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9 Ways Catholics Can Help from Home During the Coronavirus (Besides Donating Money)

Posted on Apr 6, 2020

hands and Bible

By Dave Plisky

What an unexpected Lent we have had. Going into Holy Week, we find ourselves wondering how we can give to others while sequestered in our homes.

It seems like everyone wants monetary donations. And while we’re doing our best to remember the Lord’s words that He will provide, many of us are operating on significantly reduced incomes.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”
Matthew 6:25

Instead, let us pick ourselves up from the emotional rut of isolation and think about how we might serve those around us.

May you use the gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you.
St. Teresa of Avila

  1. First of all, Stay home. Stop the spread. Doing so keeps you from unknowingly contracting the virus from other sources, and from spreading it yourself. But what if you aren’t sick, or you plan to go out without coming into contact with anyone else? There is still a risk: people who contract COVID-19 typically don’t show symptoms for 3-14 days, and some never show symptoms at all.
  2. Now, set your sights on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Creative interpretations are welcome!

  3. Stop hoarding. It’s okay to have enough—and there are some things you’ll want to stock up on, such as disinfectant wipes. But don’t buy so much that others are deprived of groceries and other essential items. Some people are actually having a hard time finding toilet paper because of the hysteria.
  4. Start praying. [Pray for the living and the dead.] Those affected by the virus need your prayers. Pray for the elderly, for the poor, for the uninsured, for those who have tested positive, for their families and loved ones. Pray for the medical workers on the front lines. Pray for priests celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass alone. Pray for those in isolation, for the homeless, for those with mental health challenges, for those stuck away from home, for families with young children at home, for those out of work, for those with other health conditions. Pray for the repose of the souls of the departed. Ask the Great Physician for healing. Appeal to the saints. Pray.
  5. Donate health care supplies. [“Visit” the sick.”] Your local hospital or other health care facilities may be short on supplies that you have. Visiting is probably out of the question, so consider donating extra personal protective equipment that you may have bought in excess or simply have lying around. Your local shelter may be another service in need. Consider donating extra cleaning supplies or hand sanitizer if you have them.
  6. Host healthcare workers. [Shelter the “homeless.”] If you have a home where you would feel comfortable offering a portion of it to those on the front lines, consider listing it on Airbnb. Those treating patients every day are overworked and often can’t commute home, either because there is no time, or they are volunteering from out of town. Airbnb has responded by making it free for them to find a place to stay.
  7. Call your loved ones. [Comfort the afflicted.] Everyone is going through an unprecedented level of isolation and, often, anxiety and fear. Friends and family are no exception—and quite possibly the ones who count on you and need you the most in this time of crisis. Be there for them. Video chat is easier than ever before, and it can make someone’s day to hear your voice and see your face.
  8. paper and penReach out to an elderly person. [“Visit” the sick.] The elderly being cared for in a home are especially susceptible to coronavirus outbreaks, and as a result, loved ones are generally not able to visit. You are also likely to have people at your parish who are confined indoors by illness or disability. If you think it sounds overly romanticized to send snail mail, think again. Something is conveyed in a physical, hand-written letter that you don’t achieve in other forms of communication. Are you better on the phone? A kind voice can make a person’s day. Speak to your pastor about contact information for those unable to leave their homes, and check in on them.
  9. Write to someone in prison. [“Visit” the imprisoned.] Those in prison are isolated from society. If we think quarantine is difficult, imagine years of this. There are ways to let the incarcerated know you are thinking of them, even from home. If you don’t know someone in prison, websites like WriteAPrisoner.com can put you in touch with inmates seeking correspondence. They even have a designation for those who are Catholic. Sister Helena Prejean has published tips on writing to the imprisoned here.
  10. Be an example to others. [Instruct the ignorant.] As Christians, we are often not choosing between doing evil and doing good, but rather we are choosing between two goods. Unless you live alone, your family will see how you are choosing to spend your time in service of others. It is in these silent moments of charity that we are Christ’s best evangelizers. This virus might be XX times more contagious than the flu, but I believe virtue is contagious, too. Practice the gift of love and watch as others do more of the same.

If you do feel comfortable going outside, or if you’re stepping out anyway (of course taking the necessary precautions), your elderly neighbors may still need things picked up or dropped off for them, including essentials like groceries, medication, and laundry. Check in on your neighborhood and see how you can help. It doesn’t have to involve any contact.

Or, text your pastor and see if he needs help around the parish. With a reduced offertory, he may have been forced to cut some non-critical expenses. Maybe he’s got an outdoor maintenance project for you, such as mowing the lawn. He is probably overwhelmed. A helping hand will always be appreciated.

+++

We receive when we give. We love the Lord when we see Him in others and love them too. We love through charity—an outpouring of oneself. Be a person for others.

Watch Mass from home and continue to partake in spiritual communion. Even while physically away from one another and Christ Himself in the Eucharist, it is important that we offer up the sacrifice of the Mass to Him. Hopefully, your parish is streaming live Mass daily. If it is not, and you’re in the Diocese of Brooklyn, give us a call. We’re ready to help.

Hallow Your Lent, Find Peace in Prayer

Posted on Mar 23, 2020

In these uncertain and strange times, many Catholics find themselves in particular need of pastoral guidance and care as many dioceses have canceled public Masses due to the spread of COVID-19. Regular prayer groups and routines have been disrupted, and our prayer life may be disrupted. One app that is uniquely equipped to meet this need is Hallow.

In 2018, five young Notre Dame alumni founded a startup to help young Catholics practice meditative prayer. In our overcrowded schedules and noisy, busy world, meditation apps—like Headspace, Calm, One Giant Mind—have proliferated. These meditation apps walk users through physical and mental exercises of relaxation. 

Hallow provides Christian meditation, which doesn’t just provide us with mental health, but with relationship, a way of carving out space in our day to spend with God. Time spent with God gives a peace that the world—or any meditation app—cannot give.

During this time of uncertainty, Hallow is offering their premium content for free for three months and piloting remote community connections, so that Catholics looking for consistency and community in their prayer lives can access their content.

I sat down with two members of the founding team—Bryan Enriquez, head of customer engagement, success, and community; and Alessandro DiSanto, head of growth, who also leads educational partnerships, and multi-channel marketing efforts.

****

De Sales: So tell us a bit about Hallow: who are you? And how have you grown?

Alessandro DiSanto: Hallow is a Catholic meditation app that helps users deepen their relationship with God through contemplative prayer; helping both those new to prayer and those with existing prayer routines discover new forms of prayers. Hallow tries to bring ancient—but sometimes forgotten— forms of contemplative prayers into our everyday lives. Hallow also seeks to reach out to others who may not have a natural connection with the Church or may have fallen away from practicing faith. Finally, Hallow reaches those who are looking for the peace and focus that they may have found in secular meditation apps and offers them a focus on spiritual growth.

Bryan Enriquez: “Hallow” means to sanctify or make holy. Hallow is seeking to make our time and our days holy. We’re not the institutional Church, but we are the Church, the Body of Christ. As laity, we asked, what role can we play? 

Sometimes Catholics think: “I’m not a priest, I can’t make that much of an impact. But you CAN make an impact. We’re all called to spread the word of Christ in many different forms. We can inspire other people. And that’s how Hallow aims to inspire the Body of Christ. 

Hallow was born out of a call. Each of us felt called to do this. We were each ordinary young professionals going about our lives, asking purpose-related questions. We did not know that contemplative prayer existed. But Hallow really was the fruit of a prayerful discernment: to quit our jobs and follow the call to start a contemplative prayer app.

 

DS: Who are the Hallow listeners? What is the growth you’ve done in the past year? 

