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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!

Evangelizing Through Beauty with Catholic Creatives

Posted on Nov 15, 2019

By Dave Plisky

This past Saturday, the DeSales Media team attended Catholic Creatives’ Regional in NYC. DeSales Media was a sponsor of the regional meet-up along with OSV Institute, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and the Alliance for Defending Freedom. Catholic Creatives Regionals are single-day gatherings in partnership with Our Sunday Visitor. The ideas sparked at the regional meetings will be eligible to be submitted for the OSV Innovation Challenge.

The Catholic Creatives Regionals are exciting events that transcend the goals of industry networking events. For Catholic Creatives, “networking” means forming a vulnerable, authentic community united in a common mission. Although Catholic creatives can often feel alone in their professional milieu, nothing about Catholic Creatives is self-referential or congratulatory. The ethos of the CC Regional was deeply evangelical. And its telos is deeply missionary: it’s all about discipleship through beauty. 

How did they do this? The Catholic Creatives Regional combined four different programmatic elements to offer an effective workshop that built community, inspired, and restored.

Liturgy

Psalm worship God

Photo by Nienke Broeksema on Unsplash

It’s easy to get sidetracked, to get caught up in our egos or forget that our work is ultimately a service of love for God. Prayer helps us keep our eyes on our true goal—God—by helping us practice putting God first through a gift of time and attention each day. Catholic Creatives got started in the right direction by opening with prayer at the beginning of our time together. In the middle of the afternoon, we took a break to pray the Liturgy of the Hours together. They gave the ancient prayer a fresh spin with contemporary music, that honored the prayerfulness of the moment. This combination of ancient and new is a classic Catholic gift to the world: innovation that retains what’s always been good.

Inspirational Speakers

To that point, at the NYC CC Regional, Anthony D’Ambrosio shared a moving talk on his own journey with vulnerability. Vulnerability is a theme woven through Catholic Creatives’ five pillars, particularly their commitment to “speak the unspoken.” 

“Speak the Unspoken means always speaking the truth in love no matter how uncomfortable it is.” Art is born from vulnerability—when we allow ourselves to question our own certainties, we can set out to make something truly creative and unique, something inspired. After Anthony’s talk, we saw vulnerable art in action with Clare McCallan’s inspiring spoken word performance. Clare is no stranger to DeSalescheck out the work she did for us in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Her poetry performance perfectly embodied Catholic Creatives’ commitment to communicating ideas through beauty. Read The Tablet‘s profile to learn more about Clare.

Networking

Catholic Creatives has a remarkably strong commitment to community. In their own words, they strive to be: “the family dinner table, a place of communion, friendship, joy, and unity.”

They strive to “foster a family ecology where creatives find belonging, spiritual nourishment, and are organically connected to the network of learning, mentorship, and patronage they need to be healthy and to grow.”

And that is the level of connections that were being made throughout the day. I found myself having deep conversations about experimental approaches to film with complete strangers. But because the relationship was forged in the atmosphere of openness, collaboration, and vulnerability, the conversation went to that place organically, and it felt right. It is so gratifying to feel the Spirit moving among the artistic Catholic community right here in NYC. 

And it’s with that spirit that we came together in a final Spark Session …

Workshops

Pencils spark ideas

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Our first workshop session was a Spark Session, a collaborative free-writing exercise similar to brainwriting, which is designed to get your ideas out of your head and onto the page. The goal of the Spark Session is to get your own inhibitions and hesitation out of the way so that your wildest, most creative ideas come to the forefront. The Spark Session encourages participants to be vulnerable. Often it’s our fear and our own second-guessing that gets in the way of our own creativity. Throughout the entire session, we were encouraged to write out every idea that came to mind: to keep writing no matter what! Everything in our brains had to come out on the page—no idea was a bad idea. We then had to share out our ideas of the small group with the entire group! This ability to bare ourselves, fail, and make creative mistakes is an essential part of the creative process.

