Sharing My Catholic Faith Story: Mostly Online

Brian H. Gill's 'Internet Friends.' (2017)

It’s been a while since I talked about what I’m doing here and why I’m doing it.

And even longer since I talked about Nancy H. C. Ward’s “Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story: Tools, Tips, and Testimonies.”

The book’s a big deal for me, since it’s the first time I wrote for the Red River Valley Historical Society’s Heritage Press that I’ve had an in-print byline. More to the point, as Lisa Hendey said, it’s “an enjoyable template for the challenge of evangelization.”

So today I’ll talk about social media, evangelization, science, history, art, “Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story” and why I post something here weekly. Not necessarily in that order.

First off, I’m a Christian, so being evangelical is part of my job. Both ideas, very likely, need explanation.


Evangelical, Yes; An Evangelical, Not So Much

George Bellows' cartoon for Metropolitan magazine, illustrating Billy Sunday's preaching style. (May 1915)
Billy Sunday, preaching something fierce in Philadelphia. (March 1905)

I’m a Christian, a Catholic Christian: which isn’t an oxymoron.

Brian H. Gill. (2021)I’m a Christian because I acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as my Lord and Savior. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 430-451, 587-591, 599-618, 1811, and more)

I’m a Catholic because I learned who currently holds the authority our Lord gave Peter. (Matthew 16:1319)

I’ve talked about this before. (About Me > Becoming a Catholic)

I’m evangelical because sharing the best news humanity’s ever hand with anyone who will listen is part of being Catholic. (Matthew 22:1820; Acts 1:8; Catechism, 898-907)

But I’m not “an Evangelical” because, well, I’m a Catholic. I rely on Jesus of Nazareth for my salvation, and don’t think I know more than the Magisterium.1 Besides, as I discussed in Becoming a Catholic, I learned who’s holding our Lord’s authority. 😉

I’m “evangelical,” lower-case “e,” because I’m a Christian who takes both Sacred Scripture and millennia of accumulated wisdom seriously.


Good News and Making Sense

'The Resurrection of Jesus Christ,' Piero della Francesca. (1463)The best news humanity’s ever had is that Jesus is God’s Son, and saved us by reconciling us with God. (Catechism, 124, 430-451, 456-478, 1002-1004)

If I’m going to share that news, and have it make sense, then I’d better get my thoughts organized beforehand. This isn’t a situation where I’d feel comfortable winging it.

And that brings me to 1 Peter 3:15-16, a couple verses Nancy H. C. Ward quotes in “Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story.”

I think putting quotes in context is a good idea, so here’s a slightly extended excerpt.

“Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good?
“But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them,
“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,
“but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.”
(1 Peter 3:1316) [emphasis mine]

It’s from the bit where Peter talks about living like a Christian. Even if it’s awkward.

Happily, I haven’t had to be particularly heroic about being a Christian and a Catholic. And that’s fine by me.

Imitating folks like Thomas More is a fast track to Sainthood. But it’s also quite unpleasant, in the short run.2

“By Word and Testimony of Life”

Fred Barnard's 'Discussing the War in a Paris Cafe,' Illustrated London News. (September 17, 1870) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.Evangelization is part of being a Christian. But just what is “evangelization?”

For starters, it’s not combing my hair back, going on television and then having trouble with zipper and wallet issues.

The televangelist meltdown in the late 1980s didn’t help Americans take Christianity seriously.

And I’m drifting off-topic. Or maybe not.

Briefly, evangelization is “the proclamation of Christ and his gospel….”

EVANGELIZAION: the proclamation of Christ and his gospel (Greek evangelion) by word and the testimony of life, in fulfillment of Christ’s command (905 cf 861). “
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)

That phrase “the testimony of life,” gives me many options. Some good, some as prudent as the CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) courses taken by some televangelists.3

Options and Opportunities

1566 propaganda print, celebrating Beeldenstorm: faith-based vandalism. From Rijksmuseum, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.A lesson from faith-based fiascos is not, I think, that religion is a scam.

Or that it makes people do bad things. Or is just plain crazy. Although I’ll freely grant that sometimes craziness or evil has a religious theme. And/or a political one.

And I’m quite sure that television, computers, smart phones or any other technology, doesn’t make us do bad things. So I can’t reasonably denounce television or today’s information technology. Not that I’d want to.

Sin, deliberately acting against reason, truth, right conscience and God, is an option because each of us has free will. (Catechism, 386-387, 1440, 1730, 1849-1851, 1853)

Tech can make doing something bad easier, but choosing to do wrong is my decision.