AD: We’re about evenly split across three age ranges: 18-35; 35-55, and 55+. We have a strong group of Catholic listeners, but our top user is a non-Catholic, an Evangelical Protestant. Some of our top users are Presbyterians, Lutherans, even self-described agnostics. 

BE: Our users are an ecumenical, global group: we have users in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and over 50 other countries. Since we launched the app in December of 2018, Hallow has been downloaded over 150,000 times.

AD:  We’re the #1 Catholic app in the Apple App Store! 

DS: Studies show us that phones increase our distractibility and decrease our attention spans. How do you make Hallow something that enables relationships and not a distraction?

BE: We believe in meeting people where they are. The one place where people definitely are is on their phones. If Jesus had waited at the temple, he would have never found the fisherman.

We’ve designed the app intentionally to disappear. We want you to close your eyes and forget about the phone and just be present in prayer. To that end, we’ve designed the app so that there’s nothing visual. In meditations, we don’t include the words of Scripture, we don’t include scripts or text in any part of the app.

When you open Hallow, you just hit the play button and then can distance yourself from the phone. The physical device in front of you is not important, rather we put the focus on the interior truth that is opening up to you. Like when Elijah goes up to the mountain and hears God in the still, small breeze. In Christian meditation, we’re not just seeking silence, but the voice that speaks to us in the silence. It’s a two-way conversation. 

DS: What are your 2020 goals?

AD: We have a couple big goals for 2020. Content-wise, by the end of 2020, we hope to have the majority of content in Spanish to serve the bilingual Latinx community in the USA and beyond. We also plan to continue to build out our sleep-focused content, which allows users to wind down with night with God.

As for growth, we hope to develop our relationships with schools and parishes more. We’re developing programs to support Catholic school teachers in the classroom with Hallow App materials. Mental and spiritual health are two huge challenges for the younger generations and we want to support them in strengthening both. 

BE: We are growing our community services for Hallow. We’re offering our first Hallow Retreat this summer. We’re reaching out to Catholic apostolates to build our affiliates programs. The affiliates program offers special benefits to group members. Any organizations that might be interested, should contact us! We’re always looking to expand our community and support others. 

A key group of communities that we’re partnering with is parishes. We want to partner with parishes, support their work, and help them grow their faith community in their own way. We’ve created parish kits for parishes to market Hallow to parishes.

And we’re working on group content such as women’s and men’s groups, young adult prayer hours, and bible studies which can be done in person or over the phone. When conducting research, we found the two main barriers we found to faith leaders feeling confident leading a prayer group were: “I don’t have the time” and “I don’t have the words.” Leading groups in prayer can be challenging, and we’re offering the resources to others to lead them. They can be made available by emailing me directly: bryan@hallow.app

This includes our first session which is called the Saints Pack, which features nine sessions of content that each focus on the life of a different Saint and is modeled after our Saints challenge in the app. 

DS: What is Hallow Doing for Lent?

AD: This year we’re offering the Pray 40 Challenge – 40 individual sessions for every day of Lent. We’re not going to go through Lent alone, but as a community. During Lent, we’re committing, with the Church, to a daily prayer habit to help us not only grow closer with God, but to develop a healthy relationship with technology.

***

I asked some of Hallow’s staff to share their Lenten disciplines, and here’s what they had to say. 

Alessandro DiSanto 

“Taking only cold showers. Dying to myself a little bit every day helps keep me focused that we are not made to seek only comfort in this world.”

 Bryan Enriquez

“In addition to giving up alcohol and taking lukewarm, quick showers, I’m committing to saying a quick prayer before I get to bed and right when I wake up, and devoting time twice a week to praying in a group outside of Mass.” 

Erich Kerekes

“I’m giving up meat entirely until Easter (This is a big thing for me, I grill out almost every night!) and committing to fasting on Fridays beyond just fasting from meat. I’m trying to not eat anything at all until dinner or around sunset. Additionally, I’m committing to at least 20 minutes of prayer every day, with a particular focus on listening to God and spending time in silence.” 

Alex Jones

“In addition to committing to daily mass, meditation, and holy hours, I’m fasting entirely on Wednesdays or Fridays, unless I share a meal with someone who’s experiencing homelessness or poverty.”

**** 

 A sample of a recent week of Hallow’s Lenten programming includes: Meditating on the works of Mercy, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, Mother Teresa’s spirituality, Stations of the Cross and meditations on caring for others or Works of Mercy, the Sorrowful Mysteries, praying with Mother Teresa and so much more! 

 You can easily share Hallow’s content with your community, parish, or faith group with the email template the Hallow team has created here.

To meet the needs of those self-quarantining and social distancing, Hallow has curated a “Stuck at Home” Praylist: the “Stuck at Home” praylist features prayers focused on trust, healing, and trusting in God’s will. You can foster your prayer life by praying with the Hallow Community on Facebook Live each day at 9p ET (and 11a ET on Sundays). 

Download the Hallow app to join the #Pray40 community and journey with others through this desert of uncertainty together. Despite these strange times, we at DeSales pray your Lent continues to be a holy journey through the desert with Jesus. And that Christ, the Great Physician, keeps you and yours in good health and happiness!

Parish Ministry During Coronavirus

Posted on Mar 16, 2020

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is making headlines across the world, making waves in the global economy and disrupting social patterns across the world. As it begins its spread throughout the United States, our lives closer to home have been changing. Many US Catholics have been following the news of quarantines and lockdowns in China, Italy, and throughout Europe and the Middle East. Throughout the past weeks, we have extended our sympathy for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering across the world and we continue to pray in solidarity with them.

Now, as cities and dioceses in the United States begin to escalate social distancing measures, such as closing schools and canceling Masses, our solidarity with other Catholics is taking on a more concrete shape. In this time of uncertainty, many people are wondering how to respond.

“Build Each Other Up”

In times of pandemic, we have an additional moral imperative to focus our attention on the most vulnerable in our communities. A quick study of the death counts in the United States reveals that the highest concentration of deaths has occurred in Washington State. Of those, the majority have occurred at Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, a nursing home outside Seattle. Clearly, the elderly are the most at risk.

The elderly, those with chronic illness, those whose health is compromised—these are the populations that are most vulnerable to coronavirus and need our attention and our ministerial concern. During this crisis, we have to make our choices not just with our own health in mind, but the health of the entire Body of Christ, particularly those who do not have the same strength, health or ability as ourselves. As Paul writes to the Romans: “It is good not to […] do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble” (Romans 14:21).

During this uncertain time, we should act with the goal of strengthening others and refrain from acting in a way that could potentially harm one of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, with this in mind, how can Catholic churches minister to the most vulnerable among us?

This past weekend, major cities and states across the United States followed the lead of the Italian, South Korean, and the Japanese governments to ban public gatherings. Catholic bishops throughout the United States have followed suit by canceling Masses and lifting the Sunday Mass obligation. Catholic churches around the globe have accommodated these closures by streaming Mass online to their parishes. The Archdiocese of Seattle has followed suit by suspending Mass in the diocese indefinitely. 

Seeing the Vulnerable in Our Midst

While it’s true that nothing can replace the physical gathering of the people of God to worship in the liturgy, this crisis is calling each Catholic in affected areas to a deeper solidarity with the Body of Christ. This crisis is highlighting how many Catholics already lack access to Sunday Mass and are not guaranteed the Eucharist each Sunday.

In many regions around the world, the lack of priests means that Catholics do not have regular access to the sacraments. In certain countries, government or social persecution of Catholics means that Catholics cannot attend Mass or take great risks to attend Mass.

But, even closer to home, in our own neighborhoods, many elderly men and women, the homebound, those who lack public transportation or access to priests, or those who work for companies who do not allow them to take Sundays off already cannot make it to Mass on Sundays.

