Social Media

‘A Wired Family’ presentation helps adults navigate social media for teens

Maura Baker, Staff Writer

 In an age where technology is becoming increasingly prevalent, teens have more access to online content than ever before. 

Around 2009, Stephen J. Smith recognized how children and families were adapting to the ever-changing technology, and what he thought it was ultimately leading to. 

“As far as initially, their mental health, but just as important, how their privacy was being invaded, how they were being judged by people that will never meet them,” said Mr. Smith. 

Apps like many popular social medias have a business model that entices all people, not just children, to stay on as long as possible, Mr. Smith reports, having spent much of his retired life dedicated to education on social media and how it affects children and teens through his LLC, A Wired Family. 

“What that’s doing is it’s creating these surges of dopamine and cortisol, which is playing with the brain chemistry. Now for an adult, that’s one thing, but for children … while the brain is just being developed, it’s creating issues,” he said. 

The Safe Environment Office of the Diocese of Covington, responsible for training such as VIRTUS, will be sponsoring Mr. Smith for two presentations for adults in the upcoming weeks. The first will occur at 7 p.m. at St. Henry District High School, Erlanger, on Feb. 27, and the second will occur at 7 p.m. at Bishop Brossart High School, Alexandria, on March 7. Both talks are expected to continue until around 9 p.m. Presentations are free and require no reservations, but these specific presentations will be adult only. 

The presentations, titled “Social Media & the Adolescent Digital Tribe: Navigating the Teen World State,” are based on a book of the same name authored by Mr. Smith himself. 

“Stephen Smith has been doing this work for decades in our area,” said Julie Feinauer, director of the Safe Environment Office. “We’ve heard from all of our schools and have noticed a pretty big problem with social media and the kids.” 

The goal is to “pack people in” for the presentation, said Ms. Feinauer, selecting St. Henry and Bishop Brossart as locations to try and reach people in both the Northern and Southern reaches of the Diocese. 

“It’s mainly for parents, to foresee what’s upcoming with kids, as younger ones and then into their teen years, how to monitor what’s out there and what to be looking for,” she said. 

While Mr. Smith has presented in the past to various schools in the Diocese, with programs for both adults and students alike, Ms. Feinauer says that “we’re trying to bring the whole community together because we know that there are parishes and schools who might not be able to afford to have him come. We believe it is important to have equity as far as getting this information out.”

TMU Institute for Religious Liberty — defending religious liberty is an all or none proposition

Laura Keener, Editor

Dr. Ray Hebert, executive director, Thomas More University’s William T. Robinson III Institute for Religious Liberty, welcomed students and guests, Feb. 16, to Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel for a discussion on “Political Partisanship and Its Impact on the Future of Religious Liberty.” 

Asma Uddin, a religious liberty lawyer and scholar, was the keynote speaker, with Dr. William Madges, chair of Theology Department, Xavier University, as commentator. Dr Catherine Sherron, chair of TMU’s Philosophy, Political Science & Interdisciplinary Studies, was the moderator. 

Ms. Uddin introduced herself as “an American Muslim and I fight for the rights of Christians.” Among the high-profile cases that Ms. Uddin has argued include: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a case asserting Hobby Lobby’s religious exemption against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate; Carson v. Makin requiring the state of Maine to fund religious education at private religious schools as part of its tuition assistance program; and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, determining that high school football Coach Kennedy’s First Amendment rights were violated after he lost his job for praying at the 50-yard line after games. 

“I have defended the rights of Christians across the world … I have been motivated by a single principle: that religious liberty for some is religious liberty for none,” Ms. Uddin said. 

Addressing the evening’s topic, Ms. Uddin said that to understand political polarization, it’s good to understand polarization in general and group identity. 

“The idea is very simple. Each of us has our group. Our group is the ‘in group,’ and those outside our group are the ‘out group.’ Our attachment to our group is so significant that loyalty boosts self-esteem. On the flip side, studies have shown that if we are isolated from our group, the stigma acts on us psychologically and, also, triggers a physical assault on our bodies. What this means in practice is that, on an evolutionary level, humans are programmed to signal their allegiance to their tribe as a way of avoiding the loneliness and stress that comes with being cast out.” 

