New Media at the Jordan River

A pilgrim reaches into the Jordan River. Photo taken by me, on pilgrimage in November 2010.

Bishop Oscar Cantu stood at the Jordan River with a group of Holy Land pilgrims this June. The group was ready to renew their baptismal promises at the place where their Lord was baptized.

Then, a complication: the pilgrimage leaders couldn’t locate the formula for baptismal promises. Where was that paper??

“Oh, no problem.” Bishop Cantu pulled out his smartphone and downloaded the formula. Ready to renew!

Isn’t it marvelous what new media can do?

(I heard this story today from my boss, Mary Jane Fox, who together with her husband Deacon Tom Fox led this pilgrim group through the Holy Land. She also noted that many of the pilgrims were using iPads and smartphones to capture their pilgrimage memories.)

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Seeds and ‘Switching Off’: Jesus’ challenge for modern-day disciples

Catholic media lovers have a profound message to hear this Sunday.

The Gospel

We’ve reached the fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. In the Gospel, Jesus preaches a peculiar—but familiar—parable: that of the sower and the seeds. You can read it here. We good Catholics know the gist of this story: the sower’s seeds land upon different types of terrain, which determine whether or not they grow and produce fruit.

When questioned, the Rabbi assures his followers:

This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.

Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.”

You and I are “blessed,” because we are Catholic. We have been changed by what we have seen and heard. We have heard, listened, and understood.

Modern-Day Sowing

For those of us who involve ourselves in Catholic media, this message from Jesus is especially pertinent. Why? We leave this answer to the godfather of media theory, Marshall McLuhan, a convert to Catholicism. In an interview with Fr. Patrick Peyton, McLuhan described the relationship between media and conversion. Call it a modern-day seed parable:

St. Paul’s remark that “faith comes by hearing” would seem to have something to do with this resonance of the Word — the Divine Word resonating in the human heart is a kind of interface which changes the human heart and tunes it in a totally new way.

[…] The world of resonance requires a complete involvement and consent on the part of the listener.

However, we can ‘switch off.’ Even to resonance we can ‘turn off.’ Many people, of course, have developed this power in the Electric Age: they are so embellished or so flooded with data, with information, that they tend to protect themselves by ‘switch off.’ Just turning themselves off, going numb, becoming some sort of somnambulistic modules and unaware, really, of themselves or the world they live in, not relating, and so on.

I suppose it’s possible to have little faith—the Scriptures even mention it: “O ye of little faith”—it seems to be directed there to people who’ve ‘switched off,’ who just reject the sound and the Word. St. Paul’s remark that “faith comes by hearing” rather than by any visual manifestation suggests how total it is. It was the old philosophers who pointed out that the world of resonance—acoustic space—is a complete sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose margin is nowhere. In the world of faith, you have that experience of being always at the center, and the center is everywhere, and the margins are nowhere.

There are so many of us today who allow ourselves to ‘switch off.’ We let the Word of God fall on rough terrain, and it’s gone. We’re so used to scanning hundreds of blog entries, tweets, and Facebook posts that we miss all the seeds. We don’t allow ourselves to be touched by God’s work in others’ lives, nor do we allow ourselves to see those bloggers, tweeps, and Facebook friends as soil in need of TLC.

Our Challenge

Notice that Jesus’ words are not simply an observation or factual statement, but a challenge to his followers: BLESSED ARE YOUR EYES AND EARS!

In other words: “You guys have been given the grace to understand the mysteries of faith! You have a tremendous responsibility!” Earlier in the gospel, Jesus said that he needs “more laborers for the harvest.” God is sowing seed like crazy, and He wants to harvest abundantly!!!

Hearing the Divine Word can be, as McLuhan says, completely involving and transformative. The Lord God says through Isaiah that His Word can convert and heal us—if only we listen and prepare the soil of our souls!

