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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Stump the Priest
Fr Shane Johnson’s microblog, Luminous Mysteries, gives youth a way to ask a priest questions online.

luminous  mysteries blog
The Luminous Mysteries blog.

July 25, 2011. Thornwood, NY. The Catholic presence on the blogosphere has been booming lately, with many priests and religious taking up Pope Benedict’s invitation to engage the social media as a way of reaching out to the youth. As today’s meeting place for restless minds, the Internet has tremendous potential—along with some limitations—for evangelization. One priest who has been capitalizing on the opportunity is Fr Shane Johnson, LC, whose blog, Luminous Mysteries, has already attracted 900 followers, many of them youth seeking answers about God, faith, sexuality, and more.

In the following interview, Fr Shane talks about how he started Luminous Mysteries and how it has developed so far.

How and when did Luminous Mysteries get started?

It began in February of this year, which makes me a latecomer to the social media scene. I teach philosophy at our Thornwood, NY, formation center and I say Masses and hear confessions in the parishes of the northern New York City suburbs and the Bronx practically every weekend. Since my priestly ordination in December 2009, much of my extra time was spent helping edit the National Catholic Register until it was sold to EWTN in January. Working with the pros at the Register taught me a great deal about the ever-evolving media world and how the Church can communicate its message there, so its sale left me looking for ways to continue to help. Looking for ways to fill up our free time with effective projects is something hard-coded into Legionary DNA, I suppose.

What is the main purpose of the blog?

Thanks be to God, the Church now has plenty of excellent Catholic bloggery, but the Internet is a restless place, and blogging is starting to dwindle in popularity in favor of social networking and microblogging: posting photos and quotes and videos and songs and more photos and some quick thoughts to a sort of online scrapboard.

A lot of people haven’t heard of Tumblr yet, but it’s exploding. It’s a social network of microblogs that’s now at close to 20 million blogs and growing very quickly. I noticed that there didn’t seem to be much of a Catholic presence there and that it appeals mostly to young people, so I figured it would be a good place to try to get a Roman collar into. Fashion, photography and art dominate Tumblr, but amidst all that beauty there is a
Fr. Shane Johnson, LC (United States)
Fr. Shane Johnson, LC
lot of darkness too. Darkness needs light, and our faith is “luminous”… hence the title.

I had some ideas about what might be interesting to Tumblr users, but almost from the start, the young people themselves started steering Luminous Mysteries in a different direction. There is a neat Q&A feature in which bloggers can answer questions that their readers ask. And as soon as the word got out that a Catholic priest was on Tumblr, the questions started pouring in much faster than I could answer them.

What has the response been?

I’m overwhelmed with more questions than I can answer on a timely basis. Right now I have 34 unanswered questions that I’m hoping to get to over the next week or two. They’re all great questions and they all deserve answers.

If you’re a teenager — or even a college student — with questions about life, faith, love, the universe and everything, you’ll tend to get answers from your friends or from the media. That’s not always healthy, obviously; perceptions drive perceptions. But when the opportunity arises to ask a priest something easily and anonymously, it’s amazing how the questions flow. And kids tend to be very honest and forthright about their questions, more than adults sometimes.

My goal is to show them that the Church has sensible answers to their doubts and predicaments, usually by directing them to the Catechism or to the fantastic new YouCat, as well as the Bible, obviously, but trying to do so in a way they can understand.

So there are almost 900 people “following” the blog within Tumblr and more via Twitter, email and RSS, which is amazing to me.

What do you appreciate most about this new venture?

This may sound odd, but it has helped me a lot in my own priesthood: in a way, I get to look inside the “headspace” of today’s young people, live their difficulties with them and constantly try to find better ways to help them discover the relevance of the Faith for their lives and get to know Jesus Christ better. I end every day with even more prayer intentions than at the start of the day. It’s made me more realistic about my own ministry, if that makes any sense.

What have been some of the best questions asked so far?

No such thing as a stupid question, right? Even more so here when they get so personal. Lots of questions come in about relationships and sexuality. It’s interesting to see how they sort of have an inkling that the Church is saying something sensible, but they don’t feel convinced or sufficiently motivated sometimes to fully accept that.

The ones about struggling with doubts about faith — “Do you really believe this stuff?” “I am losing my faith; how can I get back to God?” — are the ones that I work hardest on answering. It’s just logical that kids immersed in today’s culture and bombarded by so many negative messages are going to have it hard. What a blessing that somehow the Holy Spirit made it happen that they could ask a priest about it. How much I wish I was wiser and more experienced to give them better answers, but that just gives me extra incentive to study and to ask the Holy Spirit for light!

I compiled a list of favorite questions recently, for what it’s worth. 

What do you think about priests engaging in social media?

Thanks be to God, there are a couple priests who have joined Tumblr recently, which means we only need about 500 more. Seriously. There’s so much work to do. So much work. And even more than on Tumblr, priests are really needed on some networks that are even newer: Quora, Formspring, etc. I can’t dedicate more than about half an hour daily to this, but priests could easily go full-time in online evangelization. It’s really fascinating to see that the Pope is actually ahead of the curve on this one: his World Communications Day message last year was all about priests evangelizing through social media. He urged us to be more creative and generous with our time.

His 2011 message was about how all Christians can and should spread the Gospel online, and it’s also worth reading.

So what comes next?

Well, it’s already coming. I had been feeling more and more that the Catholic blogosphere in general only hears scattered bits and pieces of all the excellent teaching that the U.S. bishops are doing, and it doesn’t seem healthy. If we’re not following the voices of our shepherds placed there by God, we’ll follow other voices.

So I started another blog, BishopFeed. The idea is just to get great bishops’ teaching out in “sound bites.” It’s only been running for a few weeks and I have a lot of tweaking to do, but hopefully within a month or two it can start to be a useful resource for bloggers. Any suggestions would of course be very much appreciated. The idea is simply to be a distribution service rather than a “blog” per se. We’ll see if it works!



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