The workshopping we participated in had a purpose. The final Spark Session encouraged groups to create ideas that could be refined and considered for the OSV Innovation Challenge. The OSV Innovation Challenge is a joint initiative by Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic Creatives to support and promote new visionary ideas among Catholic Creatives to further the mission of the Church. The Challenge is encouraging entrepreneurs, artists, pioneers, and visionaries to submit their proposals for impactful ideas that will further the mission of the Church. Check out their website for more information. So go ahead, grab your creative friends—the ones with the wacky ideas, appetite for beauty, and courage to make things real—and spark some ideas that ignite change.

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DeSales is in the news! Check out “Catholic Creatives Spread the Gospel Through Beauty,” The Tablet, Nov 26, 2019.

DeSales Pick: Appletopia

Posted on Nov 8, 2019

Introducing DeSales Picks: books that we recommend to deepen your knowledge of Catholic conversations around technology. We begin with Brett T. Robinson’s Appletopia, published by Baylor University Press.

We are what we imagine.

Brett Robinson’s Appletopia offers a compelling glimpse into the mind of Steve Jobs and his brainchild, Apple. Robinson examines how Jobs’ “Appletopia” appeals to our human religious imagination. In order to create Apple’s massive cult following, Steve Jobs marketed Apple products to appeal to religious and technological imaginations. Not only did Apple products reach new heights of popularity, but Apple’s product marketing also carved a new way of imagining the way technology shapes our lives. Appletopia

Robinson’s book makes a compelling case that the language of marketing is worth both a religious person’s attention and vice versa. Advertising appeals to our imaginations, our emotions, and our affective framework for the world. Thus, the language of marketing often can reveal the state of our affective cultural framework.

Robinson, Director of Communications at the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, finds that the language of technology deeply resonates with the language of religion. Each field relies on symbols to make esoteric concepts accessible—“to make the unknown sensible.”  In religion, neophytes require simple, pictorial explanations (like St. Patrick’s shamrock) for deep theological mysteries like the Trinity. In marketing tech products, manufacturers use appealing images to explain its product, made of mysteries—CPUs, RAM, and the cloud—to the technologically illiterate.

When Apple told us to “think different,” it didn’t just coin a slick slogan. It presciently described the revolution it performed on our collective imagination. Apple taught us—its audience—to think about technology differently. Apple’s products would actually reshape the way we think. New technologies not only reflect the culture but also shape the culture. And culture shapes our imaginations.

Apple iPod Ad

by thethreesisters via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

By examining iconic Apple ads and key marketing campaigns, Robinson reveals the underlying ethos of Jobs’ inventions. Robinson hones in particularly on the first iPod marketing campaigns, which portray the iPod as a tool to reaching euphoric transcendence or elevated consciousness. But Jobs isn’t the only tech guru using religious imagination. Robinson examines flagship Verizon and AT&T campaigns, which also promise transcendence, transformation, and connectedness.

While not alarmist, Robinson makes a compelling case for Catholics working in the digital world to think about how their products appeal to their consumers’ imaginations and how they shape communal practices and culture.

Communities organize themselves around what is of “ultimate concern,” the thing at the top of their “hierarchy of order.” Which, simply put means that everyone worships something. Human community and existence are always ordered around a person, cause, or achievement: if not God, then an idol: a god we’ve chosen for ourselves.

For many of us, work achievement, success, money, even relationships, or (all too often!) ourselves sits at the top of our “hierarchy of order.” Robinson demonstrates compellingly that this religious sensibility and need to worship continues to exert influence on us, despite being ignored in our popular media and sidelined in our contemporary social discourse. Our cravings for belonging and transcendence are now being presented to the masses through the devices that have become nearly ubiquitous in our lives: iPhones, iPads, and personal computers.

Apple has pitched its products as “tools for seeking a lost sense of transcendence.” Apple markets these products as solutions to our “restless hearts.” But the iPhone age has taught us the painful lesson that these products feed off of our restless needs but ultimately leave them dangerously unsatisfied.