Takeaways

1. Fight against the tendency to ‘switch off’ to those around us, whom God is trying to touch.

2. Pray fervently and often to become a ‘master gardener’ and learn how to till the soil of the souls around you.

3. Don’t worry so much about sowing those seeds. (“Gee, how are we going to spread the Catholic faith?”) Jesus said, “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say.” Marshall McLuhan is famous for declaring that content is not so important as the medium is important. God provides us with the medium/message: Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, God sows the seed of the Word in souls. He needs a strong support staff. He needs you to learn how to work with that soil. With you, He can clear away the thorns and the rocks. With you, He can transplant seeds to secure ground. He will help you nurture and till the soil. You are not the Star Sower; you are a laborer.

4. Take time daily to realize how precious a gift you’ve been given: knowledge of God’s Kingdom.

5. Consent to letting the Divine Word resonate in you.

Theology over Technology: Vatican new media strategy on right track

It confused a lot of people.

Tweeps who were watching the #VBM11 feed during May 2, 2011’s “Vatican Blogger Meeting” saw this among Lisa Hendey’s updates:

#vbm11 Lucio A Ruiz: Vatican’s web presence is not a technological issue, it’s a theological issue

I had later tweeted that this was case #1 that my thesis had been vindicated by the Vatican. That’s because my concluding recommendations began with the “need for a theologically-infused methodology” as the basis for Church new media activity. I regret not having several more months to elaborate on this recommendation.

That starts now.

From Fear to Courage

Today is Pentecost. The anniversary of our debut? Yes, but much more, as Bishop Shomali of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem noted in a private audience at which I was present.

He described the recent Middle Eastern Bishops’ Synod, which I believe has major connections to our diverse Church venturing into new media territory:

We were afraid. […] Especially that we came from different cultures, subcultures, different churches, liturgies, traditions, languages… It was somewhat of a Babel. […] We had our own fears, divisions. You can’t expect that all the bishops coming from different countries had the same idea. […]

Then, he summarized a portion of Pope Benedict XVI’s homily at the Synod:

Pentecost is not a unique, historical event which happened once upon a time. But it is a permanent dynamism which can be repeated.

With the Holy Spirit, we conquer the confusion of Babel, the fear of post-crucifixion persecution, and become a courageous crowd of witnesses.

Why Theology Must Be Foundational

This is why, before I advise any Church-related organization on new media technologies, I speak with them about the theology of new media. What does that mean?

Theology literally means ‘a discourse on, or account of, the gods.’ But in practice, theology is an examination of God and the relationship between God and creation. Pope Benedict XVI has said that “whoever loves God is impelled to become, in a certain sense, a theologian” (To the Members of the International Theological Commission, December 2010). Our every activity should be intimately related to our relationship with God. BXVI also said, “Theology is not theology unless it is integrated into the life and reflection of the Church through time and space.”

If this is so, why do Catholic techies spend more time tech-talking about Catholic new media than theologizing about it?

If we truly believe that we, the Catholic Church, must utilize new media, how can we expect success without theology?

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Mt. 7:22-3)

No matter how much we speak about how new media can do this, that, or the other for the Church,
no matter  how much we call our ventures “Catholic new media,”
we will mean nothing if we do not embrace a prayerful, theological foundation for our work.

Thank God the Vatican understands this. I read Lisa’s tweet that day and excitedly pumped my fist in the air. “YES!” I said aloud. “It’s not a mistake, that’s the way it should be: a matter of theology over technology!”

Where to Go From Here? 

So, how do we go about developing a theological foundation for our new media methodologies? The Holy Father noted in the afore-mentioned address:

The theologian never begins from zero, but considers as teachers the Fathers and theologians of the whole Christian tradition.