Take information technology and social media, for example.

I could use it as an orifice for spewing whatever rage-inspired screed falls out of my mind.

Or I could try doing something a trifle less futile and self-defeating. Like heading off impulses to act foolishly. And writing about something that caught my attention and that I figure maybe you’d find interesting.

Putting it that way, the decision is a no-brainer. Which is why I see my spot in “the world of social communication” as an opportunity for making sense.

“…Evangelization requires that we pay much attention to the world of social communication, especially the new media, in which many lives, questions and expectations converge. It is the place where consciences are often formed, where people spend their time and live their lives. It is a new opportunity for touching the human heart….”
(“Message to the People of God, concluding the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops,” 10; Synod of Bishops (October 26, 2012))

What I make of that opportunity is up to me.

Art and Science, Truth and Beauty, Quotes and Links

Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur: The Church of Danae vs. logic and the laws of physics. (August 24, 2016) used w/o permission.Several years back, one of my daughters opined that Catholics doing ‘normal person’ stuff was a good idea.

I thought she was right, and still do. We’d been talking about “Catholic writers” and Catholics who are writers.

If I was a “Catholic writer” I might be writing another ‘lives of the Saints’ book or composing prayers.

Nothing wrong with either of those options.

But I’m a Catholic who is a writer.

I’ve been writing mostly about science and history, along with art and anything else that comes to mind.

I’m about as sure as I can be that this is okay. Bishops discussing “the new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith” mentioned why both science and art are basically good ideas.

“…A particular field of the encounter between faith and reason today is the dialogue with scientific knowledge. This is not at all far from faith, since it manifests the spiritual principle that God placed in his creatures. It allows us to see the rational structures on which creation is founded.

“…We also want to thank men and women involved in another expression of the human genius, art in its various forms, from the most ancient to the most recent. … We are grateful when artists through their beautiful creations bring out the beauty of God’s face and that of his creatures. The way of beauty is a particularly effective path of the new evangelization….”
(“Message to the People of God, concluding the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops,” 10; Synod of Bishops (October 26, 2012)) [emphasis mine]

For me, doing ‘normal person stuff’ includes sharing what I’ve noticed about our growing knowledge of this vast, ancient and wonder-packed universe. And talking about what folks were doing, back when — say — Periclean politics were current events.

The science I talk about is real science, by the way: the sort done by scientists. I’ve talked about that before, as well as why I became a Catholic:

Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about art mostly in the context of sacred art: the sort of thing I’d find in chapels or churches. (Catechism, 2500-2503)

A couple more points before moving along.

There’s nothing wrong with art or science. But living for the sake of painting, studying, playing canasta, or whatever? That’s another matter.

“…true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement — however beneficial it may be — such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love….”
(Catechism, 1723)

“…art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being’s inner riches. … Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself.…”
(Catechism, 2501) [emphasis mine]

Top priority is where God belongs. Putting anything or anyone else there is idolatry: and a bad idea. (Catechism, 2112-2114, 2289)


The New Evangelization: a DIY Book

Brian H. Gill, holding a copy of 'Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story.' (November 12, 2022) photo by D. M. GillAs the title suggests, “Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story” is mostly for folks who are Catholic and looking for a way of telling others why being Catholic makes sense.

The book first discuses what a faith story is and why it matters. Then there’s the ‘tools and tips’ section.

“…Divided into two distinct parts, this book is very well organized and highly accessible. The tools and tips presented in Part I are both sound and inspirational. For example, Ward encourages readers to take up spiritual journaling…”
(“Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story: A Guidebook for the New Evangelization,” Julie Vickery (February 13, 2020))

I see the point of spiritual journaling, and think it’s a good idea. But journaling, spiritual or otherwise, is something I haven’t tried since my youth. The experience didn’t encourage me to try again.

On the other hand, my testimony, “The Annoying Lesson of Humanae Vitae” — Ward assigned that title, not me — has the “Three Components of Every Faith Story” described in her book’s Part 1, 6. It outlines who I was before, what God moment or Galilee moment changed me, and who I am now.

About change, Galilee moments and me: I don’t think I’ve changed all that much.

I still insist that what I believe must make sense, no matter how I’m feeling, and think that making decisions based on feelings or impulse is a bad idea. That insistence had unintended consequences.

I did not want to become a Catholic. My father-in-law had warned me that if I kept digging into Church history, I’d learn too much. He was right.

