Teachers of the Faith: Priests, deacons and religious spread the Gospel any way they can

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Sr Helena Burns
Sister Helena Burns is a Daughter of St. Paul. Courtesy photo

The technological developments of the last half-century have provided new and spectacular opportunities for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Men and women who have dedicated their lives to Christ have a particular voice and prominent platforms that many use to spread the Faith. But while the technology might be new, the responsibilities are not, as priests, deacons and men and women religious have been looked upon since the early Church to pass on their knowledge of the Faith by using their gifts of preaching, speaking and writing.

Father Jeffrey Kirby is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Indian Land, South Carolina. He is also a prolific speaker and writer, and is author of many books, including “Living in Peace” (OSV, $4.95) and “Way of the Cross for Loved Ones Who Have Left the Faith” (OSV, $8.95). In addition to his priestly responsibilities to teach and preach the Faith, Father Kirby’s engagement with various media allows him to spread the Gospel far and wide.

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“St. Paul teaches us that faith is received by hearing,” Father Kirby said. “In order for someone to hear the Gospel, it must be preached and taught. In that spirit, my speaking (and writing) are some additional means by which I can present the Gospel and invite people to deeper aspects of their discipleship.”

Preaching the Faith is not something only to be geared toward the uninitiated; all of us need to be evangelized and catechized. While there are many Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly, Sunday Mass-goers are greater in number than those in any sort of faith formation program. This means that the homily is “the first and preeminent opportunity for adult formation,” Father Kirby said. “Drawing from the Scripture readings, the homily is a blessed part of the liturgy in which the truths of faith can be taught and applied to daily life.”

“St. Paul teaches us that faith is received by hearing. In order for someone to hear the Gospel, it must be preached and taught. In that spirit, my speaking (and writing) are some additional means by which I can present the Gospel and invite people to deeper aspects of their discipleship.”

— Father Jeffrey Kirby

Preaching is a particular responsibility of the priest as the shepherd and spiritual father of his parish, Father Kirby said. “It is bound to the health and well-being of his own priestly identity. The solemn promises of the priest compel him to preach and teach the Gospel,” Father Kirby said.

Taking advantage of technology

Deacon Burke-Sivers

Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, and a sought-after speaker, retreat leader, writer and spiritual director, says he utilizes every media opportunity he can to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “If St. Paul were alive today, he’d definitely be using all the means we have today to bring the message to the world,” he said.

“The way I think about what I do is like an artist,” he said. “An artist or a musician has to decide what medium he’s going to use to express himself and his ideas. For me, my ideas are expressed through my writing, my speaking, videos and streams.”

The variety of media options allows a greater reach, and new technology facilitates that. “What it comes down to for me is meeting people where they are,” Deacon Burke-Sivers said. “We live in such a small world right now; the technology means we can communicate with people all across the globe.”

For example, Catholic conferences that used to be accessible only to people who lived near the event or were willing to travel are now routinely livestreamed. “With so many conferences going virtual, we’ve got people from all over the country, even all over the world, attending that conference who never would’ve had that opportunity before,” Burke-Sivers said.

A battle for the mind

Fr. Ames

Father Mark-Mary Ames is the director of communications for the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. In this capacity, he is engaged in many different content streams in diverse media, including weekly YouTube videos for Ascension Press, a weekly podcast (“Poco a Poco”) with two of his confreres, a new book, “Habits for Holiness: Small Steps for Making Big Spiritual Progress” (Ascension Press, $14.95), and he runs all of the social media accounts for the friars.

After reflecting on the papal messages for World Communications Day, Father Ames realized that engaging in different media is an important way that his community could communicate the Gospel to the world. Father Ames works from the words of St. Paul to the Romans: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). “There’s a battle going on for eyes and ears,” he said. “That is ultimately a battle for the mind, and that determines whether or not someone will be conformed to the world or transformed by Christ.”

“People are going to be listening to something and watching something, and the first step isn’t to say ‘turn it off,’ the first step is to say, ‘Why don’t you try this?'” he said.

As a religious order priest — and specifically as a Franciscan — Father Ames understands that there is a certain level of credibility, and an expectation of humility. “People expect a sort of authenticity because we work with the poor and have a vow of poverty,” he said. “People are receptive to what we have to say in a different way.”

Finding infinite value

The Daughters of St. Paul is an international religious order founded by Blessed James Alberione for the sole purpose of evangelizing through the media. Their work can be found on any social media platform via the hashtag #MediaNuns. Sister Helena Burns is a member of the Paulines’ congregation in Toronto.

Alberione wanted his community to always use the latest means for media communication, not to get stuck on print or any particular form. He wanted to sanctify the media and use it as a tool for mass communication of the Gospel. But more than preaching the Gospel in a pure sense, he also sought to help others live the Faith, to use media well and with intentionality. He died in 1971, prior to the advent of the internet, but his approach is suited perfectly to the internet age.

“Sometimes religious people think all media is evil, or they go on Twitter and see how nasty people can be, so they leave,” Sister Helena said. “All that means is another nice person left; those are the sort of people we need, so they can be an example of how to behave.”

You don’t have to be particularly prominent, with a large following, to have an impact, Sister Helena said. “If you only have one follower, one friend on Facebook, and you share Jesus with them — wow, you have just shared Jesus with a soul. That is of infinite value,” she said. “If you post a Bible quote once in a while, or a saint quote, everyone in your little circle would be affected by that. Everyone has their own sphere of influence, their own little corner of the world. Imagine if everyone did that,” Sister Helena said; “the world would be filled with the knowledge of God.”

Paul Senz writes from Oregon.

Paul Senz

Paul Senz writes from Oklahoma.