We have to begin by amassing works by, and meditating on, our evangelizing ancestors: from the prophets to Christ to the saints. Names I’d recommend for the list include

  • Saint Paul the Apostle
  • Saint Francis de Sales – Bishop & Doctor of the Church, 1567-1622
  • Blessed Giacomo (James) Alberione – Founder of the Pauline Family, 1884-1971
  • Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen – Bishop & Award-winning Media Personality, 1895-1979

and Saint Daniel Comboni, whose words about missionary work echo into this new media age:

The missionaries will have to understand that they are stones hid under the earth, which will perhaps never come to light, but which will become part of the foundations of a vast, new building.

Who would you add to the list? Are you ready to contribute to this new theological exploration?

Good Friday Collection to support Catholic media, Holy Land Christians

This week, I am giving more than my usual tithe.

On Good Friday, Catholics who attend church services will have the opportunity to participate in a special collection. You may have heard it simply referred to as the “Good Friday collection.” The money you contribute will benefit our Mother Church, those living in the place where the Church was founded – the Holy Land.

In the year 1900, Christians accounted for 20% of that region’s population. Last year, largely due to difficulties stemming from the Israeli occupation, they were 2%.

This video illustrates some of the challenges that Palestinian Christians face. In it, Christian pastor Alex Awad stands in front of the entrance to the Church of the Nativity and sums up the situation:

We are losing our voice. We are losing our testimony. We are losing our impact and our influence on society. And of course, we are losing our rights, because when you are a very, very small community among big numbers of people, it is natural to lose our voice in the community.

If current trends continue, analysts believe that in 20 years, there will be NO CHRISTIANS LEFT in the Holy Land! Do you understand the severity of this situation?

How can we ignore the plight of Christians who live where Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose? How can we turn our radio dials as reporters describe the emptying of the Gospel lands? How can we call ourselves the Body of Christ and let the members living within its heart suffer?

Holy Land Christians Need You

While in Jerusalem, my fellow pilgrims and I were privileged to have a private audience with Bishop William Shomali, auxiliary bishop of the Holy Land’s Latin rite diocese. Among some of his words to us were…

  • “Communion is the best witness to Jesus; when we are united together.”
  • “We will have no fear for the future if everyone thinks of his brothers and sisters.”

His Excellency taught me that the Christians of the Holy Land love us: their brothers and sisters of the universal Church. They want and need our prayers. They want and need our heartfelt support. They want and need to stay where they are – to carry on the 2,000-year witness they bear.

Media Can Help

The Good Friday collection will – besides providing for the material needs of the Holy Land’s Christians – help fund the Franciscans’ media production. Their websites, videos, and social media profiles provide new ways for people around the world to connect with the Holy Land and its natives. What invaluable resources! (We make a big deal about the Vatican’s website, but why don’t we hear a word about the web presence of the ‘sites’ made holy by Our Lord Jesus?)

Please, don’t forget the Good Friday collection. Set something aside for this. Then, use some of your time this Friday to pray for our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.

I’m Engaged, and I Don’t Want a Diamond

Four years ago, I hoped and pleaded with God that I could be a religious sister – a nun.

Then, I started really praying “Thy Will be done.” I entrusted my vocation to St. Joseph, a man who obeyed God’s Will even when it was confusing, demanding, and seemingly dangerous.

Dan & Angela asking Joan of Arc for vocation advice

This past Friday night, Dan took me out for dinner. Then, we drove to a local Catholic evangelization center where we’d spent a good amount of time together. We had private Eucharistic Adoration in the chapel. Dan asked, “Would you pray evening prayer with me?” He flipped through the pages of the Divine Office to the feast of St. Joseph. “But today is the feast of St. Cyril, right?” I was confused. Then, it clicked: Dan had waited until the most meaningful night possible – the vigil of the Feast of St. Joseph – to propose to me. After our Evening Prayer, he got down on one knee and tearfully asked me to marry him.

Of course, I said yes.

There was no ring. He’d known that I would have wanted to pick something out for myself. As I’ve been looking through different retailers, I’ve been having some trouble finding what I want, and have spent time weeding through lots of what I don’t want. That’s because I don’t want any diamonds. Or precious stones. Or fancy metallic designs. I just want a simple band – one ring for engagement and marriage.