“…Years later, I grudgingly admitted to myself that I had learned who currently held the authority that our Lord gave Peter….”
(“Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story,” The Annoying Lesson of Humanae Vitae (Brian Gill), (2019))

I’m pretty sure that you’ll find that the other 29 Testimonies in “Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story” describe more appealing accounts of conversion, reversion and renewal.

You Might Enjoy It

(Brian H. Gill, reading 'Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story' on 903 South Ash's front stoop. (August 15, 2019)Which is why I think folks who aren’t Catholic might enjoy reading this book.

It’s a look at why more than two dozen different folks became or stayed Catholic. Intentionally.

No two of the 30 Testimonies are alike.

However, we’re not a statistically valid cross-section of Catholics, since all 30 of us are writers. Besides that, we all speak English. And, despite the back cover’s assertion that we’re from “all walks of life,” I’m pretty sure that our native culture(s) is/are nowhere near simple enough to be covered by 30 examples.

Showing How Sharing Our Faith Works: With Examples

Gnathan87's Results for an archaeological simulation, an example of Bayesian inference. (2011) Via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.I could see problems like self-selection bias as a possible issue with a book like this.

But I don’t.

It’s a sort of DIY evangelization guide, with examples: not a statistical analysis

I figure lack of statistical rigor won’t be a problem. So I’m spared the task of looking up arcane phrases like Bayesian statistics and Berkson’s paradox.4

One more item. Four, actually. A 10-point tips list in “Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story” includes things to not do:

  1. Avoid self-righteousness
  2. Don’t pick apart other people, churches or ministries
  3. Stick to your part of the story
  4. Discretely avoid sordid details

All of which should be obvious, but arguably aren’t. I spot and delete the occasional snarky zinger while writing my stuff, and probably miss others.

Now, a few reviews, and places carrying “Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story” —

Before moving on, a statement or two. Or three. Those are links I found after a quick Google search. Following them or not is up to you. So is your decision about buying this book, borrowing it from a library or a friend, or doing something completely different.

Next, a quick look at social media from Catholic viewpoints. Including mine.


Social Media, Ideas, Attitudes and Me

Jeffrey Ogden (W163)'s map showing level of Internet censorship and surveillance by country throughout the world. Based on Wikipedia:Internet censorship and surveillance by country. (November 2, 2018) Via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.
Levels of Internet censorship and surveillance by country. Pink, pervasive; green, little or no. (2018)

I see the Internet in general and online social media in particular as good news/bad news.

Good news: folks like me can find information faster and in more detail than was possible during my youth. And I can share ideas with a large fraction of folks around the world.

Bad news: same thing.

Which it is depends on who’s talking.

On the whole, I’d prefer living in a country that’s “green” on Jeffrey Ogden’s map: with little or no censorship and/or surveillance. But I’m okay with America being in the next-best category: selective censorship and/or surveillance.

Ideally, there would be no reason for controlling who can find what, and what folks are saying. Also ideally, nobody would run confidence schemes, use ransomware, or try to keep citizens from learning what their country is really doing to a neighbor.

But I keep saying this: we do not live in an ideal world. And I live in a country that was obliged to replace a major metropolitan trade center after those September, 2001 incidents.5

So I realize that letting anyone say anything and communicate with anyone else, without at least keeping an eye on the situation, might have unpleasant consequences.

Freedom of Expression, Labels and Remembering Our Past

C. M. Stieglitz's photo for New York World-Telegram and the Sun: Robert Thompson and Benjamin J. Davis: accused of improper political views. (1949) Via Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.I also realize that the folks in charge can user noble-sounding terms like “national security” and “tolerance” as reasons for silencing unwanted ideas.

I remember McCarthyism’s dying gasps and the heyday of political correctness too well to imagine that when the folks in charge say they say are defending freedom, they mean everyone’s freedom. Including those who don’t agree with them.

In large part because I don’t think freedom means “free to agree with me.”

So I’ll take America’s 2014 “enemy of the Internet” status with a grain of salt,6 and hope that we don’t get too protected from naughty ideas.

Living in a Broken Echo Chamber

Screenshot, trailer for Elia Kazan's 'Panic in the Streets' film. (1950) via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.I think my echo chamber is broken, and that my filter bubble has long since popped.7

That’s no virtue on my part.

I wasn’t a big fan of the establishment back in the 1960s, and have little reason to cheer for the folks who seen equally anxious about their top-dog status today.