Besides lobbying for stronger rights for workers—a longstanding tradition of Catholic Social Teaching—one avenue through which parishes have reached out to these parishioners are live streams of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on their websites.

When parishioners are homebound or quarantined, your online presence can be a ministry to reach out to your parishioners. Sending messages to your parish members via mass email or voicemail, uploading homilies to your site, and live-streaming Masses are all important ministries through which parishioners can connect with the church community remotely.

Meeting the Need Online

One parish in our own home diocese of Brooklyn and Queens offers a ministry to the elderly in its community. On an earlier generation of our parish website software, St. Mel’s of Flushing, Queens initiated live streaming of their daily and Sunday Masses. Since it launched six months ago, St. Mel’s live-stream Mass page has received over 2,000 unique visitors. Recently, it became the third-most visited page on the site, trailing behind only the home page and the bulletin.

Although we are currently caring for one another by keeping physically distant, the Church—parishes, pastors, and the laity—still has a mission to be Christ’s body in the world and gather together the people of God. As such, we have to reach out to our neighbor, to care for one another, to make one another feel welcome.

During the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis, we invite you to take this time to consider how you could reach out through your website, social media, or other digital channels not only to fellow Catholics but to all your digital and physical neighbors who find themselves looking for the peace the world cannot give.

Unleash the Gospel with Edmundo Reyes

Posted on Mar 9, 2020

DeSales Media is working to bring new tools to diocesan communications departments throughout the country. One of the dioceses that has blown us away with its holistic program of digital and personal evangelization is the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

Their evangelization movement, Unleash the Gospel, works to bring out the hope and faith of the faithful in the diocese, to create a positive spirit and image around Catholicism in the Archdiocese of Detroit. This positive spirit is a burst of fresh life not only to the Archdiocese but beyond. 

To tap into the positive spirit, DeSales teamed up with the Archdiocese’s Communications Team to host the first-ever Catholic Leadership Summit entitled “Marketing for the Church.” Our idea was to get some of the most innovative thinkers of the church in America together in a room to discuss what’s working and what’s not, how to troubleshoot, and how to collaborate going forward.

We’re grateful for its success. Because of the summit, tangible collaborations have kicked off, a renewed spirit of missionary discipleship is rekindled, and we’re already thinking about planning for next year.

We sat down to talk down with Edmundo Reyes, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit. Edmundo’s energy and enthusiasm are absolutely infectious.

Edmundo has been with the Archdiocese of Detroit as the Director of Communications for almost two years now. Anyone who sits down for even a brief conversation with Edmundo can see that he is full of missionary spirit and zeal for the work of spreading God’s word in the diocese. Edmundo shares with us some insights from the Archdiocese of Detroit’s initiative to unleash a new Pentecost in their diocese and become a more dynamic, outward-facing Church.

***

DeSales Media: How did Unleash the Gospel begin? What was its origin point?

Edmundo Reyes: Unleash the Gospel is a movement that had its origins in March of 2014 with the announcement of a Year of Prayer in the Archdiocese of Detroit. This Year of Prayer was announced in preparation for Synod 16. 

The archdiocese had been closing parishes, so we responded with prayer and a syond. We took a full year to pray for a new Pentecost, a renewal of faith, in the diocese. Over the course of the year leading up to Synod 16, we had Talking and Listening sessions with laypeople and clergy all over the archdiocese.

After learning from and listening to our diocesan members over the course of the year, Archbishop Vigneron published the initial pastoral letter “Unleash the Gospel” in June 2017. 

DS: What prompted this year of prayer and pastoral letter?

ER: We saw the archdiocese needed to move from maintenance to mission. The natural state of a diocese ought to be one of growth—not maintenance, but growth—if we’re not growing, expanding, spreading the Gospel, we’re not doing what God asked us to do.

An important milestone in our movement was the Mass for Pardon. We asked forgiveness as a community, for pardon for the institutional sins of the Catholic Church in Detroit. It wouldn’t have been possible for us to move into this mission phase without these two events—the year of prayer and the Mass for Pardon. Our movement is not based on ingenuity and savviness, but on the work of God. We depend upon the work of God to do the work of the diocese.

DS: And then how was the full movement of Unleash the Gospel born?

ER: We call the pastoral letter a “roadmap of the missionary confirmation.” It’s not just a strategic plan, but a roadmap and a call. Unleash the Gospel is a movement that we join: there are no bystanders—everyone needs to do their part in this mission. And there’s work that needs to be done right now.  We wanted to change the narrative of the diocese, and this letter created a roadmap to health for the diocese.

We want to build a movement of people who care so deeply that they are willing to do something. The letter was not just about amplifying the work of the archbishop but a call to build a movement. The letter articulated our core principles. To build a movement, you need to start from these core principles to gain momentum. You build a movement from the center out. You start from the center, from people who are already tuned in and move from there. 

Our movement, our second Pentecost, is modeled off of the first Pentecost. If we want to ignite a new Pentecost, we have to grow it organically. We have to invest in the people already in the movement and then deploy them to reach out to the broader community.

DS: What were some key communications strategies to launch this movement?

ER: One thing we emphasize is that vocabulary matters, semantics matter. When we talk about the pastoral letter, we talk about it as a roadmap. Think of the difference between the phrases “document implemented” versus a “roadmap for a movement.” One is dynamic, directional, and motivational. The other is sterile and formal—it lacks direction.

In November 2018, we launched Detroit Catholic, the Catholic newspaper for the diocese. In January 2019, we turned Detroit Catholic into an online-only news site. And, in January 2019, we launched Unleash the Gospel Magazine.

DS: Why the switch to the magazine?

ER: Detroit Catholic is a news site, and Unleash the Gospel magazine is a lifestyle publication. We wanted to create the Unleash the Gospel magazine as a lifestyle publication for the wider Unleash the Gospel brand. 

We think of a “brand” as communication that moves across channels—the newsletter, social media, website, and magazine. We have built infrastructures to develop the brands and execute them across different channels. We distribute the 90,000 magazines in the archdiocese (which we print every two months). The core lifestyle identity that we’re promoting is that of a joyful missionary disciple.

DS: How did you think about “branding” or “rebranding” the diocese?

ER: We created a brand framework just the way consumer products develop brands. A brand is not just a product. People get tattoos of their favorite brands, not because they just love their products, but because these brands are emblematic of a certain identity, community or lifestyle. So we wanted to present Catholicism as a lifestyle brand. Catholic identity is not a product you can buy, it’s a way of life that gives you something—an identity and a community—but asks something of you.

Everything in our digital spaces, our social media and our online magazine promote our brand identity—being a joyful missionary disciple. 

DS: What are some core principles of lifestyle branding?

ER: Lifestyle branding is made of four key components: identity, community, practical advice, and inspiration/aspiration. For example, when I was living in Minneapolis, I watched a friend run a marathon, and I told my wife afterward that I wanted to run a marathon. In order to do this, I had to start from scratch, as I was not a runner. So I subscribed to Runner’s World

Runner’s World offered identity—being a runner. The magazine never includes the word “jogging.” Semantics matter, the vocabulary you use to talk about yourself definitely matters. Second, Runner’s World creates a community of readers and subscribers joined around one common interest. Third, it offered practical advice to equip you with the practical needs that you need to become that identity. So, for Runner’s World, I learned how to get shoes, training, cool down, and what to eat. Finally, perhaps most importantly, it provides inspiration for aspirational new goals.

DS: Who is the core audience for Unleash the Gospel?

