Each year on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers, the Pope releases his message for World Communications Day. Pope John Paul II devoted many of his messages to radio, telveision, and the mass media while Pope Benedict XVI has focused his messages primarily on the Internet.
My great passion is evangelizing through new media so I was thrilled to discover the title of this year's message: "Social Networks: Portals of Truth and Faith; New Spaces for Evangelization." Instead of generally focusing on the Internet this message centers specifically on social media.
The result is magnificent. The message just went live today and even a cursory reading reveals a Pope who fully grasps the power and potential of these tools. He approaches this topic carefully and with deep reflection and offers just the right balance of challenge and encouragement.
You can read the entire message online (its fairly short—less than 1,600 words). I read it this morning and here are some initial reflections:
"These spaces, when engaged in a wise and balanced way, help to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with concern for privacy, responsibility and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of unity between individuals and effectively promote the harmony of the human family."
From the get-go, the Pope recognizes what social media is all about: dialogue (hence, "social".) These tools are not like radio. They're not like television. They're not like print. They're not about transmitting information from one person to another. They're about connection and relationships. Like the journeyers to Emmaus, therefore, we shouldn't be afraid to find Truth through "conversing and debating" (cf. Luke 24:15.) It was while they were debating that "Jesus appeared among them."
"The development of social networks calls for commitment: people are engaged in building relationships and making friends, in looking for answers to their questions and being entertained, but also in finding intellectual stimulation and sharing knowledge and know-how."
Pope Benedict's first sentence is key. Nobody accidentally succeeds with social media. You won't find any successful online work from people who just said, "Hey, we'll just start a Facebook or Twitter account and maybe people will flock to us. Sounds easy!" Instead, the best websites, blogs, and social media accounts share one thing in common: commitment. They're intentional, they put in the work, they sacrifice the time, they create great content. In other words, they're committed. The online world is just like the offline world in this way. If you want to be successful, you must devote the necessary time, money, and thought.
"Often, as is also the case with other means of social communication, the significance and effectiveness of the various forms of expression appear to be determined more by their popularity than by their intrinsic importance and value."
Anyone who spends time on social media knows what the Pope means. It's a sad result of what he calls, "the dictatorship of relativism," the belief that there's no such thing as objective truth. It typically takes the form, "What's true for you is true for you, what's true for me is true for me."
As I mentioned in The Church and New Media, the Internet helps feed this attitude. Websites like Wikipedia suggest, "Truth is whatever the majority of people agree upon." Now in Wikipedia's case, thankfully, the information is mostly accurate. But the problem isn't the website; it's the philosophy that undergirds it. If truth is whatever the popular majority says it is, then objective morals and values fade into oblivion. When that happens, the dignity of each person, and the objective immorality of specific acts, are tossed aside. The twentieth century shows the final result: tyranny, persecution, and death.
"Popularity, for its part, is often linked to celebrity or to strategies of persuasion rather than to the logic of argumentation. At times the gentle voice of reason can be overwhelmed by the din of excessive information and it fails to attract attention which is given instead to those who express themselves in a more persuasive manner. The social media thus need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation."
From experience, I'd say about 75% of the comments I read online about religion include at least one logical fallacy. Fruitful online discussion demands we move past the inflated rhetoric, nasty name-calling, and unbridled tribalism which plagues social media in order to calmly and rationally discuss our most important issues.
But how do we get there? If you're like me, you didn't have any formal training in logic or argumentation. There was nothing in high school or college. So to brush up, you might consider a good overview like Dr. Peter Kreeft's excellent book, Socratic Logic. Taylor Marshall also has two great posts on the basics of logic and argumentation: How to Recognize Logical Problems in Theology and Philosophy and How to Recognize 7 Diversion Tactics in Philosophy and Theology.
"Believers are increasingly aware that, unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important."
I've been saying this for years. Chances are, the majority of your Facebook friends will never discuss Catholicism with anyone but you. If they don't hear about it from you, they never will.
Blogger Meredith Gould expressed this reality by paraphrasing St. Teresa of Avila:
"Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours,
Yours are the tweets through which love touches this world,
Yours are the posts through which the Gospel is shared,
Yours are the updates through which hope is revealed.
Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours."
"The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young. Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there."
Two things stand out here. First, the digital world may be somewhat virtual, but it's still real. It's still as significant as the offline world. Through social media, real people are having real discussions about real matters just like anywhere else. Thus it deserves our attention and evangelization.
Second, before we engage the online culture we have to know it. We have to study the language, the style, and the tools. Most social media users know that the Internet is full of irony, humor, pictures, videos, and snark, all of which are summed up in it's iconic form: the meme. As the great CatholicMemes.com shows, you're more likely to spread your message through memes than through 5,000 word manifestos.
