  New Media uniquely gives the Church new opportunities to evangelize more people, especially the young.  This is our call.  We must answer this challenge, or we will lose the Millennial Generation.”

Mark Shea tells of his experience as an avid blogger and gives practical tips on how to start up your own blog.

“Now, with the advent of the blogosphere, I had an even broader forum – one that could reach anybody in the world with access to the Internet.  And best of all, it was a forum where I could interact with my readers, getting feedback, argument, agreement, correction, new information, and new ideas for articles in real time.”

Taylor Marshall, a former Episcopal priest, encourages blogging by telling of his own experience of bringing the Apostolic Tradition into the flow of new media.  In this way, the wisdom of the Early Church Fathers is made known via flatscreen monitors and tablets.

“In short, we are allowing the Church Fathers to do something new – we are allowing the Church Fathers to do something new – we are allowing the Church Fathers to “go viral” through the electronic media.  Their voices come alive again, and their words are read and heard by millions.  As a Catholic author and blogger, I see myself as a research analyst.  My task is to connect the right question to the right answer from the heart of the Church.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I think.  It matters what the Church teaches.”

Father Dwight Longenecker, like Mark Shea and Taylor Marshall, shares timely wisdom regarding how to blog well from a Catholic standpoint.

“When I receive a comment from the Philippines clarifying a point I made, thanking me for a post, and asking for prayer, I’m sharing in the work of the apostles.  When a reader from Brazil asks me to pray for his dying mother and seeks comfort from a priest, I’m able to respond and offer what help I can.  When a teenager from Wisconsin who is struggling with same-sex attraction wants to talk, I can spend a few moments with him while connecting him with a counselor in a nearby town.  When an Anglican priest in England writes to tell me that he was received into full communion with the Catholic Church, and that my blog helped guide the way, I have cause to rejoice.  Or when an evangelical student asks if he can stop by to see me and he’s traveling through my state, and he ends up becoming a Catholic and heading off to seminary, I realize that the blog may be a hungry beast, but it is also an amazing and indescribable beauty.”

Scot Landry describes the numerous new media efforts that the Archdiocese of Boston has undertaken.  His chapter, in particular, instigated a holy jealousy in my heart as a fellow diocesan representative engaged in the new media and evangelization.  Scot gives the “7 E’s” of his office’s work: educate, encourage, expose excellence, evaluate, execute, extend, and evangelize.

“At a minimum, I encourage dioceses to dedicate at least one full-time person to New Media.  It is important that someone rises each morning with the priority of furthering the use of New Media for evangelization and communication.  This task will not be fully accomplished if it is assigned to someone with an already full plate.  Practically speaking, small dioceses could have one person overseeing this at first, while larger dioceses likely need a team to serve all their parishes and ministries.”

Matt Warner stakes out the elephant in the room, which is that parish staff members are often afraid of the new media, particularly social media.  He then takes down the elephant with a healthy dose of encouragement with numerous great, pithy recommendations.  He also shamelessly plugs his Catholic new media communications tool at flockNote.com – which is an innovative, largely necessary, and incredible communications platform that I recommend for all parishes.

“In this age, your parish website is often the first (and sometimes last) impression a visitor has of your parish.  For simply practical purposes, if somebody can’t find your website, you don’t exist.  On top of that, if your website looks terrible, it’s a poor reflection upon how well your parish is run and how seriously it takes its mission.  Right or wrong, that’s how people are judging your parish right now.  Your website matters.”

Lisa Hendey retells of how she founded CatholicMom.com and the phenomenal community it has grown into.  Her chapter announces the blessing that online community can and should be, if accomplished well.

“A wise media friend told me years ago, “Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.”  In building and fostering online communities, we must always remember that our goal is real relationships, based in trust and mutual respect.  My personal experience has taught me that our world is increasingly interconnected, thanks to today’s technology, which often produces a “six degrees of separation” phenomenon that results in online contacts becoming “real world” friends.”

Thomas Peters is a successful online activist, working for CatholicVote.org.  In the tenth chapter, he gives the blueprint for successful online Catholic activism via 3 principles: faith, unity, and numbers.  His anecdotal evidence is fun to read, and he provides readers with 5 easy steps to engage in online activism.  You’ll have to purchase the book to find out what they are.

“New Media — the user-generated virtual world of Facebook, Twitter, and other social communications — creates the perfect, even playing field for Catholics to communicate the Good News. And when we face opposition, New Media enables us to break through that resistance by proclaiming the Gospel articulately, loudly, and in unison. Unlike traditional media, there are no gatekeepers on the Internet and social-media sites. There is only the ongoing search for meaning — the quest for that tiny mustard seed which develops into faith.”

Shawn Carney co-founded the national pro-life phenomenon of 40 Days for Life.  In the eleventh and final chapter, Shawn describes how this incredible movement grew through the successful utilization of the new media.

“In previous generations, social movements were slowly grown by word of mouth. Occasionally, some movements used newspaper accounts, expensive paid advertising, or public service announcements. But in today’s world, New Media tools allow the Church to rapidly rally large groups of Catholics to bring about a better society. In her promotion of the common good, the Church can use these powerful tools to build thriving movements of faith.”

In his conclusion to the book, Brandon Vogt points out the negative effects/trends of the new media and how the Church can respond effectively. Whether it be shallow relationships, information overload, narcissism, or relativism, Brandon encourages us to counteract these trends with the wisdom and treasures of our precious faith. He then moves on to highlight future positive trends, which are fascinating!

“It has never been easier, quicker, or cheaper to explain the truths of Christianity than it is today, a realization that should excite all those charged with teaching the faith.”

You should purchase and read this book because:

  1. It will educate you regarding the scope of the new media and how it can be brought to bear, in practical fashion, in ministry and apostolate work.
  2. It will give you solid resources to turn to.  As you read the book, have your web browser open nearby so you can visit and bookmark the many links it provides throughout.
  3. It will inspire you to engage the new media.  You will receive new ideas and inspirations, such as I did; thanks especially to Scot Landry’s Chapter 7!  (Scott, I’ve already started a Facebook group of new media savvy parishioners in the Diocese of Sacramento to advise and assist me, and it’s growing daily.)

The one missing link in the book is a chapter on how a particular parish is using New Media well, if you discount Chapter 3, which recounts my own alma mater, St. Mary’s Catholic Student Center – a “campus ministry” parish that ministers to the students and staff of Texas A&M University.  I would have enjoyed a chapter demonstrating how a city, suburban or rural parish has used the new media successfully.  Perhaps this is a call for a sequel – “Parishes and the New Media”?

I’ll finish this review by posting the official book [video] trailer for your viewing enjoyment:

Go view the book’s official website at ChurchandNewMedia.com