What can we learn from this?

Clearly the followers of “Appletopia” hunger for something more. Although the restless hearts of the information age may flock to the new cathedrals of Apple stores, the religious experience Apple consumers long for can only be found through a Church. The Church can actually fulfill the promises that Apple offers through its marketing that promises euphoria, connectivity, transcendence. The Church offers a truly transcendent experience of God through encountering the divine in prayer and liturgy.

Robinson’s book outlines a demographic—a congregation if you will—that has been primed for the proselytization by the cult of Appletopia. Apple’s religiously-influenced marketing highlights a field ripe for evangelization. “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few” (Mt 9:37). There is an audience ready and waiting for a new kind of digital evangelization.

In the community of the Body of Christ, the Church offers the world the universal community and personal transcendence for which we hunger. And so the Church must be able to speak to this new culture and community shaped by Steve Jobs’ revolution of technology and imagination.

5 Trends the Church has Led in the Past

Posted on Oct 23, 2019

supernova NASA

Is the Church “anti-tech”?

The Catholic focus on tradition often gives the impression that Catholics are stuck in the past. And this impression is often borne out by the Church’s resistance to cultural changes and revolutions and skepticism towards new ideas. The Church’s public image can often give the idea that the Catholic Church is not a future-thinking institution.

But the Church is not an obsolete organization that discourages innovation. The Church teaches that human curiosity and human ingenuity are made in the image and likeness of the Creator. The Church has been a leader in science, technology, and innovation since its founding 2,000 years ago.

Here are a few of those innovations that might surprise you!

The Hospital

In the Roman Empire, some cities housed temples of healing to the god of medicine, Asclepius. Soldiers, spread throughout the empire, made use of military medical institutions that tended to them when injured or ill. But Christian leaders were the pioneers of public philanthropic residences to care for travelers, beggars, and the elderly. The first Christian hospitals were staffed by male and female monastics. They were not temples or churches, like the temples to Asclepius. They were sites of the best medical care they had available, which they offered to those in the city who could not afford a private physician.

One of the original hospitals, in Turkey, was known as the “Basiliad” named after St. Basil, one of the Cappadocian fathers. This hospital ministered to the poor and diseased, and offered food, shelter, and rest to those free of charge from the monastic orders who ministered to them.

Since broad social structures like “hospitals” have many prototypes, it’s often hard to declare one singular origin point for them. But historians note three factors that define the beginning of modern hospitals: inpatient facilities, professional medical caregivers, and care given for free.

The Christians focus on caring for Christ in the face of the poor spurred them to care for the poor at the margins of the city. And their belief that Christ was in the face of the sick, the poor, and the outcast spurred them to overcome concerns for their own purity or status. Giving care and dignity to anyone, no matter who they are or how rich they became a defining feature of the Christian hospital. The Christian commitment to care for the patient until death was a true innovation. It bore witness to the Christian belief in the dignity of all people, particularly the poor.

The hospital was a revolution of medical care. And even more so, caring for those who had no status or capital in the city was an act of radical Christian love. And, clearly, the hospital is a trend that had staying power!

The Book

Christianity came onto the world scene just as a new technology was also emerging: the codex. Originally, written works were preserved on scrolls, usually made of lightweight rolls of papyrus. Roman scribes took notes on wax tablets with two sides that could be inscribed and erased. This innovation of writing on both sides of the tablet was a forerunner of the codex. The codex is the style of book that we are most familiar with today.

In the second century AD, as the Gospels were being copied down and spread among Christians, they began to be written down on codices, and this trend continued.  In the second and third centuries, even though most secular texts were still written on scrolls, a higher percentage of Christian texts were being written on the codex.  The codex wasn’t invented by Christians, but Christians showed considerable foresight in embracing this technology more quickly than the wider community.