Studying the online culture helps us better evangelize it. It reveals the best ways to reach people and today that includes videos and pictures and dialogue more than long blocks of text.
"In social networks, believers show their authenticity by sharing the profound source of their hope and joy: faith in the merciful and loving God revealed in Christ Jesus. This sharing consists not only in the explicit expression of their faith, but also in their witness, in the way in which they communicate “choices, preferences and judgments that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically.""
Please fight the urge to nod your head in agreement and mentally quote St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words." He never said that.
But a relevant quote someone did say comes from Pope Paul VI: "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses." (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41.)
People remember how you act more than what you say. If you comment respectfully and joyfully, if your posts are surprisingly charitable, readers take note. If you're slow to condemn, quick to compliment, and respectful of even the most ludicrous comments, your witness will be compelling. I think of St. Thomas Aquinas' famous remark: "Rarely affirm, seldom deny, always distinguish." That's a good model to follow.
On other hand, if you're mean-spirited, if you're overly-sacrastic, if you're dismissive or arrogant, then people will reject your message even if the points you made were airtight. Maya Angelou nailed it when she wrote, "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel."
Also, the Pope's advice affirms people are more interested in you than your ideas. For most readers, sharing personal stories about how your Catholic faith has impacted your life in a positive, significant way is way more compelling than a sharp philosophical argument. Explaining how the Eucharist has transformed you, or how the Sacrament of Reconciliation has liberated you from sin, is much more effective than a detached defense of sacramental theology. People want the truth, yes, but they want to see lives changed by it. So don't just be a teacher; be a witness.
The Pope's words offer so much more to reflect and comment on. It's full of rich insights. Be sure to read the rest of the message and I'd love to hear what you think.
What stuck out to from the Pope's message?
I'm a huge fan of the Logos Catholic Bible software, now known as Verbum. I've written several posts about it:
- The Most Powerful Bible Resource Ever Available
- 7 Ways the Logos Catholic Software Will Revolutionize Your Faith
- Logos Releases First-Ever Catechism Mobile App
- Cool New Projects from Logos
Recently, the good folks at Verbum let me know that throughout the Christmas season, they're giving away several resources FREE, with no strings attached. It's a great opportunity to explore their powerful software without spending a penny. So check out their announcement below and enjoy the free gifts!
PS. If you also use the coupon code BRANDON you'll save 15% off any of the Verbum base packages (but not the individual resources.) I don't get any sort of commission or reward if you use the code, it's just something nice Logos created for my readers.
Our Christmas gift to you—and all your friends!
We’re wishing you, your friends, and your family all the best this Christmas. That’s why we’re giving away the Documents of Vatican II and Pope Benedict's exhortation Verbum Domini until December 31—and asking that you forward this to all your friends!
It’s a free chance to try the software while reading the documents of Vatican II—a wonderful opportunity during this Year of Faith designated to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that very council.
If you’re new, you must be logged in to see the discounted price, but if you use coupon code MerryChristmas2012, you will not be charged.
Please share this email with your friends, download separate copies for your kids, and help Grandma set up her own account. We hope you’ll be inspired to pass this forward.
Merry Christmas. May God bless you and your loved ones this season and throughout the new year!
What’s the catch?
To be totally honest, we just want more people to hear about Verbum. It’s as simple as that. Thanks to the gracious folks at the Vatican, we have received permission to give away these two stellar resources for a limited time, and we need your help spreading the word.
Please tweet this, share it on Facebook, send it in an email. Don’t let your friends miss out.
You’ll need to use coupon code MerryChristmas2012 at checkout, and if you don’t already have an account, you’ll need to create one to receive the discount. Don’t be discouraged if it looks like the coupon isn’t working before you log in—if you use code MerryChristmas2012, you will not be charged! We are dedicated to ensuring your happiness. If anything goes wrong, please call us and let us make you happy (800-875-6467.)
What exactly do I get, and how do I use it?
Verbum Domini is an apostolic exhortation that discusses the Catholic approach to, and understanding of, Sacred Scripture. It frequently references the Documents of Vatican II, which allows you to see how the software connects resources, displays citations on hover, and opens the full text with just a few clicks.
If some of your citations don’t display or open, it’s because you don’t own that resource, but there are plenty of citations that do work—even with only two resources!
Or you can check out the Cited By tool and work backward. Does Verbum Domini discuss this specific passage of Vatican II?
Create notes or a Vatican II reading plan under the documents menu.
And try out highlighting and personal books.
This is a wonderful opportunity to let your friends try Verbum completely free, and to understand how much more you could do with more resources.
Plus, download the free iOS Verbum app to get a selection of additional free mobile-only resources.
Don’t miss out. Follow the links below for your preferred checkout path:
- Put them straight in my cart and add the coupon code for me!
