"Big Four" Highlights


New Media and New Evangelization

A 20-something collaborates with Father Robert Barron

Father Robert Barron’s “Catholicism,” a 10-part series on the history and beauty of the Church, took the Catholic and secular television world by storm in 2011. Now Father Barron has produced a follow-up series dealing specifically with the New Evangelization, the effort to rekindle the faith in lands formerly Christian.

Brandon Vogt and his wife, Kathleen, have four children (one in the womb).

Brandon Vogt and his wife, Kathleen, have four children (one in the womb).

Brandon Vogt, author of The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops who Tweet (Our Sunday Visitor), wrote the study guide for the new “Catholicism: The New Evangelization” series. Vogt, 27, who became Catholic in 2008, is a mechanical engineer pursuing a master’s degree in theology at the Augustine Institute. He and his wife, Kathleen, have four children: Isaiah (4), Teresa (3), Augustine (1), and a baby due in April 2014. He spoke with Fathers for Good by email about evangelization and the new media.

Fathers for Good: How did you get to work with Father Barron?

Brandon Vogt: Father Barron is my great intellectual hero, and I’ve been blessed to work closely with him on several projects. He wrote a chapter in my book, The Church and New Media; I’ve interviewed him several times for my blog; he’s invited me to speak to his seminarians at Mundelein [Our Lady of the Lake Seminary, where Father Barron is rector]; I hosted a spiritual day of reflection for him and his staff at Word on Fire, and most recently we collaborated on his new film, “Catholicism: The New Evangelization,” for which I wrote the associated study guide.

FFG: How important is the New Evangelization?

Vogt: The New Evangelization is the most important movement in the Church today. First, because it concerns evangelization, the Church's most basic task. As Pope Paul VI reminded us in 1975, evangelization is our central mission: the Church exists to evangelize. Proclaiming the lordship of Jesus Christ and inviting people to encounter him personally is why we’re here. We’re commissioned to know and love the Lord, yes, but also to share him with others.

Second, the New Evangelization is important because of our religious landscape. In many historically Christian countries, especially in the Western world, millions of people have drifted from their faith. Maybe they were baptized, perhaps catechized, but they were never evangelized — they never personally encountered Jesus through his Church. For example, in our own country roughly 75% of self-identifying Catholics skip Mass each week. More so, those considering themselves “former Catholics” make up the second-largest religious group in America. These numbers should deeply sadden us, but also help us recognize the urgency of the New Evangelization.

FFG: Are we too enamored of new media as a means of evangelization?

Vogt: Yes and no. Sure, there’s always a temptation to rely exclusively on technology and ignore the necessary face-to-face evangelism that occurs offline.
But on the other hand, I think the Church has barely tapped its potential. Imagine telling St. Paul, St. Augustine or St. Thomas that in less than a second you could beam a message to millions of people around the world — and do it for free. Those guys would have given their right arms for such a tool. Yet today, any of us can do that through Facebook, Twitter, a blog, or a website.

FFG: What do you find works best in evangelizing people?

Vogt: The most effective evangelization leans on personal witness — showing and sharing with others how God has transformed our own lives. Paul VI got it right when he wrote, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

Anybody can dispute a philosophical argument for God, but it’s far more difficult to ignore a life on fire. To say it another way, atheists might reject Aquinas’ proofs for God but it’s much tougher to dismiss Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul II.

Almost all converts to Catholicism — me included — can name at least one person, living or dead, whose witness drew us to the Church.

More practically, an effective technique I’ve found is simply asking questions. What do you believe? Why do you believe that? What would you say to someone who responded in this way? Asking questions helps people examine their own beliefs and exposes faulty reasoning. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve conversed with non-Catholics and through simple questions exposed deep confusion about God and his Church.

Finally, we need to engage the culture. Father Robert Barron is the premier example here. His YouTube commentaries, which focus on popular movies, books and current events, reach tens of thousands of secular men and women. These are people who would never darken the doors of a church but are willing to engage the big questions of life online. One favorite example is a 20-something-year-old atheist who hated God and loathed priests but loved Bob Dylan. One day, he stumbled across Father Barron’s commentary on the biblical undertones of Dylan’s lyrics, and something provoked him to watch. After finishing, he watched more of Father Barron’s commentaries and eventually found his website, WordOnFire.org. After many months he became convinced not only that God exists but that Jesus is God and that he established the Catholic Church. He wrote Father Barron to say he had decided to enter RCIA.

FFG: How do you and your wife seek to pass on the faith to your children?

Vogt: My wife and I know we are the first heralds of our children’s faith. We’re convinced their understanding of God depends, in large part, on their experiences at home. Therefore, we try to saturate their lives with positive spiritual experiences.

Some of our strategies include nightly Rosary and prayer, daily Mass, celebration of feast days with special activities, and friendships with other strong Catholic families. We also place a strong value on the sensory experiences of faith, things like Stations of the Cross, candles and incense, eucharistic processions, prayer beads, sacred music and more. These establish sensory connections to God while their young minds are still being formed.

More than anything, though, the lasting message we try to impart is that God loves them and wants them to be saints. If we’re able to convince them that the most worthy goal in this life is to be a saint — a man or woman deeply in love with God — then we’ve done our job.

Learn more about the new video series: “Catholicism: The New Evangelization.”