ER: Unleash the Gospel is the “big umbrella brand” for the movement. The UTG magazine is our channel for reaching the core members of the movement. We see families as core of the movement rather than parish professionals or ministers, because they are the lifeblood of the new evangelization. Our magazine is designed to reach families and the “domestic church” in the archdiocese.

For 2020, we’ve launched 52 Sundays, a dynamic guide that helps families reclaim the Lord’s Day with prayers, suggested family activities, recipes for Sunday dinner, and more.

DS: What would you recommend to other dioceses seeking to emulate your success?

ER: First: we always begin in prayer and humility. We do this for the glory of God. Second, we all need to up our game. The expectations of the American public for media they consume are high. We cannot afford to be mediocre. If we want to get the attention of our parishes, our diocese, of the wider public, we have to put out a product that looks slick, professional, and communicates our serious, high standards. 

The thing about the Church in the twenty-first century is that we’re competing for people’s attention, and we’re competing against people’s attention. The competition is selling lifestyles. We could be the best diocese in the country, but we’re competing with the professional lifestyle brands of top clothing brands, car companies, or tech companies. There’s so much thrown at people all the time that our message and brand need to stand out.

Because of this, we need to create products of the highest professional quality. There’s so much being thrown at people all the time. We have to create something that is consistent and professional. They’re selling them lifestyles, but we’re giving them something more.

So, our strategy is simple. We work hard to put out good work. We can only do that if we’re investing the numbers in this work, if we’re committing to it financially. We have, to my understanding, the largest team of marketing professionals of any diocese in the country. We changed our hiring policy to start hiring specialists, rather than generalists. Instead of having a small team of generalists, we have a large team of highly specialized workers. We needed expertise rather than general knowledge.

If you have a smaller team, that doesn’t mean you can’t do great things. Just do less—and do it really well. A small output from your diocese’s communications office that is really well done is better than a lot of content that is mediocre. That said, we communicate our own values to others by how we do things. There definitely needs to be an investment from leadership that matches the investment of our time and resources. I see very few dioceses investing in marketing in a significant way.

Finally, we need to not be afraid of change or failure. We need more courage in our dioceses to be bold and innovative, and trust that God will provide and guide, to operate less with fear, and more with apostolic boldness.

 

****

 

We’re grateful to Edmundo for his time and for sitting down to talk with us. We highly recommend you explore Unleash the Gospel’s spectacular website and get inspired to start a movement of your own!

 

All images courtesy of Unleash the Gospel/Archdiocese of Detroit

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Preparing Our Hearts for Lent at DeSales

Posted on Feb 24, 2020

Ash Wednesday Woman Lent

 

By Renée Roden

It may seem like Christmas just passed, but Lent is now upon us—Ash Wednesday is just two short days away!

If you’re looking for ways to grow in faith and prepare your heart for Easter throughout the forty days of Lent, or if you’re looking for some needed inspiration for Lenten disciplines or resolutions: read on.

Do Nothing

Our friends at the Jesuit Post recently wrote a post recommending “doing nothing” for Lent.

But how to “do nothing?”

“Doing nothing” doesn’t mean procrastinating or spending time in sweatpants on the couch with video games. Rather, “doing nothing” means making some space in our day to be quiet. In a way, “doing nothing” is making a tithe of our time to give back to God. We don’t have to cram every minute of our days with “doing”; we can save some of it for just “being.”

The other day, I was walking from store to store running errands. There were long lines at each store, and I spent most of my time in line sweating with impatience and tapping my foot.

While sweating and balancing groceries in the Whole Foods line, I thought of that exhortation to “do nothing.”

While it’s definitely annoying when we’re held up by unexpected obstacles or things going slower than planned, I realized that my frustration, rather than the wait itself, was really what was causing me to “waste time.”

It can be hard to see our time as a gift from God and not simply as twenty-four hours for our own personal use. But when I start seeing my time as a gift, I can accept an unexpected interruption with patience and gratitude.

Sometimes “doing nothing” means being okay with wasting time, or going more slowly than expected. It can mean allowing ourselves to be interrupted, taking an extra few minutes for prayer, or slowing down to have time to really listen to our family and friends.

This Lent, I’m hoping to grow in gratitude—for the time that I get each day, even if that time ends up going in a way I didn’t plan. Through treating all my time as a gift, I can practice accepting sometimes “wasting time” or “doing nothing” with God.

Study Up!

As a season of preparation and repentance, Lent is an excellent time to brush up on your Catholic book smarts. As we grow closer to Christ on our walk of faith, we both have to foster a relationship with God in prayer and also a mature understanding of the core beliefs of our faith.

You could read an encyclical, join a scripture study, attend a theology on tap series, or pick up some extra spiritual reading.

Lent is also a great time to engage young children in the stories of the Bible that are being lived out on a macro scale, as we journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Children can follow the Exodus narrative that tells the story of Passover and read the stories of Christ’s Passion in the Gospels.

To promote this liturgical living among young students in the Diocese of Brooklyn, DeSales’ Catholic Telemedia Network is providing a rich resource of educational videos to the parish schools and Catholic academies throughout the diocese.

These videos explain Christ’s Paschal Mystery (or Passion), the reason for the season. It offers lessons on parables of repentance and forgiveness, Lenten imagery, and offers age-appropriate ideas for Lenten disciplines.

It’s a great reminder that as we grow in our faith and as we gain new knowledge of our faith, we need to pass it on to others and pay it forward—especially to the younger members of our Church!

Grow in Love

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

If you grew up Catholic, that’s a common question you’re probably pretty used to answering. Sometimes we can get so used to it, however, that we forget the reason we do it.

Lenten disciplines aren’t about punishing ourselves, and they aren’t about dieting, self-actualization, or achieving fitness goals. Our Lenten sacrifices are made to grow in love of God and in love of our neighbor.

Stripping our lives of some day-to-day comfort: music in the car—Netflix before bed, dessert after dinner—disrupts our hearts and minds and jolts us into a new awareness. The goal is that, over 40 days, we let that new awareness lead us to pay more attention to God speaking to us throughout the day and to the people around us who need our patience, love, and kindness.

As Dave pointed out in our last post on the DeSales Exodus 90 Fraternity, the goal of the Exodus 90 program is not to make extreme sacrifices in order to become stronger or tougher. The goal of the program is to free the participants so that they can find more joy in their friendships and community—so that they can love better. The goal of asceticism is always love.

I asked some of the DeSales team what their Lenten practices were going to be this year. As you can see below, their answers are heartfelt and inspirational examples of striving to love God and others. Hopefully some of their practices can inspire you as you set your own!

“During Lent, to help me grow closer to God and break free from specific sins I struggle with, I give up wearing makeup, worrying, and meat.”

Alexandra Piña, Senior Manager, Programming

“Each Lent, I coach a Little League Team. The kids are the cutest; I love my little friends.”

Katie Tamola, Social Media Manager

(Watch Katie in action and learn more about Peter Stuyvesant Little League here!)

“Throughout Lent, I want to give up my ego by practicing a different way of being humble each day. And I’ll be keeping my prayer life strong by participating in Hallow App’s Lenten Prayer Challenge, #Pray40.”

Dave Plisky, Director of Product & Innovation

“Not judging. While I don’t consider myself a judgmental person, it’s pretty amazing to realize that some even day-to-day thoughts/words/interactions can be rooted in the judgment of others. It’s an exercise in being more mindful of my words and thoughts.”

Tricia Ang, Account Supervisor

“This year, thanks to the Exodus 90 program, in which I’m already abstaining from meat and alcohol, my approach will be “to give” something. Probably giving my time (of which I’m really jealous), by helping out or volunteering more.”

