Hearts and minds: Next generation changes to CatholicCulture.org
I have done a good deal of soul searching about the future of CatholicCulture.org, as is only appropriate for a 71-year-old founder. Some of this involves adding appropriate expertise to our staff as my own ability to wear multiple hats diminishes. For example, we need to add a social media manager and additional help in both fundraising and programming to prepare for the time when I will have to cut back. But the main new developments we intend to pursue are related less to my age than to the changing situation in the Church today. Without diminishing our current strengths, I believe there are two additional areas in which we need to excel going forward.
The subtitle “Whole Catholicism” may seem odd, but the conditions for the propagation of Catholic teaching and the renewal of the Church have changed dramatically since Trinity Communications was launched in 1985. At that time—and during the twenty years preceding—the most important focus for the defense of the faith in the West was on the task of convincing Catholics that what they were hearing in their parishes, dioceses and universities was not faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium as exercised by the pope in Rome. Again and again, it was necessary to explain that what Bishop X or Father Y or Sister Z was teaching (or permitting to be taught) was in blatant contradiction to what the Magisterium officially taught.
Essentially, the focus was on refuting what was being said all around us by using sound arguments based on what “the Church” actually taught, as still upheld in Rome. A certain degree of “Catholic background” was (perhaps erroneously) presupposed. I did notice early on (while at Christendom College in the late 1970s and early 1980s) that it was not sufficient to emphasize a doctrinally-correct Catholicism in a vacuum. No, it was important to form a community in which the faith was lived and experienced—an essentially Catholic culture through which, despite our sins, we find that sound doctrine, morality and charity flow as naturally as breathing.
In other words, a culture was required. But in the “orthodox” Catholic world in the latter part of the twentieth century, there was little patience with a focus on culture. For example, in editing the journal Faith & Reason (the title being reflective of the original intellectual focus), I proposed to readers that we devote an issue each year to the exploration of Catholic sensibilities through the arts, but the idea was roundly rejected. Readers argued that there was no time for such frivolous pursuits when there were so many errors to be answered through argument.
Since then we have been profoundly influenced by a great pope who was deeply aware of the importance of culture (Pope St. John Paul II) and we have become increasingly aware of the utter impoverishment of our own culture, so that it is very hard for the next generation of Catholics in the West to get Catholicism “into their very bones”. Just as important, since 2013 the quality of the papacy has dramatically shifted. Even that august institution, with its curia, too often reflects the shallowness of modern Western secularity.
Consequently, it is no longer even a remotely complete strategy to say, “Reject local errors and listen to what the Pope is saying.” Instead, we need to work harder at fostering an attractive Catholic culture—a lived sense of the Faith—expressed in a variety of ways, and nourished increasingly through our resources. We need to integrate broader reflections on life in all its natural and supernatural aspects, going beyond logical argument without ever abandoning it, and seeking greater spiritual depth. At least sometimes we need to express ourselves also with a bit more wit and charm! And why? In order to craft a more enriching and formative approach which helps people go beyond simply knowing the difference between right and wrong.
In my subtitle I call this “whole Catholicism”. It must remain rooted in the action of grace, and of course the preeminent source of grace is our sacramental union with the Church, which comes through its hierarchical priesthood. But my point is that we need to do more to help users experience the riches of Catholic faith and life in all its Divine and human aspects, so that being Catholic becomes at once not only rational but attractive and even instinctive, not only more supernatural but more natural, creating within each person a wellspring of joy and connectedness which it is unthinkable ever to be without.
This is a tall order, obviously, but I am not talking about wholesale change; rather improvement and enhancement. After all, such concerns have never been foreign to our mission. But under this second subtitle of “Audio media”, I want to take up one practical means to this end. Here the presentation is less vague, and more straightforward:
- The effectiveness of efforts to form culture in individual Catholics and Catholic groups can be enhanced, over and above the written word, by the warmth of the human voice, which fosters a stronger sense of personal connection.
- The generation after my own, and certainly the younger generation today, has become far more attuned to acquiring information and enrichment in audio form. The explosion of podcasting, for example, is representative of this shift.
- Audio materials fill an important gap because people can listen to them either in a focused way or while doing other things, including working and driving. Moreover, audio presentations are more conveniently used on portable personal devices.
Our intention is to develop a more significant audio component of CatholicCulture.org—without reducing, of course, the quality and frequency of the written material on which our existing users have come to rely. Indeed, the written material will also cover a broader range of concerns, as I indicated above. The goal of the audio component is to reach more people in richer ways—not to swap one audience for another, which would truly be a self-defeating strategy.
One of the best ways to help form people in the richness of Catholic faith and life is through a growing familiarity with the Fathers of the Church along with other inspiring writers throughout Church history—men and women who are now largely ignored. Mentioning “writers” may seem paradoxical, but particularly in their letters, sermons, essays and poetry these great figures offer deeply engaging messages of manageable length which, when read aloud by a good voice actor, can bring the faith alive once again for those who listen.
We have already introduced our audience to a wide variety of contemporary priests, religious and laity who are making important contributions in many different ways, through Thomas V. Mirus’ enlightening interviews on The Catholic Culture Podcast. This is in its second year, and we have learned a great deal from our initial foray into audio. The fiftieth episode is in production as I write.
We have also obtained the services of a Catholic voice actor, James Majewski, who is currently experimenting with various methods of presentation of the writings of the Fathers of the Church. One pilot we have available is St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Romans on his way to martyrdom. We hope to finalize our approach and methodology soon, and then release a steady series of readings as audiobooks.
Finally, we are working with the popular Church historian Mike Aquilina to launch a twice-monthly historical podcast on the Fathers of the Church this Fall. The Fathers were brilliant saints and thinkers from an age when the Church was young. They are a wellspring of insight, to which the Church’s theologians have always been encouraged to return again and again. Moreover, they possess an energy and personal magnetism we too often seem to lack today—but which I believe we can regain in Christ.
Without diminishing our level of service in our traditional areas—that is, without reducing our commitment to written material at all—I believe this is the direction in which CatholicCulture.org ought to go. The goal is a fresh emphasis which surpasses mere arguments (and complaints!) in order to get Catholicism into our very bones, achieved not only through the written word but through the spoken word, in an effective use of audio media.
Now the time has come to begin to raise the additional funds we require to open up this new territory. Fundraising will also be an important test of the viability of the plan and the priorities I have just outlined. I hope our existing donors will be excited by these possibilities, and that many more will now be drawn to support CatholicCulture.org. I ask all who read this to reflect and pray about these matters. Please offer any feedback you may have, and—if you agree that this will significantly enhance our Catholic mission—do what you can to support the work.
(To make an immediate powerful statement of support for the next generation of our mission, donate now.)
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