The codex outpaced the scroll by a few key advantages. The codex allows the reader to flip between different sections easily to find a reference quickly. The codex is also a mnemonic device. Breaking up the book into physical spaces (the left page, the right page, the beginning of a paragraph, the upper left-hand corner or right before a page turn), helps the reader remember the words of the book better.

Not only did the Bible popularize the codex, but during the middle ages, Christian monks preserved the codex. The monks kept the tradition of reproducing codices through a method called illumination alive in Europe. The Bible again was at the vanguard of book evolution in 1455, when Johannes Gutenberg printed a bible on his new printing press.

The Bible has been at the forefront of bibliographic innovation since the second century. Even in the digital age, religious publishing–particularly of bibles–has grown in the United States. The Bible remains one of the most published books throughout the world.

Architectural Innovations

What do Notre Dame de Paris, St. Peter’s Basilica, Westminster Abbey, St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, and the Hagia Sophia have in common? Each one of these is a Christian church and is also a world-class feat of architectural engineering.

The Church has led architecture with many innovations that have made new heights possible, quite literally.

If you visit most major cities in Europe–and even if you pop into some small towns–you’ll discover that at the heart of the city is a beautiful Cathedral. The Gothic architecture that decorates so many of these European masterpieces is a Christian invention. Gothic architecture departed from and developed out of the older Romanesque style of the Roman Empire.

Some of these cathedrals and basilicas demonstrate the new heights of innovation achieved: the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame are a Gothic innovation that allows the stone supports to bear the weight of the delicate stone structure hollowed out by yards of jewel-toned stained glass.

Although these Gothic innovations are now revered examples of architectural beauty, at the time, these inventions were derided by some Catholics who still favored the Romanesque style as ugly experiments.

BathAbbey

Photo by Richard White via Flickr

Westminster Abbey boasts an impressive display of an English invention, the fan vault, which covered the vaulted ceilings with intricate stonework. One of the oldest and most impressive feats of Christians architecture was the pendentive dome. For 1000 years, the unchallenged crown jewel of these domes was the dome of the Hagia Sophia. It was surpassed in 1590 by the completion of the pendentive dome atop the brand new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Church architecture demonstrates the abundance of human creativity and skill. The Churches of Europe are a testament to the investment the Church has made in funding and supporting innovative architects.

Jesuit Mechanics

During the Baroque period, a spirit of invention was in the European air. In the seventeenth century, Galileo Galilei invented the telescope, the first calculator was invented, the pocket watch and steam pump were all created.

As the spirit of invention swept the European continent, one of the bold new religious orders, the Jesuits, took full advantage of this new spirit of creativity and ingenuity. Jesuits began to experiment with new mechanics, particularly in churches and in their theatrical productions.

Perhaps the most famous of these Jesuit inventions is the altarpiece by Andrea Pozzo, SJ in the Church of the Gesù in Rome. The church’s altarpiece features a painting of the Trinity by Fr. Pozzo, which is lifted up by a mechanical system to reveal a silver statute. The original was captured by Napoleon, but there is now a plaster reproduction in its stead. Each day at 5:30pm, in the Church of the Gesù, visitors can witness this Baroque spectacle at work!

Scientific Origins of the Universe

In the early 1920s, developments in physics and cosmology boomed, as scientists responded to and developed new theories based upon Alfred Einstein’s discovery of the theory of relativity (E=MC2).

The current leading theory of the universe’s origins, The Big Bang Theory, was first hypothesized by Belgian priest Georges Lemaître. When it was introduced into the popular culture, the Big Bang Theory created quite a stir.

Announced just two years after the Scopes Trial of 1925, the Big Bang Theory seemed to many Christians to contradict the Genesis account of creation. To this day, many American fundamentalist Protestant groups, who believe that the Genesis account is a scientific text rather than a poetic text, continue to believe the Big Bang Theory contradicts Scripture.

Vatican II responded to the concerns of the faithful, in the document on Sacred Scriptures, called Dei Verbum, meaning “The Word of God.”