Out groups, she said, can be seen as threatening and may elicit fear and hostile reactions, especially when the status gap begins to close between the in group — the group that is larger in numbers and holds the majority of power — and the out group. 

“In America today, many of us have allegiance to our political tribes in a way that’s not very different from the usual intergroup interaction or competition,” she said. “Tribalism affects how we interpret and respond to information. Our desire for our group to win makes us less interested in finding the right answer to a particular question or debate and more interested in locating and shaping the information that will help us win the argument.” 

Political tribalism, she said, is having an impact not only on political campaigns but among members of society. “Unfortunately, in today’s tribalized political environment it is becoming harder and harder to be civil,” she said. Defining civility as “clinging and caring for one’s identity, means and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process. It is about disagreeing without disrespect.” 

Studies on intergroup bias show that an in group will react with hostility towards an out group when it finds the out group threatening. “Solving that problem requires us to lower the temperature to lower perception of the threat,” she said. Working together on shared goals, no matter how small, is a place to start. 

In his commentary, Dr. Madges focused on the Catholic understanding of religious liberty by a quick historical look at the evolution of Catholic teachings. “In this exposition three interrelated concepts are extremely important — human dignity, conscience and then religious liberty,” said Dr. Madges. 

The medieval and early modern Church for centuries held the idea of “extra Ecclesia nulla salus,” or “outside the Church there is no salvation.” 

“The Church claimed that it alone possesses the truth necessary for human wellbeing and salvation,” said Dr. Madges. 

The 19th century, he said, “was the century of revolutionary upheavals.” Intellectual revolutions — Immanuel Kant, “think for yourself”; scientific revolutions — Darwin’s theory of evolution; political revolutions – the French Revolution and Marx Revolution. 

It is in this context on Dec. 8, 1864, that Pope Pius IX issues his encyclical “Quanta cura” (“With how great care”), where he spoke out against the erroneous ideas that were gaining currency in the modern world. “In short, Pius was asserting the notion that error and falsehood have no rights. Only truth should be promoted and the Catholic Church had the truth.” 

Fast forward 100 years, after the Second Vatican Council pope’s have continued to affirm the principle of religious liberty very different from the 19th century, said Dr. Madges quoting extensively from Pope John Paul II 1991 World Peace Day message: “No human authority has the right to interfere with a person’s conscience. Conscience bears witness to the transcendence of the person, also in regard to society at large, and, as such, is inviolable. Conscience, however, is not an absolute placed above truth and error. Rather, by its very nature, it implies a relation to objective truth, a truth which is universal, the same for all, which all can and must seek. It is in this relation to objective truth that freedom of conscience finds its justification, in as much as it is a necessary condition for seeking the truth worthy of man, and for adhering to that truth once it is sufficiently known. This in turn necessarily requires that each individual’s conscience be respected by everyone else; people must not attempt to impose their own ‘truth’ on others. The right to profess the truth must always be upheld, but not in a way which involves contempt for those who may think differently. Truth imposes itself solely by the force of its own truth. To deny an individual complete freedom of conscience — and in particular the freedom to seek the truth — or to attempt to impose a particular way of seeing the truth, constitutes a violation of that individual’s most personal rights. This also aggravates animosities and tensions, which can easily lead to strained and hostile relations within society or even to open conflict. In the end, it is on the level of conscience that the difficult task of ensuring a firm and lasting peace is most effectively confronted.” 

From Pope Francis address at the “2014 International Conference on Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values,” Dr. Madges quotes, “Legal systems, therefore, whether state or international, are called upon to recognize, guarantee and protect religious freedom, which is an intrinsic right inherent to human nature, to the dignity of being free, and is also a sign of a healthy democracy and one of the principal sources of the legitimacy of the State. Religious freedom, acknowledged in constitutions and laws and expressed in consistent conduct, promotes the development of relationships of mutual respect among the diverse Confessions and their healthy collaboration with the State and political society, without confusion of roles and without antagonism. In place of the global clash of values, it thus becomes possible to start from a nucleus of universally shared values, of global cooperation in view of the common good.” 