My interests pretty much guarantee that I’ll be rubbing elbows with folks near several ends of assorted political and social spectra. Occasionally rubbing elbows, that is. I don’t actively seek out rabid champions of any viewpoint’s crackpot fringe.

That’s one reason I’m not writhing in anguish over the coming American apocalypse, digital disaster or media meltdown — alliteration’s an arguably under-valued rhetorical figure, and that’s another topic.

Anyway, I don’t think we’re doomed.

But I do think that John Grosso had a point when he discussed social media and common sense in the context of pandemic panic and holiday preparations.

Prepare the (digital) way of the Lord
John Grosso, Catholic News Service (December 4, 2020)

“…In March, social media became a place to rally around our first responders and essential workers, to start fun trends and learn how to bake bread or whipped coffee.
“But as society realized we were in this for the long haul, our discourse on social media began to deteriorate into partisan bickering at its best and poisonous, threatening rhetoric at its worst.
“Catholics are not only not exempt from this, but in my experience, have been some of the worst offenders of it. That coupled with the practice of ‘doomscrolling’ (scrolling before bed obsessively on social media and bracing for bad news), has led many to abandon social media entirely….”

On the other hand, I haven’t noticed any side getting a clear lead in venom-spitting.

I’ve suspected that some Catholics, at least, stay offline or limit their activity to a tight circle of family and friends because they’re metaphorically keeping their heads down.

“…Not … Demonizing the Internet…”

Walt Kelly's Deacon Mushrat and Simple J. Malarky. (1953)Something like 69,697,000 of America’s 331,893,000 citizens say they’re Catholics. That’s a lot of folks.

We’re not all the same.

And, sadly, some of us are jerks. But some of us aren’t. Many, in my experience.

And some are media professionals. Like members of SIGNIS: AKA World Catholic Association for Communication, a Catholic lay ecclesial movement. Oddly enough, SIGNIS isn’t an acronym. It’s a mix of SIGN and IGNIS: Latin for “fire.”8

“…The digital media revolution of recent decades has proved to be a powerful means of fostering communion and dialogue within our human family….
“At the same time, the use of digital media, especially social media, has raised a number of serious ethical issues…. Sometimes and in some places, media sites have become places of toxicity, hate speech and fake news….”
(“Message of the Holy Father to the Participants in the SIGNIS World Congress [Seoul, 15-18 August 2022],” Pope Francis (July 15, 2022)) [emphasis mine]

Pope Francis gave another good news/bad news view of the online world in 2021.

“Opportunities and hidden dangers on the web

“…The internet … can increase the capacity for reporting and sharing, with many more eyes on the world and a constant flood of images and testimonies. … It is a powerful tool, which demands that all of us be responsible as users and consumers….
“At the same time, the risk of misinformation being spread on social media has become evident to everyone…. Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet…. All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert….”
(“Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 2021 World Communications Day,” Pope Francis (January 23, 2021)) [emphasis mine]

And so did Pope Benedict XVI in 2013.

“…Dialogue and debate can also flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas are different from our own. ‘…people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is good, true and beautiful’ (Address at the Meeting with the World of Culture, Bélem, Lisbon, 12 May 2010).
“The challenge facing social networks is how to be truly inclusive…. The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young. …”
(“Message for the 47th World Communications Day,” Pope Benedict XVI (January 24, 2013)) [emphasis mine]

Apart from a couple decades doing marketing for a small publishing house, and a stint as researcher/reporter for a regional historical society, I’ve never been a media professional. Of any sort.

Branford Clarke/Pillar of Fire Church's 'Saint Patrick's Day in America - 1926.' But I can, thanks to a decent Internet connection and living in a country with comparatively — lax?? — online censorship and/or surveillance, do research and share what I find. Along with how I see the facts, opinions and issues in play.

I see that as good news.

I’m also glad that I can share my ideas and opinions without first getting approval of an editorial board or oversight committee.

Even though I am a member of what’s nationally a minority religion. Granted, Catholics are a large minority these days, and maybe not seen as quite so serious a threat as in ‘the good old days.’ Which I don’t miss.

About “approval of an editorial board or oversight committee” — that’s an unlikely but possible situation. It could happen here.

Happily, prior restraint, requiring folks to get permission before sharing information, is a hard sell in America. Although it’s been tried now and again.9

Now What?

John Martin's 'Seventh Plague of Egypt.' (1823) Leona R. Beal Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.I post something on A Catholic Citizen in America every week. Life, the universe and circumstances permitting.