- I want to read more about the Documents of Vatican II, and I will add MerryChristmas2012 manually.
- I want to read more about Verbum Domini, and I will add MerryChristmas2012 manually.
Check back tomorrow because I'm giving away a complete Verbum Basic package from Logos. It includes 226 books and resources —a digital library worth over $2,700!
NOTE: Despite my enthusiasm, I don't work for Logos nor do I receive anything for promoting them outside of testing software. I'm just a huge fan of their products.
But since then, Logos has made several huge improvements. The biggest is that they've re-branded their Catholic arm, "Verbum." This short video from Andrew Jones, Director of Catholic Products, covers more of the biggest improvements:
In my mind, Verbum remains the greatest Biblical tool ever available to the Church. I can't imagine what St. Jerome, St. Augustine, or St. Thomas would have done to get their hands on it.
Thanks to Logos, I got to test-drive the Verbum software, and here are my impressions of their newest features:
1. Verbum, the Catholic Logos.
The newest and most obvious development is Verbum, a separate Logos product line for Catholics. When the company first started, Logos was initially geared toward Protestants. So it was exciting when, a couple years ago, they began moving into the Catholic market. Their early Catholic products were limited to just a few books by the saints and a couple by modern theologians, but it was still encouraging. Over the years they added more titles, including the Catholic editions of the Church fathers, stripped of any anti-Catholic commentary.
But with Verbum, they've taken a huge leap forward. Verbum is still under the Logos umbrella, but it's a specially designed product line and a whole new experience. Recognizing that Catholics study the Bible differently than Protestants, the Verbum software has been tweaked to make it easier for Catholics to read Scripture in light of Tradition. It has several built in features which make studying the Church Fathers, papal encyclicals, and the writings of the saints easier than ever before.
In his interview with Thomas McDonald, Andrew Jones gives one example:
"One of the things we did was create default segments within the library of texts. There are three of them: Catechism, Church Fathers, and Church Documents. These segments allow for some simple, but very useful, functionality. For example, if you are doing a search on the word “Eucharist,” you can very quickly limit it to just the writings of the Church Fathers or to the Catechism."
Another big addition is Latin. Verbum features Latin versions of the Bible, the Summa Theologica, and many magisterial texts. I'm just a Latin novice, but within a few minutes I was using the Latin toolset to compare different words and translations. Verbum makes it easy to study the Latin—and Greek and Hebrew—even if you have no linguistic background.
The new Catholic line also arrives with scores of new books. Verbum now offers all the papal encyclicals since 1740; the Papal Exhortations and Constitutions of John Paul II and Benedict XVI; a reverse interlinear of the RSV-Catholic Edition of the Bible; and sermons of St. Thomas Aquinas, history works, reference books, and of course many, many different Bible texts.
All of this shows how committed Logos is to Catholics. The Catholic software is no longer just a half-hearted addition to their much larger Protestant collection of resources. It's now a unique package specifically designed for Catholics.
2. Logos 5 engine.
The Verbum Catholic software is distinct from the regular Logos software, but each runs off the powerful new Logos 5 engine, which itself brings several new features.
One of my favorites is the "Clause Search," which harnesses the meticulous tagging and coding built in to each of Logos' resources. This allows you to perform special searches such as the one below, which returns every Biblical instance of Jesus speaking to Peter. What's neat is that it doesn't just search for the actual names "Jesus" and "Peter." It also recognizes passages like Matthew 16:19, where the "I" is Jesus and the "you" is Peter.
Like past iterations, Logos 5 also links all your resources together. It allows you to easily explore Scripture alongside the writings of popes, Church fathers, saints, and scholars. And it lets you jump from citation to source with one click. For example, when you're reading a passage in Matthew that references an Old Testament prophecy, you simply hover your mouse over the citation and a small pop-up box appears with the Old Testament verse in context.
3. Catechism resources.
Our current Year of Faith is aligned with the twentieth anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Pope Benedict has encouraged all Catholics to study this "sure norm" of faith.
With Verbum, that's easier than ever before. Andrew Jones explains:
"With the Catechism of the Catholic Church Collection, thousands of the Catechism’s citations come alive, linking to the original documents. The Collection allows you to get behind the Catechism’s summary of the faith and into the primary sources themselves. The Collection includes the most important texts cited by the Catechism and so allows one to see not just what the contemporary Catholic Church teaches, but what it bases this teaching on.
What’s more, the Catechism itself can be used as a type of commentary on the other texts in the collection. For example, one can quickly find every instance of the Catechism citing a certain document of Vatican II or a particular Bible verse. The Collection includes the lectionary of the Catholic Church, so the Catechism becomes an automatic companion to the daily readings."
