by Kelly Phelan Powell
Social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, websites like Facebook make it possible to stay in daily contact with even those friends and family members who live thousands of miles away. On the other hand, which one of us hasn’t fumed over an offensive Tweet or been mortified by a risqué Instagram photo? And I am convinced that logging onto Facebook during football season or in the midst of an election accounts for a lot of the prescriptions written for blood pressure medication.
But we must remember that social media and the Internet present “immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” Pope Francis said. It is “a gift from God,” and used wisely and responsibly, it’s an unequalled opportunity not only for evangelization, but also for the enrichment of our own spiritual lives. “Good communication helps us grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately to grow in unity,” said the Holy Father.
Likewise, there are a number of apps that are religious and, more specifically, Catholic in nature. Apps are the software applications that smartphones and tablet computers like the iPad use to perform specific tasks. For instance, many Catholics were scandalized when they first heard of the Confession app. The misconception was that the app, available on iTunes for $1.99, was some sort of bizarre means for making a confession online. Thankfully, such is not the case. Confession: A Roman Catholic App was developed in collaboration with Rev. Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Executive Director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Rev. Daniel Scheidt, pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mishawaka, IN. It received an imprimatur from Bishop Kevin C. Rhodes of the Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend in Indiana. It is the first known imprimatur to be given for an app, and it has been sanctioned by the Church.
Confession: A Roman Catholic App is actually designed to be used inside the confessional. What it does is create a custom examination of conscience based on age, sex and vocation (single, married, priest or religious) that is password protected. It then provides a step-by-step guide to the sacrament, including time of last confession in days, weeks, months and years. “This app invites Catholics to prayerfully prepare for and participate in the Rite of Penance,” said the developers. “Individuals who have been away from the sacrament for some time will find Confession: A Roman Catholic App to be a useful and inviting tool.”
One of the most popular apps is the Bible App, available for free on most mobile devices. Users can select from hundreds of versions of the Bible, including the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE), in over 675 different languages. There are also hundreds of reading plans available, such as devotionals, as well as plans that lead the user through specific topics, portions of the Bible or even the entire Bible over the course of a year. You can highlight, bookmark and add notes, just like a printed version. There’s also a social aspect to the app, so users can see what their friends are noting, bookmarking and highlighting and they can comment to share thoughts, ask questions and engage in conversation.
One of my personal favorites is Echo, a free app for Apple and Android. Echo is essentially a prayer manager. I found I would tell people I would pray for them and then forget to actually do it. Echo keeps track of my prayers and then sends me push notifications that remind me to stop and pray throughout the week. It helps users like me integrate prayer into our daily routines, which facilitates our communication with God even in the midst of our busy 21st Century lifestyles.
A great app for children is Saint of the Day for Kids, $1.99 on iTunes. Adults and children can learn about the lives of 365 saints, one for each day of the year. Presented in a language that kids can understand and appropriate for any age, all of the images can be printed and then colored. Parents can also share them to Facebook or email them. You can set daily, weekly or bi-weekly reminders to check out that day’s saint. Saint of the Day for Kids is a fun way to increase your family’s knowledge of the “pillars of the church” and inspire everyone to lead more enriched lives.
Touting itself as the number-one Catholic app, Laudate (free for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire) is fully loaded. Here’s just a sampling of what you get:
• Daily Mass Readings
• Catechism of the Catholic Church
• Liturgy of the Hours
• Traditional Roman Breviary
• Complete library of all the modern-era Church documents
• Stations of the Cross
• Confession preparation with examination of conscience
• Daily meditations
• Podcasts of daily readings and meditations
Clearly, it’s of extraordinary value for any Catholic who wants to keep his or her faith a priority while on the go.
For the traveling faithful, it doesn’t get much more convenient than the Catholic Mass Times Church Directory app (free on iTunes). It helps users quickly find the nearest churches, websites, Mass times, maps, directions, bulletins and other important information. You can find churches near a location by using Search by Address feature, and search results even indicate which churches have upcoming Masses that day. This is a must-have before summer vacations start.
Last but certainly not least, there’s our new diocesan app, Catholic Connections, now available for free for iOS, Android and Windows. Catholic Connections includes daily print and audio readings (featuring members of our diocese!), news and a live stream portal. It also has links to many diocesan resources like the Catholic Connection magazine and the Diocese of Shreveport Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts to help the faithful stay connected with one another throughout North Louisiana. New content is added weekly, so there’s always something to discover.
There are certainly drawbacks to the increasing use of apps and the Internet, “they do not justify rejecting social media,” said Pope Francis. Technology serves an important purpose, helping us “grow in humanity and mutual understanding.” “The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people,” he said on World Communications Day in 2014. Let us commit to use these apps and others to give and receive, to communicate authentically, to grow closer to God and to welcome others to the Church.