Today, we feature the last in a series of guest bloggers as we celebrate the 5th anniversary of my blog The Catechist’s Journey. You may have heard me make mention of Jonathan Sullivan before and I’m delighted to see that he is indeed making an impact on the national scene as he will be one of the keynote speakers at the NCCL Conference in 2012! Jonathan currently serves as the director of catechetical ministries for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and host of the Catechetical Leader podcast for the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. Jonathan received his BA in theology and pastoral ministry from Quincy University and his MA from Aquinas Institute of Theology. His webinars on catechesis and social media were recently featured in the book The Church and New Media and he blogs at www.jonathanfsullivan.com. Jonathan lives in Springfield with his wife and five children. Thanks, Jonathan for putting the exclamation point on our week of guest blogs!
Evaluating Online Resources for the Faithful
by Jonathan Sullivan
The internet is a cornucopia of resources on the faith. There is no shortage of voices talking about what Catholics believe, how to pray, or what to wear to Mass! But with so many resources, how can we know which are trustworthy or not? How can we direct the youth and adults in our catechetical programs – as well as our family and friends! – to online sources that will help them to grow in faith and wisdom, and to learn to walk humbly with God?
Here are four general principals to keep in mind when evaluating online sources. I’ve deliberately crafted them on the restrictive side, just to “play it safe.”
- Is it from an official source? “Official” sites are a great place to start your search for material. This includes “ecclesial” sites such as the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (various USCCB departments produce excellent catechetical resources that they post freely to the site), but it also includes catechetical publishers and diocesan offices. These types of sources usually have strict editorial guidelines and will have been reviewed by more than one person; as such, it is more likely that any mistakes will be caught. (Of course, even with the best of intentions, sometimes mistakes make it through!)
- Is it from someone connected with an official source or someone with a good track record of providing quality resources? More and more priests, members of religious congregations, authors, and parish and diocesan catechetical leaders are starting blogs, communicating via Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, and sharing materials. While these sites may be “unofficial” in the sense that they aren’t sponsored by a church institution, they can still have tremendous value in offering new insights, ideas, and activities. (Joe’s already featured a number of these people in guest posts this past week!)
- Is it faithful to the fullness of the Church’s teaching? Many online sources subscribe to a single, narrow interpretation of the faith. While they aren’t “wrong” per se, they don’t reflect the diversity and richness found in the Church. Just as one can’t understand religious life by studying the Jesuits to the exclusion of the Carthusians, Dominicans, or Benedictines, we can’t restrict our understanding of the one faith to a single interpretive framework. There is a wideness and generosity to the faith, and we should allow the faithful to find their place in it by exposing them to various voices within the Church, rather than dictate their place to them.
- Does it pass the “Jesus” test? A wise catechetical leader recently told me that he avoids people who talk about the Church more than they talk about Jesus. There are plenty of places online to find the latest news or rumors about the internal workings of the Church – who is likely to be named a bishop, which priest is being moved where – but will these types of sites help the faithful to grow in holiness, or will they simply add to the noise they encounter online? Focus on resources that will do the former.