Israel Ochoa, Creative Manager

“I give up coffee every Lenten season (not having my morning coffee is a sacrifice), and dealing with me without my morning coffee is worse. I’ve done it for the past few years. On Easter, I get back to drinking coffee, forget to have decaf, and can’t sleep Easter night. Happens every year!”

JoAnn DiNapoli, Director of Sales

Here’s to growing in love this Lentlove for our families, coworkers, neighbors, and for God.

The DeSales Exodus 90 Journey: Part I

Posted on Feb 10, 2020

 

This winter, a few members of DeSales Media started an Exodus 90 fraternity. Exodus 90 is a program for men that originated at a seminary in Indiana. A priest met with a small group of seminarians for faith formation and saw that the men under his care were suffering from spiritual enslavements and feelings of isolation. This priest created a program of prayer and discipline for the seminarians that evolved into the program now known as Exodus 90.

As soon as I heard that members of DeSales Media were starting a fraternity, I was intrigued. So I sat down with Dave Plisky, Director of Product & Innovation, to ask about his experience. Exodus 90 is a ninety-day program built on three pillars: prayer, asceticism, and fraternity. The really attention-grabbing hook of Exodus 90 is the long list of items to be given up for three months in the name of ascetic discipline. Participants in Exodus 90 have to forego hot showers, watching TV, sweets, alcohol, and texting, to name a few.

When I sat down with Dave last week, the DeSales Media fraternity was three weeks into their twelve weeks, roughly a quarter of the way through the “desert.” I asked Dave for insight into his experience of the program.

So, how is it going so far?

Dave: We’re one month in—well, actually, three weeks, but it feels longer!

Why is Exodus 90 called “Exodus”?

Dave: The program narrates your three-month journey through the story of  Exodus. A big theme of Exodus 90 is becoming free from enslavement. It’s called “Exodus” to harken back to the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt. Not only were they literally enslaved by Pharaoh, but they were also enslaved to the fake idols of the Egyptian religion. Even when they left slavery in Egypt, their hearts were still enslaved. 

And the 90?

Dave: Exodus 90 is based on scientific research that demonstrates that it takes 90 days to break old habits and form new ones. Exodus 90 asks Catholic men to work on liberating themselves from attachments that may be eating up more of their minds and hearts than they intend. By giving up small material comforts, like video games, music, or alcohol, we make ourselves constantly aware of how we are spending our time.

What is one of your biggest takeaways so far?

Dave: So, let me start with the first pillar, prayer. An hour is a lot more time than I was used to dedicating daily for prayer!

But that’s been one of the greatest parts of the program so far. The program suggests that you do a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament each day. I can’t always get to a church, but I do devote a lot of time to contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer really emphasizes making yourself quiet, setting aside time to listen to God.

I’ve already felt the change in my prayer life. I experience both consolation and desolation, but the times that I’m consoled are really dramatic. I can really hear the Lord speaking. This practice of listening to God kind of leads into my second big takeaway: giving up control.

Doing Exodus 90 means having my day dictated to me in so many ways. Really, for me, it means giving up control. When I told him about my decision to do the program, Fr. John [Gribowich] at DeSales reminded me, “You know you can’t do that on your own.” 

[Ed. Note: After talking to Dave, I listened to Catholic vlogger and blogger Matt Fradd interview Exodus 90’s co-founder James Baxter. During the interview, Matt admitted that he “failed Exodus 90.” But I noted that Matt had been doing Exodus 90 alone, without a community. It supported Dave and Fr. John’s point that it’s pretty impossible to do alone! ]

Tell us about the Exodus 90 App Experience.

Dave: The Exodus 90 app is supposed to be your go-to app for the program, the only app you should need to use on your phone: it includes a messaging service with other guys in your fraternity, a field guide to the program, and readings.

Each day begins with a set of readings via the app. We’re given Scripture readings and our daily bearings—things to focus on for the day or the week. The app reminds us to “Remember your why”—to re-read what you wrote down at the beginning—why are you doing this program in the first place? Why are you on this journey? Why are you choosing this program?

In addition to the daily Gospel reading, we read the next excerpt from Exodus and receive a reflection, so that we can see the idols God is trying to deliver us from, just like the Israelites. How are we not treating God as God? What are we putting in God’s place instead?

What did you anticipate would be the hardest thing to give up? And what actually has been the hardest?

Dave: I really thought that cold showers would be the worst—and alcohol would be the second worst. The cold water isn’t great. I have a really hard time warming up after swimming or showering in cold water anyway. So, honestly, I just take fewer showers. TV, I’ve hardly missed, and not drinking or eating sweets is fine.

But one of the hardest things to give up has been music.

You’re allowed to listen to music that “lifts the soul to God.” The Exodus 90 team provides you with curated playlists of music that you can listen to. A lot of it is singer/songwriter folk stuff and I’m not into that kind of music. I’m a rock guy. I come from rock and punk, and I don’t like Christian Rock. I’m appreciative of the message, but it comes from people who put being Christian above making music, and it suffers.

Sacred Music for me is far superior to contemporary Christian Music, so I’ve been listening to a lot of Gregorian chant and classical. Also, I’ve started singing the music I can’t listen to. Instead of putting the song on, I find myself just singing it. 

I think one of the hardest aspects of the program is that the good days are really good—it feels easy and joyful—but the bad days are really bad. If I’m having a bad day, all the ways I’ve taught myself to relax and destress aren’t allowed on Exodus 90. The goal of this program is to be living with joy, and some days I don’t have that. Which I guess means that I’m still on the journey.

What’s one way in which the program could change or improve?

Dave: It seems to me that Exodus 90 was designed for men who aren’t paying enough attention to the people around them: their friends, their families, their seminary classmates. That Exodus 90 assumes that you always have the opportunity to be around people, that there are people around you that you could be paying attention to, but you’re not.

One caveat for people thinking about the program is that if you don’t have a solid community of people around you then maybe Exodus 90 isn’t the right thing to do right now. Yes, Exodus 90 emphasizes your fraternity meetings, and you talk with your “anchor” [another member of the fraternity] once a day. 

But even beyond the fraternal framework Exodus 90 requires, I recommend that you be in a place of stability. Personally, I recently moved to a new area. On top of making friends and building a community here, I’m planning my wedding and settling into a new home. It’s a lot of change to manage at once even without going cold turkey on pretty much all of my earthly comforts. But I don’t need Exodus any less. It just made the beginning that much tougher, as I struggled with both the challenge of asceticism AND feeling like this program wasn’t for me right now. 

So what’s the goal of this program? What will happen on Day 91?

Dave: I mean, we do talk about day 91! And the program asks you to think about what will happen after Exodus 90 is over. Exodus 90 is not about never eating sweets or playing video games again. The things you give up are not intrinsically bad things. It’s about cultivating intentionality towards what you’re choosing to do.

As Msgr. Harrington (a member of the DeSales Media fraternity) reminded us, the life of the Christian is not choosing between evil and good, but choosing between goods. This program forces us to be intentional about what we’re choosing. Exodus 90 talks a lot about our “slave life,” about the lives we live in the thrall of habits and addictions. It’s not asking us to abstain from hot showers forever. It’s asking us to ask ourselves: “how can I ensure that I am letting God be God?”

***

Thank you, Dave, for sharing your experience. Stay tuned to hear how the DeSales Exodus 90 Fraternity feels on Day 91!