Sometimes it’s obviously “evangelical,” or at least faith-related. That happens more often around seasons like Advent and Lent.

More often, I’m focusing on something else: science news, people and events from humanity’s long and continuing story, or whatever else came to mind that week.

I’ll occasionally talk about how the week’s topics relate to my beliefs. But mostly I figure that if you’re curious, you’ll check out the navigation bar’s About Me or maybe Science AND Religion links.

Maybe that’s not being full-bore ‘evangelical.’ But it’s something I can do, and I hope it’s something you enjoy reading.

As if you hadn’t seen enough already, I put longer versions of some of this week’s excerpts below, along with links to a few “New Evangelization” documents.10

And the usual links to more of my stuff:


1 Belief, American style:

MAGISTERIUM: The living, teaching office of the Church, whose task it is to give as authentic interpretation of the word of God, whether in its written form (Sacred Scripture), or in the form of Tradition. The Magisterium ensures the Church’s fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles in matters of faith and morals (85, 890, 2033).”

2 Saints:

3 Remembering a cultural crash-and-burn:

4 Statistical stuff, a sampling:

5 Living with realities:

6 Remembering our past, acknowledging our present:

7 Biases and bubbles:

8 Sounds like Cygnus, but isn’t:

9 Topics I’ll put off discussing until another day:

10 The New Evangelization, a few resources:

Extended excerpt, SIGNIS World Congress:

“…The digital media revolution of recent decades has proved to be a powerful means of fostering communion and dialogue within our human family. Indeed, during the months of lockdown due to the pandemic, we saw clearly how digital media could bring us together, not only by disseminating essential information, but also by bridging the loneliness of isolation and, in many cases, uniting whole families and ecclesial communities in prayer and worship.
At the same time, the use of digital media, especially social media, has raised a number of serious ethical issues that call for wise and discerning judgment on the part of communicators and all those concerned with the authenticity and quality of human relationships. Sometimes and in some places, media sites have become places of toxicity, hate speech and fake news.…”
(“Message of the Holy Father to the Participants in the SIGNIS World Congress [Seoul, 15-18 August 2022],” Pope Francis (July 15, 2022)) [emphasis mine]

Extended excerpt, 2021 World Communications Day:

“Opportunities and hidden dangers on the web

The internet, with its countless social media expressions, can increase the capacity for reporting and sharing, with many more eyes on the world and a constant flood of images and testimonies. Digital technology gives us the possibility of timely first-hand information that is often quite useful. We can think of certain emergency situations where the internet was the first to report the news and communicate official notices. It is a powerful tool, which demands that all of us be responsible as users and consumers. Potentially we can all become witnesses to events that otherwise would be overlooked by the traditional media, offer a contribution to society and highlight more stories, including positive ones. Thanks to the internet we have the opportunity to report what we see, what is taking place before our eyes, and to share it with others.
At the same time, the risk of misinformation being spread on social media has become evident to everyone. We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated, for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism. Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet, but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received. All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share….”
(“Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 2021 World Communications Day,” Pope Francis (January 23, 2021)) [emphasis mine]

Extended excerpt, 2013 World Communications Day:

“…Dialogue and debate can also flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas are different from our own. ‘Given the reality of cultural diversity, people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is good, true and beautiful’ (Address at the Meeting with the World of Culture, Bélem, Lisbon, 12 May 2010).
The challenge facing social networks is how to be truly inclusive: thus they will benefit from the full participation of believers who desire to share the message of Jesus and the values of human dignity which his teaching promotes. Believers are increasingly aware that, unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important. The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young. Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there….”
(“Message for the 47th World Communications Day,” Pope Benedict XVI (January 24, 2013)) [emphasis mine]

About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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4 Responses to Sharing My Catholic Faith Story: Mostly Online

  1. You’ve certainly come a long and even longer way, Mr. Gill. I think I even have to remind myself about how old you actually are sometimes, hahaha! And when I do remember how old you are, I find yet another miracle out of a myriad of miracles I’ve only seen a fraction of with my teeny tiny faith. May God help me treat you more humbly, then!

  2. 😀 Thanks! And – yes, just being here is a miracle – for which I’m duly grateful.
    As for humility – may God help us all with the sort that acknowledges the Almighty as the source of all good. And help us grow our faith.

  3. It is our responsibility as Christians to spread God’s Word. Not to preach, but by the way we live and act.

    God bless you.

Thanks for taking time to comment!