Of course, nobody understands or believes me (except Daniel).

Nuns and the Feast

Sure, there are monetary benefits to having a single, simple engagement-wedding ring. I like saving money. But that’s not the sole or even the main reason why I want to stay simple.

Have you ever seen a nun’s left ring finger (in the U.S.)? She’s got a wedding ring on. Ever since the first centuries of the Church’s existence, consecrated women have worn plain rings signifying “their betrothal to their heavenly Spouse” (source). Such rings are also worn by priests and consecrated men. It is a signpost, pointing toward a greater reality.

As much as I love my fiancé, he is not my soulmate. Jesus Christ is my soulmate and his. Dan and I want to help each other reach the Wedding Feast of the Lamb:

“‘Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony.’ Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to ‘be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,’ and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb.”

– Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1642

Dan and I have strong desires to communicate this true meaning of the sacrament of matrimony to our families, friends, and community members. We believe in it wholeheartedly.

Treasure Hunt

We also believe that our treasure is in Heaven. Why does our society have this silly idea that engagement rings need diamonds? In ancient Egypt, people began adding precious or semi-precious stones to wedding rings in order to demonstrate wealth (source). While there’s nothing wrong with being wealthy, showing off your wealth is another matter.

Dan and I would rather our rings speak more about our hearts than our pocketbooks. Diamonds may be “indestructible,” but the might of our God is stronger. When our rings are consecrated within the wedding ceremony, they become one-of-a-kind reminders that our loving union is a sacramental sign of the union that Christ desires with every person and with the whole Church.

Don’t Be Mistaken

I am usually all for tradition – after all, I’m Catholic! And I’m not suggesting that traditional symbols used by millions of couples are wrong or bad.

I’m saying that Dan and I want to be different for a reason.  Deviating from traditions or expectations earns the attention of others. Assuredly, the only time either of us enjoy getting other people’s attention is when we’re taking advantage of that attention to preach the Gospel. The thing is… that’s the point of all this marriage stuff.

In a world where marriage has become merely a ceremony, contract, or excuse to throw a party, Daniel and I want to be the messengers that our names convey. We want to slap some sense into this world and remind it that marriage on earth points to the ultimate marriage in Heaven – with one Bridegroom and one Bride.

See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

Catholic Media Promotion Day – my picks, by vocation

I remember when I first met Greg Willits. It was at the very first Catholic New Media Celebration in Atlanta, Georgia in 2009. I came up to Greg to say hello, and he said, “Hey – you’re Angela Santana!” Those few seconds really summarize Catholic new media for me; that two people who would otherwise be complete strangers could meet in person and already have a personal connection.

In honor of Greg‘s genius initiative, Catholic Media Promotion Day, I’m giving you my own picks. You’ll notice that they’re sorted by vocation. You’ll learn why at the end of this post.

BLOG PICKS

  • Representing Holy Orders: My heart rejoices at hearing a new bishop host his own personal podcast, via his own blog, especially when he says things like, “I’m a bit of a geek […] I love my Mac and I love my iPod,” and using the following terms: animated GIF, JPEG, iPhone, Facebook, “get a text” [message], blog, podcast, “uber geek.” Congratulate and show your appreciation for Bishop Chris Coyne by visiting his blog, Let Us Walk Together: Thoughts of a Catholic Bishop.
  • Representing Matrimony: Everyone loves a good love story. The moment I read this blog post by author Mike Hayes about his wife, I felt such a strong affinity to the marriage vocation. Mike blogs about ministry in a personal, colorful way. Check out his blog, Googling God, where he’s currently doing a 50 Day Lenten Giveaway.
  • Representing Single Life: For singles – who, speaking as a single person, truly have the grace of making extra time to devote to their spiritual formation – and for every Catholic, I highly recommend the Catholic Spiritual Direction blog. Find answers to nearly every question you could ask about the spiritual life.