For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture (§12).

Dei Verbum assured the faithful that there was no conflict between faith and science, between God’s word revealed in creation and Sacred Scripture. Fr. Lemaître himself saw in the Genesis account of creation a symbolic and poetic reflection of the scientific account of the Big Bang. Lemaître believed these two accounts harmonized, rather than contradicted.

supernova NASAToday, a broad consensus of scientists, Christian and non-Christian, believe the Big Bang is the most probable explanation of the origins of the universe.

Tech companies look 7-10 years in the future, to see what trends are coming down the pike. If the Church followed suit, how would the Church respond to new technologies on the rise?

Any trend has both negative and positive components. The Church examines each trend and discerns the valuable from the chaff.  As a 2,000-year-old startup, the Church benefits by not always following trends and by questioning the ideologies of the current moment.

How might the Church respond to upcoming trends, from artificial intelligence to cryptocurrency?

The Church has never been afraid of technological advancements. The Church has always fostered within her walls artists and artisans who push their crafts forward for the greater glory of God. And, in the case of the codex or the Big Bang, the Church has often helped identify an idea that seems marginal or misunderstood and then ushers it into the mainstream. The Church is an invaluable aid in helping men and women who work in technology understand their work ethically. Pope John Paul II notes in Evangelium Vitae that technological and scientific research must consider the ethical consequences of their work. Pope Francis echoes John Paul II in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si when he writes:

Technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities […] Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build (§107).

As we contemplate the new technological tools and trends that are available to us, the Church invites us to ask what kind of society we want to build. With bold evangelical courage, we can then be trendsetters, instead of followers.

The Eucharist: the Medium is the Message

Posted on Oct 9, 2019

If you’re a member of the marketing world, you’ve most likely heard the aphorism “the medium is the message.” This truism is a staple proverb of marketing and digital communications. But did you know that that classic phrase was coined by a Catholic? Marshall McLuhan, who coined the phrase, was a leading media scholar and a devout Catholic convert. 

Brett Robinson, of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, wrote a lovely profile on McLuhan during Summer 2018. This past summer, Aaron Riches of Benedictine College in Kansas wrote an incisive essay meditating on the liturgical aspects of McLuhan’s work.

Riches’ essay prompted me to think further about what role the internet and digital communications play in the New Evangelization—or, really, in evangelization, period. The core unit of Christian evangelization is the local Eucharistic community—the parish. The parish gathers together to do the liturgy together, to offer themselves up to God through Christ, and to be transformed into Christ for the world.

His essay raises particularly provocative points about the nature of technology. Riches draws on some of the ideas about the human being and technology from the twentieth-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Heidegger believed that the human person—you and me, as we walk around in our daily lives—reveals the truth of being in the world around us. 

While the finer points of phenomenology might not appear to have a place on a digital communications blog, Heidegger’s ideas remain salient for any conscientious, creative communications professional.

Heidegger’s image of the human being as a “revealer of truth” is a pretty easy idea for Christians to latch onto. We are made in the image and likeness of the one true creator God—the foundation of all truth.

“Being” by its very nature is an “unconcealment,” continues Heidegger; it makes some hidden truth manifest for everyone to see. If we think about who Christ is, we see that Jesus is the being par excellence, as he reveals God himself—not just an image and likeness, like us—into the world. 

Besides their own “being,” Heidegger notes an additional way that humans disclose truth, i.e., making truth visible in the world: what the Greeks called poiesis, that is, art: poetry, music, painting, drama. Art reveals the truth about what it means to be a human being.

Just so, argues Heidegger, technology, from the Greek word techne, can reveal the mystery of Being—of God and God’s truth—into the world. Technology, then, has a pretty lofty calling: not only to reveal the truth, but to be a way of revealing God—capital-T Truth.

In a lot of our news cycle, we encounter the failings of the internet: social media platforms that distort truth, news sites that become echo chambers, or those web communities that even actively foster hate. We read about the failings of tech companies. We experience data breaches or loss of privacy.