 

Meet Our Patron, St. Francis de Sales

Posted on Jan 27, 2020
St. Francis DeSales

St. Francis de Sales by Francisco Bayeu, Courtesy of the Museo del Prado, Madrid

Last Friday, DeSales Media celebrated the feast of our founder, St. Francis de Sales with an offsite retreat at the beautiful Marian Shrine & Don Bosco Retreat Center in Stony Point, NY. After spending time as a team in celebration of St. Francis de Sales, we want to extend the celebration by introducing you to our beloved patron saint. Or maybe teach you a new thing or two about him. Although he’s not as famous a saint as the Francis from Assisi, St. Francis de Sales was a revolutionary preacher and advocate for the laity at a critical time in the Church’s history. Francis de Sales’ skills as a clear thinker, a pastoral and insightful spiritual mentor, and an intelligent writer were gifts to his flock in the diocese of Geneva and beyond.

 

Who is Francis?

Let’s start with the basics. Francis de Sales was the definition of a Renaissance man. And not just because he lived during the Renaissance. He was a multi-talented young gentleman from a noble family, with a great love for education.

From the age of 13 to 21, Francis studied at the Jesuit College of Clermont in Paris, studying the liberal arts in addition to fencing, riding, and dancing—classes that were prerequisite to acceptance in polite society! 

After graduation, he studied law and theology at the University of Padua. His father wanted him to begin practicing as a lawyer, but Francis privately vowed to become a priest. Despite his father’s insistence (and even setting up a betrothal for Francis! Talk about a Helicopter Parent.) Francis refused marriage and was eventually ordained a priest in 1593.

Francis spent most of his priestly career in the Franco-Swiss city of Annecy, after a brief and harrowing stint in Geneva. As the seat of Protestant reformer, John Calvin, Geneva was the capital of the Calvinist movement and was hostile to Catholics. In 1602, Francis was appointed bishop of Geneva, but he ruled from the nearby town of Annecy, since Calvinists had completely overtaken Geneva.

St Francis as Bishop

Mosaic on the exterior of the St. Francis de Sales Oratory in St. Louis, MO by Nheyob via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

As bishop, Francis de Sales displayed a great love and devotion to his flock. He began to publish his spiritual writings. His most famous—Introduction to the Devout Life—was a groundbreaking book, as it was addressed not to other clergy or religious, but to regular men and women trying to live lives of holiness in the world.

In their welcome packet, each DeSales Media employee receives a copy of Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. So, as a celebration of this unique and powerful saint, we present some key takeaways from Introduction to the Devout Life.

 

Follow the Revolution

In the first chapter of Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales states his intended audience pretty clearly:

“My purpose is to instruct those who live in town, within families, or at court, and by their state of life are obliged to live an ordinary life as to outward appearances” (22).

The Protestant reformers—Luther, Calvin, Zwingli—all took advantage of contemporary technological advancements to bring about their populist-fueled reforms.

Each of these three major reformers relied on the new printing press technology to create cheap, easily-circulated pamphlets and books. Less than a hundred years old, the Gutenberg printing press created a whole new genre of religious pamphlets, easily distributed between households.

Preachers could extend their influence beyond the boundaries of their pulpit. They addressed their messages not to the kings or the powerful, but to those at the bottom of the hierarchy of power: those who were truly in need of and looking for good news. One of the leading minds of the Catholic Reformation, also known as the Counter-Reformation, Francis de Sales addressed his written preaching to the exact same audience.

He addressed those living “amid the hazards of this mortal life.” The popularity of his book over the past 400 years is a reminder that success in ministry is found by meeting the congregation where they are—by following trends and finding ways to make God’s message known within them.

 

Use Words Wisely

As a lawyer, Francis was highly aware of the power of words (and the importance of precise language). 

What we say affects how we love. The words that we use always affect our relationships with others. The words that we say affect how we depict and encounter our relationship with God.

In Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales focuses on pursuing virtue in our language. He writes at length on our how language can affect others, particularly those less wise or less powerful than us

“for even if you do not speak with an evil intention those who hear it may take it in a different way. An evil word falling into a weak heart grows and spreads like a drop of oil on a piece of linen cloth” (182).

Francis de Sales asks us to take responsibility for our speech. Any human action can have unintended consequences, but particularly our words. How many times have we been hurt by an off-handed remark from a friend, spouse, or sibling? How many times have we realized too late an unintended connotation of a quick comment?

The more we practice speaking intentionally and thoughtfully, the less likely we are to cause harm to others.

De Sales would certainly have a few things to say about Twitter. He writes:

“to scoff at others is one of the worst states a mind can be in. … Nothing is so opposed to charity, and much more to devotion, than to despise and condemn one’s neighbor. Derision and mockery are always accompanied by scoffing, and it is therefore a very great sin” (183).

Twitter has become a famously hostile space of “hot takes” and “canceling” where mocking and scoffing are the chief forms of address. It’s a space that creates echo chambers of derision and hardening of our own views.

Studies show that the anonymity of the internet overcomes inhibitions, and we say what we might not say to someone in person, if they could see us while we said it—or if we could see them while we said it.

But the words we say online shape the way we think, the way we act, and the way we love others. I appreciate that emails now position the contact’s photo next to his or her name, visible while I type a message to them. It helps me remember who is on the other end of a message I write and how they might potentially receive it.

The words we use matter—how are our own words, online and IRL, teaching us to love others?

Although Francis de Sales was the Bishop of his diocese, and a busy man, he never failed to show care to those he served through the written word. The next time we approach our inboxes, our timeline, or a phone call, let’s try to bring to mind the faces of Christ on the other end.

 

God is Love

While he was still at the Jesuit school in Paris, Francis de Sales attended a theological discussion that shook him to his core. During the 17th century, when Francis was a student, the Jansenist heresy was having its heyday in France.

Responding to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, Jansenist theology held that only perfect contrition—true and total sorrow for our sins—could save a person from hell. Jansenists stressed moral purity and rigorous ascetic practices to do penance for one’s sins.

Francis de Sales attended a theological discussion on predestination that left him convinced that he was condemned to hell. Francis lived for the next two years in deep despair. His profound mental and spiritual anguish often left him bedridden and sick.

Finally, after a lot of desperate praying and anguish, Francis slowly began to remember the words of the First Letter of John: God is love (1 Jn 4:8). Since God is love, God could only have intended good things for Francis and have good things in store for him. God’s love is the deepest reality of who God is, and all spiritual development begins from accepting that God is love and that we are loved. 

Francis rejected spirituality that created anxiety and that caused despondency. He notes, “With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul” (239). 

The Resurrected Christ greets his anxious disciples by offering them his peace. We can be sure that our risen Lord greets us with peace, too.

 

Friendship

Finally, St. Francis de Sales is a strong advocate for the importance of friendships in helping us along the path of sainthood. Many saints have had strong friendships with one another and have promoted the power of friendship: the Franciscan power duo of Clare and Francis, Basil and Gregory, and Francis de Sales’ friendship with Jane de Chantal are all inspirations to deeper relationships. 

De Sales had a close friendship with St. Jane de Chantal. Besides frequent correspondence and spiritual conversation, they even founded a religious society for women together, the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.

In Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales writes:

“How good it is to love here on earth as they love in heaven and to learn to cherish one another in this world as we shall do eternally in the next!” (153)

While Francis does not beat around the bush when writing on the dangers that bad friendships can exert on us, he never hesitates to sing the praises of true friendship. Friends teach us how to love others well.

In having friends, we are imitating Christ, who had intimate friendships with John the beloved, Lazarus, Mary and Martha, and relied on these human friends throughout his ministry.

We are a Communion of Saints, the Body of Christ, and we are not meant to be a Church or a disciple alone. We are called to become Christ’s Body and Blood with our friends, as friends. As we seek to be missionary disciples in the world, we need friends with us “to keep safe and assist one another in the many dangerous places they must pass through” (164).

It’s a good reminder from St. Francis de Sales, who fostered so many relationships through the written word and in person, that we cannot take our communities for granted. They are exactly who we can call upon when we need the reminder: God is love. And, with their assistance, we can be that love for the world.

