|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,
In the following interview, Fr Shane talks about
how he started Luminous Mysteries and how it has developed
How and when did Luminous Mysteries get started?
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
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
lot of darkness too. Darkness needs light, and our faith
is “luminous”… hence the title.
|Fr. Shane Johnson, LC |
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?
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
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
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
What have been some of the best questions asked so
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.
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
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!