PODCAST PICKS

  • Representing Holy Orders: I feel super geeky every time I listen to The Catholic Underground. But then I realize that I’m among priests (and laity) much geekier than I, and that makes me grin.
  • Representing Matrimony: I was once afraid that I wouldn’t be able to relate to Mac and Katherine Barron, who are married with children in a Bible Belt town. But I gave a listen to Catholic In A Small Town, and now I can hardly wait until the next episode. Do yourself a favor and check out their show.
  • Representing Single Life: I’m a strong believer that men and women need spiritual resources tailored for them. Our vocations as men and women are so different. For the ladies, I recommend Among Women – always an inspiring or fun podcast by Pat Gohn. For the men, I recommend the fantastic archive of podcasts via the National Fellowship of Catholic Men online media network. Just click a category and find tons of great mp3s for download!

OTHER MEDIA PICKS

  • Representing Holy Orders: Want to help a young man pursue his calling? Meet Patrick Gothman. While in seminary for diocesan priesthood, he discovered the Little Brothers of the Lamb, a mendicant branch of the Dominican order. He feels a strong attraction to life with this order, and you can help him discern! Patrick says, God told me in prayer back in November, Your entire vocation is a gift, not something you can earn.  So also, how you get there is a gift, and I will bring people to you who will help, if you ask.
    Learn more about Patrick, read his blog, and donate toward his cause at his website, Make A Friar.
  • Representing Matrimony: Out of an almost-divorced marriage, the Church has been given a dynamic, needed marriage ministry: The Alexander House. Husband-and-wife team Greg and Julie Alexander have established a ministry to strengthen broken and hurting marriages, and to educate couples about God’s plan for marriage.
  • Representing Single Life: Everyone loves a good Dominican friar. Better yet – a good young Dominican friar. You can find TONS of these guys over at Preaching Friars, a website featuring the student friars of St. Dominic Priory. Check out their blog, Lenten guide, and video of some fantastic Dominican preaching. It’s clear that these guys are living the single life with joy.

3 RANDOM CATHOLIC THINGS ON THE INTERNET

  • Representing Holy Orders: Every Catholic would love to meet the Holy Father, right? Well, Boston’s CatholicTV gives you the next best thing with VisitThePope.com – offering a 2D or 3D video giving you inside access to a typical day in the life of Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI!
  • Representing Matrimony: The amazing 2-year-old Michael Barber, Jr. I’ve often learned from theology professor Dr. Michael Barber’s media appearances, but it appears that having Dr. Barber for a dad is the ultimate classroom. Congratulations to the Barbers – that’s what I want my kids to be like someday!
  • Representing Single Life: The Daughters of St. Paul have teamed up with Fr. Thomas Loya to create a USTREAM live & recorded Theology of the Body Online Study Group! Every second Saturday of the month, tune in live to the USTREAM broadcast of this study group. If you miss a session, you can check out their archives and catch up. It’s a fantastic program, and I’ve learned so much just from the few episodes I’ve seen.

MY PROJECTS

  • October 27 through November 10, 2010, I was blogging in the Holy Land with Catholic evangelization ministry (and my employers) The Pilgrim Center of Hope. A chronicle of my experiences as a first-time pilgrim can be found here. Start with the entry, “Checking in from the Holy Land” and work your way up the list.
  • My best friend Dan Sealana and I have a lot in common. We both live in San Antonio, are passionate about our Catholic faith, are excited about new media, and want to share all three of those things with lots of people. Following a strong calling, and preceeded by a letter to our bishop, we’ve begun collaborating on San Antonio Catholic Beat – a ministry that promotes “faith and fun” in South Texas. We want to evangelize, express an excitement about living Catholic lives, promote awareness of local events, and offer our own events whenever possible, in service of South Texas.
  • I told you I’d explain why this post is divided by vocation! It mimics a section of my thesis, New Media, New Evangelization: The Unique Benefits of New Media and Why the Catholic Church Should Engage Them, which was published in May 2010. You can read it and other materials I’ve created via SlideShare. Thanks to Brandon Vogt, the thesis will be mentioned in the forthcoming book, The Church and New Media. (I get my own sidebar!) Keep up with the status of that book – it’ll feature outstanding contributors like Fr. Robert Barron and Matthew Warner.