In closing, Dr. Madges quipped that, “coming from a Jesuit institution, I cannot stop myself from making a Jesuit reference.” Quoting Ignatius of Loyola’s Presupposition: 

“… it should be presupposed that every good Christian ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it. 

Further, if one cannot interpret it favorably, one should ask how the other means it. 

If the meaning is wrong, one should correct the person with love; 

If this is not enough, one should search out every appropriate means through which, by understanding the statement in a good way, it may be saved.” 

Image: Dr. Sherron, Dr. Joseph Chillo, president, TMU; Dr. William Madges, commentator from Xavier University; Dr. Ray Hebert and Ms. Uddin, gather for a group photo before the presentation.


Faithful families begin with ‘purposeful, persuasive, encouraging’ marriage preparation

By David Cooley.

At the request of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life in Rome has prepared a document called “Catechumenal Pathways for Married Life,” which was recently translated into English. This document is an important step for the universal Church in moving toward a marriage preparation process that rises to the challenge of equipping couples with the tools they need to maneuver through modern trials. Additionally, this new approach comes with a recommendation for a process where members of the local Church and parish community continue to walk with newlyweds as they build their life together during the early years of their marriage.

Currently, many young couples spend far more time and effort preparing for their wedding day than they do preparing for their marriage. The consequences of that are often painful and can be disastrous. We can see that today’s “hedonistic mentality, which distorts the beauty and depth of human sexuality; a self-centeredness which makes it difficult to espouse the commitments of married life; a limited understanding of the gift of the Sacrament of Marriage, the meaning of spousal love, and its essence as an authentic vocation” has created a fragile state for marriages in society as a whole, “which puts at stake the personal fulfillment and happiness of a great many lay faithful around the world” (CPMF #3).

A loving response from the Church is to recognize all of this, instruct young couples properly, provide the means for a more thorough and Christ-centered preparation for the sacrament marriage, and accompany them as they begin to live out their life-long vocation.

While it is exciting that the Holy Father is asking dioceses all over the world to develop their own pastoral approach to marriage preparation — an approach that is “purposeful, persuasive, encouraging, and fully oriented toward emphasizing the good and beautiful aspects of married life” (#20) — the development and implementation of such a robust catechumenal model will take some time and a great deal of effort.

One of the first challenges will be changing the hearts and minds of young adults about the importance of the sacrament of marriage and recognizing it as a vocation — a path to holiness that encompasses a person’s entire life. If the prospect of marriage is taken seriously, we can help couples invest the proper amount of time, consider what they need to consider, and reflect on what they need to reflect on before taking sacred vows. I have witnessed too many couples and their families simply looking for the quickest and easiest way of satisfying “bureaucratic” requirements to get married “in the Church.”

Another challenge will be the flexibility needed to allow at least a full 12 months for the catechumenate model. More time will need to be invested in the spiritual preparation for marriage and the building up of the couple’s relationship with Christ. While this will certainly be difficult — asking couples to consider a longer engagement period — it is necessary if we want to see any real change in how people live out married life. Couples coming to the Catholic Church to be married are always coming from many different places on their spiritual journey and we have to meet them wherever they are; but we must challenge them to move closer to Christ and remind them of Bishop Fulton Sheen’s words: “It takes three to get married.”

Before the release of “Catechumenal Pathways,” at the June 2021 Plenary Assembly, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved and published a document “Called to the Joy of Love,” which lays out a national pastoral framework for dioceses to start moving forward to better serve and assist couples discerning the sacrament of marriage. These two documents complement and reinforce each other.

Marriage preparation is an issue that should matter to all of us. The future of the family is the future of the Church. We need strong marriages to have strong families. We need strong families to spread the faith. We need families to spread the Gospel and build up the Church if we are going to be any help to the world. Pope John Paul II said, “The future of humanity passes by the way of the family.” It is time to double down on the importance of family life ministry and marriage preparation.