Ecclesial New Year Resolutions from the SLS Conference

Posted on Jan 13, 2020

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

By Renée Roden

On New Year’s Day, my mom texted the family group chat New Years’ greetings and followed up with the question: “What are you going to do to make those around you happier this year?”

I paused. I spend a lot of time focusing on how I can improve (trust me, I’ve got a long list), but I hadn’t thought of making New Year’s resolutions that focused on what I could do for others. What resolutions could I make to bring more joy to others’ lives, not just my own?

Later that day, I got on a plane to fly to FOCUS Ministries’ Student Leadership Summit (SLS 2020) in Phoenix, Arizona. SLS is a biennial gathering of 8,000 college students, campus ministers, bishops, lay ecclesial ministers, and seminarians.

In short, SLS was an inspiring kick-off to the new year. As I reflected on my experience at SLS, several News Years resolutions came to mind. Not resolutions for my own self-improvement, but resolutions that I can do to make myself a better member of the Church, resolutions that we could all commit to that might make our Church a little better and happier.

1: Avoid Political Divisions

In 2014, the Jesuit media company America made the decision to avoid using the titles “conservative” and “liberal” as adjectives to describe Catholics. In standard American political discourse, those titles apply to members of the contemporary Republican Party and the Democratic Party. And while they may be appropriate to describe American political divides, those political divisions should not be the colors with which we paint other Catholics. At the Catholic Imagination Conference in September at Loyola University Chicago, Editor-in-Chief Matt Malone reiterated this commitment during a particularly contentious conference session.

America’s editorial decision is a great witness. In a highly polarized political climate like our own, it’s often difficult to resist letting our political systems become the foundation of our imaginations. It’s hard to not fall into homogenous camps of people who agree with you and easily lump people who hold different views into an opposite party.

Paul says that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile “neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Our identity as Catholics is as truly one in Christ, united at the Eucharistic table. Our most fundamental identity is as the Eucharistic community of believers gathered at the Mass.

It’s easy to see the politics of the United States creep into our ecclesial discourse. It’s far too easy to let our secular divisions divide us. SLS reminded me of the continued importance of emphasizing our common unity is in the Mass, in the liturgy, and in Christ. 

In a contentious election year, we can all make a commitment to remember that our unity in Christ far outweighs any cultural, social or political divisions between us.

2: Create Digital Hospitality

I’m a pretty analog person. For most of my life, my LG flip phone cemented my reputation as a card-carrying Luddite. I’ve only had a smartphone for just over a year, and it’s definitely my least favorite possession.

Working at DeSales has been a great way for me to challenge myself to answer the question: is good technology actually important for the Church?

Currently, one of DeSales’ big projects is ParishCentral, which offers user-friendly websites for parishes. DeSales believes that a dynamic, healthy parish welcomes people in, and one of the most important places to meet people is on your digital front porch.

As you might expect, since working at DeSales, I’ve become a lot more attuned to website design when searching on Google Maps for Mass at a nearby Church. I’ve become more cognizant of the layout—is it intuitive to use, are pages indexed clearly?—I notice when Mass times are easy to find, or when the website has specific schedules for Holy Days of Obligation (often when I’m looking for Mass!). And I’ve definitely gotten more frustrated when I’m clicking through a confusing maze of webpages just to find the Mass schedule.

One of the first things I noticed about SLS was its welcoming, streamlined website, clearly organized and easy to navigate. Leading up to the event, the team sent regular emails will helpful reminders, packing lists, and parking information. They prompted us to download the SLS app that served as the conference program booklet. On the app, participants could engage in social chatter, view resources and information, and curate our own personal conference schedule. The app’s UI design was accessible and fun, and the user experience made it simple to navigate the multifaceted conference. 

Scanning across schedule details in the SLS app, I realized that good technology is equivalent to something I find personally meaningful: good hospitality. Hospitality is one of the most ancient of Judeo-Christian of virtues: it harkens back to a pre-technological era. If you were traveling and showed up at a house as dusk was approaching, there was your option. No Airbnb, no Google Mapping for “hotels near me.” All you had was the house in front of you and the hope that its tenants were welcoming and generous people.

Hospitality is a virtue that demonstrates trust. It’s a virtue of those who honor the men and women who show up at their house as family. “Each guest is God’s guest,” as a Turkish saying goes. Hospitality shows your guests that you are trustworthy, you are prepared, and you care about them.

The slick technology showed conference-goers that SLS had prepared: that they had the knowledge, the staff, and the ability to put on a huge event, it showed they cared about making the event as accessible for the guests as possible. In a huge multifaceted conference like SLS, the activity of the event could potentially become overwhelming. SLS executed their technological tools seamlessly to guide their guests through the experience almost invisibly, to make them feel at ease, and able to strike up connections with other guests—just like a good host.  

I definitely care about hospitality: about throwing a great party, making people feel welcome, and giving friends and family a space to gather. How can technology help me—and our Church—translate our commitment to hospitality to the digital sphere?

3: Keep a Missionary Focus

On the third day of SLS, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller gave a homily that diagnosed the Church’s current problems as a result of cleaving too much to contemporary culture rather than the Eternal Word. Adapting to the Zeitgeist, or the “spirit of the age” rather than adapting to the “spirit of God” will leave us lost and confused.

In a way, the Cardinal’s point echoes Christ’s rebuke of the rich young man: “No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). Only God can ever be the measure of what’s good—goodness is not a measure of how “perfect” we are, but of how close we are to God. And we cannot try to shore up our own value in the metrics of success and happiness used by a materialistic, capitalistic society. But the Cardinal’s point could also be taken the wrong way. 

A good question that Catholics can put to themselves is: where is God in our culture? 

The Catholic imagination is a sacramental imagination. The Catholic faith always looks outwards, into the world around us, knowing that God can be found there. The Jesuit motto of “finding God in all things” reminds us that the Author of Creation is found within creation.

A danger, I find, in large Catholic gatherings like SLS, is that participants can sometimes develop an embattled and embittered mentality.

While gathering together with people with whom we share common values is a deep joy, gathering together with like-minded people can also, unfortunately, foster an echo chamber or an unhealthy sense of “us against them.” The God we worship came into the world not to condemn, but to embrace the world (John 3:17). Incarnation, which we just celebrated at Christmas, is God’s radical entry into the world, into a specific culture, time and place.

God’s arrival in a small, dirty cave in an over-crowded Bethlehem taught us exactly where to look for God: in the messy and seemingly profane world around us. 

The Christian life is built on the twin practices of contemplation and action. Christ’s three pillars of the virtuous life: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (Mt 6:1-18) are born out of the intersection of contemplation and action.

We are called to spend time with the source of love and light: Christ, our God, but then we have the same mandate to go out to all the world and share that light and love. 

Our role as Christians, as missionary disciples, isn’t just to bring non-believers to the Eucharistic table, but to bring the Eucharist to the world. A truly missionary Catholic doesn’t just bring non-believers to confession and Eucharistic adoration, but rather brings the freedom and liberation of Christ, which we receive in the sacraments, out to a world in need of grace. Empowered by Christ’s love, we are called to free those oppressed by poverty, addiction, racism, sexism, and all structures of sin that plague our world. 

Christ has no body now but yours,” says St. Teresa of Avila, urging us to work for the good of others in the world, “No hands, no feet on earth but yours.” It’s up to us, like Christ, to “proclaim good news to the poor … to proclaim liberty to the captives and … to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Lk 4:18).

As we enter the new year, a good resolution—for myself and for the Church—is to be not afraid, to go out into the world, knowing that we have something to share with a culture in need of our love.