Get Your Ministry on Facebook: Tips, Guidelines, and Encouragement.

Yesterday, we learned that “The World is Obsessed with Facebook” via this video by Alex Trimpe:

While the Church doesn’t support obsessive behaviors, we certainly promote connectedness and communication that create relationships and build up the Body of Christ. Just today, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, M.Sp.S., was quoted as having said,

All media have the opportunity to bring people together to overcome our differences.

at Catholic Television of San Antonio‘s annual Leadership Luncheon. With the way our world is spinning, I have no doubt that media will continue to play a major role in the unification of people who have legitimate differences: social rank, economic status, cultural background, moral upbringing, etc.

Given the statistics and the theology, why isn’t your ministry on Facebook yet?

TIME? If it’s a matter of time, find someone who has more time, or is willing to make the time.

  1. It can take as little as 5-10 minutes per week (depending on your level of activity) to update a Facebook page and interact with people who partake of it.
  2. Ask around among your members, parish staffs, councils and organizations to see who has a Facebook page.
  3. Find a local young adult, Catholic university or even high school student whom you can trust and who already spends time on Facebook to act as your eyes and ‘ears’. (Offer volunteer hours if you want!)

KNOW-HOW? If you’re not familiar enough with Facebook or social networking to start the page on your own,

  1. Seek out persons who do. (Ask around!) Get their advice, ask them to spend an hour helping you familiarizing yourself with this powerful social phenomena.
  2. Look up tutorials. You can find free articles and videos all over the ‘Net. DO NOT let someone con you into paying ridiculous amounts of money for seminars. Look up the Catholic Media Guild and Nonprofit Webinars.
  3. Contact me, and I’ll give you some pointers.

RED TAPE? If your organization has strict guidelines for Internet use, discuss your desire to establish a Facebook presence with whomever has the authority to give you an OK. Before you do so, keep the following items in mind:

  1. Read the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Communications Social Media Guidelines.
  2. There are over 25 dioceses on Facebook, and hundreds of Catholic ministries and organizations with Facebook pages.
  3. Fear and trembling is reserved for God, not for new ways to communicate with His people. Make it work.

More and more Catholics – whether active Mass-goers, lapsed, fallen-away, or potential – have made Facebook a regular part of their communications routine. It’s time to make this a priority.

“Confession app” trailblazing

In case you haven’t heard (since it was announced a week ago), there’s a new app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch called “Confession: A Roman Catholic app.”

Unfortunately, non-Catholic news media outlets are having a ball with this. Read more about some of the misinformation here. Fr. Z gives his review of the app here.

I’ll be brief:

  • I’m glad to see the foundation of Little iApps, LLC. I bet we’ll soon be able to add it to the small list of successful Catholic new media businesses.
  • Considering previous conversation about imprimaturs on Catholic new media, it’s interesting to note that this app has an imprimatur. Does the combination of 1) Catholic company committed to orthodoxy + 2) bishop’s trust & approval = Catholic new media’s secret to imprimaturs?
  • CatholicTV’s Bonnie Rodgers recently added this gem to the conversation: “In my opinion, the Confession app is a great as a resource for an examination of conscience and identifying the essentials of the sacrament of healing. It is effective catechesis about a misunderstood sacrament.”
  • Despite that, Satan’s smiling right now. The misinformation makes me want to cry. He must have immediately recognized what Bonnie did – this app’s potential for great catechesis and ability to help bring more people to the sacrament. Cue: confusion & misinformation. (He’s good at that.)
  • It’s time for well-catechized Catholics to come to the rescue and make some corrections.