Given the internet’s many publicized shortcomings, is it really a space that can reveal truth? Can Heidegger’s lofty ideas about technology apply to contemporary digital communications?

In his book The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion, Marshall McLuhan says that each new medium—television, phone, radio, internet—opens up a new way of existing in the world. It opens up new experiences and new ways of thinking for each human being who encounters this new medium.

When Jesus told the disciples to bring the Gospel to the “ends of the earth” (Mk 16:15), he expressed the hunger of the Divine Love to encounter every person in every place. Jesus’ words also contain in them a perennial truth: there is no place the Christian Gospel doesn’t belong; there isn’t a single place on this earth Jesus can’t belong. 

There isn’t a single place we can’t bring Christ, there isn’t any place, no matter how large, how small or how strange that Christ doesn’t desire to be a part of. The internet, as a new medium of communication, opens up a new way for human beings to interact. It opens up a new medium for Christ to make himself known.

Pope Francis has called the internet a “gift from God” to be used wisely. The internet can promote authentic relationships with our fellow humans. But McLuhan suggests that it can be even more than that, it can be another place where we can learn more about God and God’s love for us.

One of DeSales’ priority tech initiatives is to develop parish websites. How do parish websites, I wonder, work as a way of bringing people to the truth, revealing the God of truth and life to others? 

As we work to build parish website software, we constantly remember that our goal is not to keep eyeballs glued to the digital page, but rather to drive visitors to in-person encounters: with parish staff members, with the community of the parish, with the Body of Christ. The website is the parish’s digital front door, as it were, an inviting space that serves to attract new members, educate about the Catholic Church, or welcome in strangers looking for a place to go to Mass.

In his essay, Riches claims that the purest form of media, where the medium is the message entirely, is the Catholic liturgy. In the liturgy, the Sacramental Sign of Christ’s body and blood isn’t just a symbol, it really is Christ. The liturgy reveals the truth of who God is: the God who is the bread of life, the life of the world, who sustains us, and who transforms us into bread for others.

The Eucharistic liturgy is the most powerful means of evangelizing. In the Eucharist, we encounter the perfect message: Christ. As the source and summit of our Catholic faith, the Eucharist is the clearest form of communication with the God of love. The liturgy offers a much stronger connection than any other medium—digital or otherwise—can offer.

Update: Check out Molly Gettinger, Communications/Branding Manager for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, reflecting on communion and connection on the internet for the Grotto Network.

Can Christian Community Exist in the Workplace?

Posted on Sep 18, 2019

Desales Catholic CompanyHow do we build Christian community in the workplace? Christian companies who are competing with corporations in the secular sphere can often feel pressure to model company culture more on our competitors and less on the Christian Gospel. One Christian company, however, believes that Christians can do business differently—and puts its money where its mouth is.

Plough Quarterly, a publication of Plough Publishing House, published an article this summer about Christian workplace. Plough strives to build a Christian community in the workplace that mirrors the community in their home lives. Plough’s article asked a provocative question: is Christian business an oxymoron?

As a Catholic company, DeSales Media also strives to be a thoroughly Christian organization. We believe being a Catholic company means witnessing Christ’s message not just in what we say, but in what we do and how we do it. DeSales prides itself on being a company whose Catholic identity is present not only in the products we create or in the clients we serve, but, rather, that our Christian witness permeates our entire ethos. In fact, one of our core goals is to be an inspiring place to work—for Catholics and all our employees.

Plough Publishing House, based in the beautiful Hudson Valley village of Walden, NY, is run by the Bruderhof Communities. The Bruderhof Communities are Christian communities who commit to simple living and to radically “share all things in common” (Acts 4:32). Founded by Eberhard Arnold in 1920, the Bruderhof intentional communities are made up of families and single men and women. They have communities in the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom, and have a special mission to care for the Church in Jerusalem.