DeSales Christmas Gift Guide to Catholic Tech

Posted on Dec 16, 2019

 

What to get the gadget-loving friend, relative or Secret Santa who has everything? A donation in their honor to DeSales Media’s Bright Christmas Fund, of course! Read about the impact The Bright Christmas Fund makes in families’ and young students’ lives in Brooklyn and Queens. Any donation makes a difference to those in need.

And, in case you do have some last-minute Christmas presents yet to purchase, we’ve got you covered with this gift guide to Catholic tech:

Hallow App

Hallow’s a stylish new prayer app that launched last fall whose goal is to bring “peace to your quiet.” Hallow offers guided meditations from a wide variety of Catholic prayer traditions, like the Ignatian Examen, the Rosary, Taize, and Lectio Divina.

This beautifully designed app caters to a young working audience and offers customizations so that you can curate 5-15 minute prayer sessions, complete with peaceful background music, to fit into your schedule. The app also offers “praylists,” which subscribers can pray over the course of a week or two, that compile a prayer program focused on a particular virtue or point of spiritual growth.

Created by faithful young Catholics, Hallow is worth making space for on an overcrowded phone or calendar! The app is free to download, and subscriptions come in either monthly or yearly packages. You can purchase a gift card via their website to easily treat a friend to Hallow this Christmas. 

McGrath Institue for Church Life STEP Online Courses

The Catholic intellectual tradition is a gift you can never reach the end of! The McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame offers a plethora of online courses for Catholics interested in deepening their intellectual understanding of their faith. It’s been a while since most of us studied Church teachings in school or in sacrament prep, so the McGrath Institute’s Satellite Theological Education Program (STEP) steps into the knowledge gap. Through six weeks of study, you can approach your faith with a new level of insight. 

If you have a mother with lots of questions or a friend who always has their nose in the latest encyclical or Commonweal issue, consider treating them to one of the McGrath Institue’s plethora of spring semester online courses. Study the meaning of the Creed, learn about the Theology of the Body or dive into the history and theology of the papacy. Equip yourself to answer the tough questions of science and faith, or get to know Jesus through biblical study and intellectual inquiry.

The courses feature top Catholic educators and small class sizes of around twenty students. There’s no better New Year’s resolution than to grow in faith and seek understanding.

Evangelization & Culture: Journal of the Word on Fire Institute 

Whether you need a gift for someone who’s a Pope Francis fanboy or someone who goes to Mass only when their grandma makes them, fill their word on fire logostockings with Word on Fire’s newest creation, Evangelization & Culture! Bishop Robert Barron’s Journal of Evangelization & Culture aims to be the most beautiful Catholic journal on the market. So far, it looks like they’re succeeding!

Featuring rich artwork, thought-provoking and accessible content from Catholic thought leaders, Evangelization & Culture is a magazine that will enrich any reader’s journey of faith and make the riches of Catholic theology relevant to contemporary issues and pressing cultural questions.

Subscribe to Evangelization & Culture (or subscribe your Secret Santa) by joining the Word on Fire Institute. Joining the Institute gives you access not only to the journal but to classes and much, much more. Join now!

Formed App

formed app logoFormed, the Augustine Institute’s “Catholic Netflix” is a one-stop-shop for Catholic media on the go! The Formed platform features audiobooks, movies, and learning content from a variety of Catholic companies: the Augustine Institue and Ascension Press, among others. It aims to bring family-friendly, high-quality content that you can stream directly to a SmartTV, laptop, or phone.

Just as its name suggests, Formed offers a media platform to parishes, parents, and families that not only entertains but also forms viewers in the faith. The content on Formed ranges from children’s videos about the saints to lecture series on the Eucharist.

Formed also offers daily meditations and devotionals delivered via email. To learn more or sign up, visit the website.

Saint-of-the-Month Box

The Saint-of-the-Month box is an entertaining and edifying subscription box program that aims to deepen your relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ—the saints!saint of the month box

Each box, delivered by the first week of each month, features weekly goal cards that feature a task or challenge (e.g., write a poem, send a letter to a friend) and small gifts for each week. The boxes are of high quality and contain gifts that we’ve already added to our lists: t-shirts, books about the saints, candles, and more.

This is an exciting subscription program for people of all ages who want a fun and engaging way to learn more about the saints and to grow in virtue with a community of fellow subscribers. Also, Saint-of-the-Month Box also has gifting options. This is a great option for a newly-confirmed Catholic or someone who wants to deepen their relationship and knowledge of the saints!

(Interested in gifting multiple subscription boxes? You can get some ideas for other subscription box gift ideas here.)

Grateful & Waiting

Posted on Dec 2, 2019

This year, the first Sunday of Advent came right on the heels of Thanksgiving.

If you’re anything like us, you might have a bit of holiday whiplash: pulling out your purple Advent candles just as you’re packing away the turkey and cranberry sauce. But we don’t want to get too far into this new liturgical year without taking a moment to acknowledge all the blessings we’ve received this past year.

DeSales has enjoyed exciting growth this year, and we’re grateful to all our clients and partners. We believe wholeheartedly in what we do here, and we’re grateful to collaborate with so many talented and mission-oriented professionals.

We’re excited and grateful for the growth on the horizon. By next Advent, we look forward to being in our brand-new, state-of-the-art building!

We’re all busy people, and Advent is a four-week sprint at one of the busiest times of the year. What are simple ways we can observe Advent?

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Countdown with an Advent Calendar

Turn the countdown to Christmas into a spiritual practice with digital advent calendars like the University of Notre Dame’s or Word on Fire’s. Or buy a physical calendar for your home—something that’s spiritual or celebratory! Turn on some Advent tunes and soak up the building anticipation.

 

Advent Wreath

Acknowledge the Darkness/Find the Light

During these darkest months of the year, Christians await the advent of the Christ, the light who dispels all darkness. So we don’t need to be afraid of darkness, as this recent New York Times Op-Ed proclaimed. The moments in which you’re overwhelmed and discouraged are exactly the spaces Christ wants to enter. Don’t put pressure on yourself to have “the best Advent ever”! Let God come to you exactly where you are. 

 

Walk with Mary

Advent is a season in which we walk Mary’s journey, as we wait for the Christ Child to be born. Pray the Rosary, or the Angelus, to meditate on Mary’s role in the Christmas story. Or pick up a book by Caryll Houselander or Fulton Sheen to dive more deeply into the mystery of Mary. Celebrate the Marian feasts during this season: Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe.  

 

Make Room for Silence

“Let every heart prepare him room” the Christmas Carol sings. Make space for Christ not only in your house or under your tree, but in your mind. Set aside time without technology, find time to meditate with Scripture in the morning, or wind down before bed reading the advent reflections of British Carmelite Caryll Houselander or Franciscan Richard Rohr

 

Put up a Nativity Scene

Yesterday, Pope Francis kicked off the Advent Season by issuing an Apostolic letter “Admirabile Signum”, which encourages Christians all over the world to set up Christmas Crèches. The pope’s namesake, Francis of Assisi, started this tradition in his native Italy, which has created some of the most famous nativity scenes. From the glowing plastic figures of front-yard scenes to smaller, handmade tableaux, Nativity Scenes remind “of the love of God, the God who became a child in order to make us know how close he is to every man, woman, and child, regardless of their condition” (AS, §10). 

 

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We hope that for each of you these four short weeks before Christmas Eve are filled with peace amidst the holiday chaos and light in the darkness of winter. This Advent, DeSales is partnering with Aid to the Church in Need to spread awareness of persecuted Christians throughout the world through the Red Ribbon Sunday initiative. Join us in praying for and supporting our brothers and sisters who shine the light of faith in the darkness. And know of our prayers and gratitude for you!