Personally, I enjoy the old-fashioned pen & paper examination of conscience. After absolution, burning or ripping up and throwing away my tear-stained list of sins makes Confession feel ‘doubly sacramental.’ I guess this app will add to the plethora of legitimately diverse methods of prayer.

Don’t you love being Catholic? 🙂

The Hand Prayer

Today as I was praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet, I opened my hands to count on my fingers and offer my prayer to the Father. As I prayed, I realized that our hands can actually help us to meditate…

1. Thumb: ‘Who Comes First?’hands
The thumb is the finger closest to your heart. It’s the “first” finger on your hand. Think, ‘Who comes first in my life?’ Is God first? Do I put Him before all things? Do I come to Him first with things that are troubling me? Do I first praise Him when I am joyful? Do I honor and bless His Name, and His Day? Or…do other things come first in my life? What do I hold closer to my heart than God?

2. Pointer Finger: ‘To Whom Am I Pointing?’
Next in line is your “pointer finger.” Many of us, when we’re upset, are accustomed to pointing at others when we blame or scold. Think, ‘To Whom Am I Pointing?’ How often do I accuse others of wrongdoing? Do I ever stop to think about what I have done wrong? We’re also given the ability to point others toward or away from God; how often do I point others to God? Have I ever led someone away from God, in my words or actions? What can I do to ensure that I begin pointing everyone I meet towards Eternal God?

3. Middle Finger: ‘Do I Insult or Encourage?’
The third or “middle” finger is generally the tallest. American society has the famously obscene “bird” gesture, pointing our middle finger at those who offend or upset us. Think, ‘Do I Insult or Encourage?’ How often do I insult others? How often do I become angry or upset with someone? Do I ever examine my own faults instead of focusing on the faults of others? What about encouragement – how often do I encourage others? Do I put myself down, or do I listen to God’s encouraging voice?

4. Ring Finger: ‘How Do I Love?’
The fourth finger in many cultures designates marriage or singleness. Interestingly, it is also generally the weakest finger. In our weakness, God tells us that we are “made strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Christ showed His love for us by coming as a vulnerable human baby, and was made weak through torture until He finally died.

Think, ‘ How Do I Love?’ If you are married, do you frequently express your love for your spouse—in word and action? If you are a parent, do you express your love for your children—in word and action? As a child, how do you demonstrate love and honor for your parents? For your other family members? Have you misused your sexuality? Does the way you dress demonstrate the love you have for others (by helping them to maintain purity of mind & heart)? Do you insist on dominating or winning during conflicts, either with your spouse or with others? Do you maintain a healthy love of self, seeing yourself as lovingly made by God, or do you mistreat yourself emotionally, physically, psychologically?

5. Pinky: ‘Who Do I Make Small?’
The last finger is sometimes called the “pinky.” It’s often thought of as the “small” finger. Think, ‘Who Do I Make Small?’ Have you made someone feel less valued through name-calling, gossip, bullying, taunting, etc.? Do you often make others to feel “smaller” or weaker rather than humble yourself?

Palm: ‘Do I Take Or Give?’
Look at the inside of your open hand at your palm. Think, ‘Do I Take or Give?’ Have I ever taken gifts or compliments and allowed them to feed my ego, or have I been grateful for them? Have I taken something that did not belong to me—either by cheating, theft, or unchaste activity? Do I give of my time, or do I take time from others? Do I give my skills and resources to those in need, or do I take from others’? Do I take God’s gifts without thanking Him? Do I offer Him what He has given me?

Open My Hands, Lord…

This method of praying is very helpful for me as a visual learner because it helps me to concretely and methodologically examine my conscience during prayer. Seeing my hands reminds me that they are gifts that can either be used rightly or misused, but that the choice is always mine.

Most of all, praying this way helps me remember that I should always keep my hands open and raised to God: ready to praise and to receive all the graces He wants to give us. Hope this helps you, too.