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Covington.

Catholic School

Catholic Schools — ‘What are you looking for?’

By David Cooley.

There are three moments from the Gospels that I reflect on often. These are moments when Jesus turns to his disciples and asks them very poignant questions. These three questions from Jesus are meant for all of us and we should return to them often.

The first question is: “Who do you say that I am?” from the Gospel of Mark (8:29).

The world has many opinions and images of Jesus Christ, but it all comes down to what we say about him and how well we really know him and nurture our relationship with him. What place does he have in our hearts and lives? Do we know him and love him so much that we can’t help but spread the Gospel to others?

The second question Jesus asks us is: “Will you also go away?” This is from the Gospel of John (6:67).

It is a sad fact that many people walk away from their Catholic faith. While it is true to say that it is not easy being Catholic these days, it’s also true that it has never been easy. It’s difficult, and so many give up.

I have spoken to a lot of people who have left their faith behind — left the Church — and I have surmised three main reasons why people go. Most of the time they are scandalized by the behavior of others. This is often understandable — think of the sex abuse crisis and other failures of the members of the Body of Christ. Any way you look at it, hypocrisy is a very powerful roadblock for people when they are trying to get to know and have a relationship with God.

Another reason people leave is that their own behaviors drive them away (even if it is on a subconscious level). Usually nobody is harder on us than we are on ourselves. We recognize that we are unable to live up to the life we are called to. We are not conditioned for the great Christian adventure, our faith is weak, and we don’t trust fully in the grace of God. We know we can’t do it, so why even try — it’s impossible, and so we leave.

A final reason people leave is a result of one or many of the “hard teachings.” Common examples are the Eucharist, the dogmas of Mary, the primacy of the pope as the successor of St. Peter, etc. It was the Eucharist that Jesus was teaching about when many walked away from him prompting him to ask the few remaining if they were going to walk away too. Let’s face it, it’s hard to believe that Jesus gives us his body and blood to nourish our souls, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. The Catholic Church safeguards the hard teachings of Christ and no matter how much some people want them to change, they never will.

So back to that second question from Jesus. When I am having a hard time handling what I hear in the news about the Catholic Church and I see the failures of all of us who are supposed to be God’s hands and his feet; when I am struggling with my faith, questioning if I really believe, and wondering if all of this is worth it; I can hear Jesus ask me, “Are you going to leave me, too?” On my hardest days my answer is simply the same as Peter’s: “To whom (to where) shall I go?”

The third question comes from the moment in the Gospel of John when Andrew and John first run up to Jesus and he turns to them to say: “What do you seek?” in other translations he says, “What are you looking for?” (1:38).

Believers and non-believers alike can start with this question. What is it that we are looking for? Why are we here? What do we want out of life? Most people will eventually recognize that we are all striving for happiness. But, how can human beings find happiness, everlasting joy? Ultimately, it circles back to that first question: who do you say Jesus is?

So, when it comes to the education of our children, what should we be looking for in a school?

My answer is a school not afraid to explore the big questions of life, such as: Who am I? What is the meaning of life? How am I supposed to live, and why?; a school that recognizes that there is a right and a wrong, good and evil, and that children need to be challenged to live a moral life so that they can flourish and promote the common good; a school where not only is a child allowed to pray — it’s essential. My answer is a thoroughly Catholic school.

When a Catholic school is living up to its name it will help students answer those three straightforward questions from Jesus in a way that enables them to discover who they really are, reach their fullest potential, and bear witness to God’s glory in a world that has been turned upside down. Catholic students need a strong foundation that will help them know and love their Catholic faith, ensuring that they won’t leave Christ when times get tough.

Catholic schools are different from all other schools because faith stands at the center. It is a community of believers striving to know God and live out their faith. A Catholic school adheres faithfully to the teachings of Christ and embraces its mission of bringing the faith to others in service of the Church and the world.

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.