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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!

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 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.