Watch this video to see it in action:
Logos also has some great pricing options for the Catechism. If you just want the straight Catechism text, you can get that for $15 ($25 for English and Latin). Within seconds you'll be able to access it on your computer and whatever digital device you own.
If you'd like the bigger collection, however, which comes with the Catechism and other documents it references like the conciliar documents of Vatican I, Vatican II, and Trent, and Denzginer's Sources of Catholic Dogma, then you're looking at about $50—still a huge bargain for all the books you get.
One neat feature is that if you just purchase the bare-bones Catechism for $15, then download the free Verbum mobile app, you'll get several mobile-only resources (see point #4 below) which will be integrated into the Catechism, free of charge.
Finally, here's the best news: thanks to Andrew, if you use the code CATECHISM during checkout, you'll get 30% off any of the three Catechism packages, bringing them to down to these prices:
- $10.50 - Catechism of the Catholic Church (English)
- $17.47 - Catechism of the Catholic Church (English and Latin)
- $34.97 - Catechism of the Catholic Church Collection (English and Latin) plus nine other resources
4. Mobile app.
The Logos desktop software has always been strong, and their early mobile apps were impressive. But the new re-designed Verbum mobile experience knocks it out of the park.
First of all, it allows you take your entire library anywhere. When you're sitting on the bus you can whip out your cell phone and read a few articles from St. Thomas' Summa. You can lean back on an airplane and dive right into Pope Benedict's Introduction to Christianity or today's Scripture readings. Wherever you are, you have access to your entire library on your phone, tablet, or e-reader.
Second, everything syncs across multiple devices. When you finish reading the Bible, the Catechism, or a resource from your collection, the mobile app will save your spot and sync it with your computer and other mobile devices. Next time, you can pick up right where you left off, even on a different device. Your Logos account also syncs your notes, bookmarks, and highlights through the cloud.
Finally, as I mentioned above, it comes with free content. When you download the free Verbum mobile app (currently available only for iOs, but soon coming to Android) you automatically get several free resources, including:
- The Bible in multiple versions (Douay-Rheims, King James, Clementine Vulgate, Great New Testament, and more)
- Catholic Lectionary (the daily Mass readings)
- Sources of Catholic Dogma by Henry Denzinger
- The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A'Kempis
- Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
- An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman
Even if you use it for nothing other than the daily Mass readings, the free app is worth the download.
5. Social integration.
The final big addition to the software is what Logos calls "Faithlife." Faithlife is a social network designed around the Logos software. It allows you to create groups with other friends and share notes and reading plans.
For example, your whole Bible study group, parish men's group, or RCIA class could download the free mobile app, sign up for a free Faithlife account, and then read through a specific book of the Bible together. Along the way people could discuss what they're reading through Faithlife, which looks and feels a lot like Facebook.
Verbum has created a Faithlife group for every parish in the country, so find your own, encourage other parishioners to log-in, and begin studying the great Tradition together.
The Catholic Church has always understood that the Scriptures as communal texts, meant to be read and interpreted within a community of faith. Faithlife is the first tool I've seen that easily (and freely!) allows you to do that.
Now after highlighting all those cool features, I must add the same sobering caveat I've mentioned before: the Verbum packages ain't cheap. They range from the basic collection at $270 (226 resources) to the Capstone collection at $2,290 (1,020 resources.)
But after the initial sticker-shock wears off, consider that the price is roughly equivalent to one college course or a few textbooks. Yet, it gives you way more value and power than either of those. Also, according to Logos, if you bought the print copies of each book in these collections you spend 5-10 times more money. And the print books wouldn't come with all the interlinking and search features that Verbum offers.
If that still seems too expensive, you might consider some creative ways to afford it. If you give talks or do freelance writing, for instance, you might use your stipends or writing payments to cover the cost. For me, this software has improved my writing and speaking and therefore led to even more opportunities. From that perspective, it's an investment.
Another suggestion is to set aside $10 a week. That's the cost of one lunch or one dinner out. In just six months, you’ll have enough to purchase the Verbum Basic package.
But here's one thing that will definitely help offset the cost. If you use the coupon code "BRANDON" you'll save 15% off any of the Verbum base packages (but not the individual resources.) I don't get any sort of kickback through that code, it's just something Logos offered to help my readers out.
From Catholic News Service comes this exceptional video featuring the Vatican's top communications official, Archbishop Claudio Celli. He discusses a great paradox of the digital age, namely that more connection often leads to more solitude.
In June, I got to hang out with Archbishop Celli and we did an interview together. In it we discussed several things including the role of silence in communication, the Vatican's new media work, and a special eBook project they've designed for the Year of Faith. Check it out below!
(There's some background noise which makes the video a little difficult to hear, but I've transcribed the whole interview here.)
(HT: Deacon Greg Kandra)