Plough interviewed John Rhodes, who ran Bruderhof’s business, Community Playthings, which creates beautiful furniture for classrooms and daycares. The Bruderhof business, says Rhodes: “grew in a way that served the community’s needs rather than sucking the life from it.” 

Rhodes’ language actually sounds a lot like the language of Pope Paul VI and Pope Benedict XVI! In their respective encyclicals, Populorum Progressio (“The Progress of Peoples”), and Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), each pope calls for our economic models to serve our brothers and sisters. The Christian Gospel encourages a counter-cultural attitude to let our concern for others lead our business practices rather than concern for profit margins.

As I read the interview, and as I read the messages of our former popes, encouraging Christian models of business, a DeSales at Christmasword that came to my mind was integration. The goal of Christian discipleship is to integrate our walk with Christ into all aspects of our life. Christian businesses ought to strive to integrate our individual spiritual lives of prayer and our communal liturgical life into our business life. Inspired by Rhodes’ interview, then, here are the five main ingredients in creating a good Christian workplace community.

  • People Come First: Lots of companies pay lip-service to “teamwork” or “building relationships.” But you can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. For Christians, who believe that God is present in our neighbor, relationships really do come first and foremost. As members of the Body of Christ, we can’t just talk about community or care for our neighbor—we have to live it. We have to make sacrifices for it. Plough’s article places importance on “the economics of love” or what Pope Benedict XVI would call the “economy of gift.” How do we operate according to the “economy of love” rather than by the rules of the market in our workplace?
  • Keep Your Mission at the Center: It seems counterintuitive for businesses to not first and foremost strive to increase profits. But former CEO Rhodes says that: “in reality, money is a surprisingly poor motivator. A much stronger motivator is purpose.” Purpose-driven companies can afford to care for their workers more. They can invest in competitive benefits packages and employee morale. Mission-driven companies can afford to care for the whole person. Because their employees are motivated by mission, not by paycheck, purpose-driven organizations are already lightyears ahead of competitors.
  • Leisure, the Basis of Good Work: Tech companies are infamous for stocking up their office campuses with all the amenities their employees need: gyms, cafeterias, napping pods. While these extra benefits can increase employee well-being, they also extend the hours that employees are at the office. And extended hours at the office can lead to mental stress and burnout, as employees have less time to spend sharing life with their community. Work is a part of our human vocation, but cannot be idolized. Through taking small sabbaths through prayer, silence, and finding restorative niches of creativity and rest with family and community, the worker is energized to make creative, personal work that glorifies God. 
  • Use Technology Judiciously: As a digital communications company, DeSales recognizes that many of our competitors may find this principle strange. Shouldn’t companies in the business of the internet drive consumers to stay on the web? Not for us. The goal of all of our work is to connect communities in real-time, outside of the space of work. We build products that strengthen and foster in-person communities and parishes and connect new members to them.
  • Foster Gratitude: Gratitude is a huge game-changer. German mystic Meister Eckhart is famous for the quote: If the only prayer you said was ‘thank you’ that would be enough. Gratitude helps bolster team morale and begins with leaders—leaders who offer gratitude to employees for the work they do and promote a culture of gratitude and joy in the work environment.

DeSales PartyPlough’s article resonates with our work at DeSales, because we prioritize serving and caring for our work community. One of our four main goals is to “be an inspiring place for Catholics to work.” We try to incorporate our Catholic faith into what we do through praying together twice daily as a whole workplace community, by celebrating birthdays and special occasions as a community, by offering solidarity and aid to victims of natural disasters as an organization, and by committing as an organization to invest in the personal, professional, and spiritual development of each member of the staff. 

To make teamwork and relationship our true goals, we have to work to place our coworkers first. Putting people first, rather than company goals, might seem like a risk. But we believe that this is a risk worth taking: you can’t preach the Gospel if you’re not living it at home (or at work). How are you helping to form your workplace according to Christ’s kingdom today?

 

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