Jesuits Take Ministry To The Web

Brendan Busse, S.J., has two computers on his desk. One is a Dell, a hulking old fossil of a thing, hooked up to God-knows-where by a tangle of black cords. The second is a sleek MacBook Pro, all sparkling chrome save for the lacquer of glossy stickers that covers the front. It’s a pretty up-to-date piece of technology for a Jesuit, considering the vow of poverty and everything. But its purpose is hardly frivolous. Jesuits “have to get into the place where the culture lives and breathes,” according to Busse. So it was only a matter of time until they took to the internet. Busse is just one of many regular contributors to The Jesuit Post, a social media project that’s been growing in popularity since it was created two years ago. In addition to its standalone website, The Jesuit Post also has a Facebook and Twitter presence, as well as a Tumblr, a YouTube account, and a Pinterest account. The site is staffed largely by Jesuits in formation, meaning that none have been ordained into the priesthood. Staffers come from all over the country. Skimming a few contributor bios, one quickly realizes that they’re not the demographic often associated with the Society of Jesus; they’re predominantly young, and

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most look like they’d sooner wear a flannel than a cassock. These are men who grew up alongside the internet, for whom social media is hardly a novelty. “The older Jesuits have little idea of what to do online, so this is a place where they really need to trust [younger Jesuits] to be in that space and environment,” Busse said. The site started when a group of Jesuits started brainstorming about what kind of writing young Jesuits could do, and for what platform. “Ignatius often tells us that we should speak to God as one friend speaks to another,” said editor-in-chief Eric Sundrup, S.J., who is based in Chicago. “We decided that there were too many sites that were talking about faith from a perspective that didn’t make sense, that didn’t sound like one friend talking to another.” They imagined what Busse calls an online “experiment,” where Jesuits in formation could write on anything from pop culture to spiritual life—or, more often, both in tandem—and share their work through social media. Busse started contributing regularly to the site shortly after its inception when the founders reached out to him. He is the only regular contributor from Seattle University. He has written on a diversity of topics since he started at the Post, from his quest to quit smoking to his affinity for Mumford & Sons, all examined through a spiritual lens. “The more I write, the more I fear I’m going to run out of interesting stories to write about. But more often than not, life is good in that it presents us with something,” Busse said. It helps that no subject is off-limits. One recent article by contributor Michael Rossmann, S.J., was the Buzzfeed-esque “27.5 Signs You Went to a Catholic University” (#12: “The phrase ‘my tuition is paying for it’ was used to justify stealing just about anything from the dining hall that wasn’t nailed down”). Another piece looked at what the polar vortex reveals about global warming. Yet another reflected on the spiritual relevance of Ke$ha (it was written by Matt Lieser, SJ, who, according to an editor’s note, unsuccessfully asked to be credited as Matt Lie$er, $J). “It’s almost like no topic is too sacred to touch,” said Matthew Pyrc, SJ, who has served as a consultant for the site. “It’s trying to reach people where they’re at, which is St. Ignatius’s call: find God in all things.” Though the internet is often dismissed as superficial, The Jesuit Post staff thinks it can be a powerful tool for outreach. “That’s where the people are,” Pyrc said. “You have to go where the people are… [we can] use all things for the glory of God,” including the internet. But the internet isn’t without its faults. Though Busse thought a “wide net” of outreach potential benefitted the site, he also noted how easy it was to get caught up in the superficialities of social media. “There’s a temptation sometimes… we start counting the likes, how many times it’s been retweeted, and that’s a sort of compulsive downside of social media,” Busse said. Site staffers were quick to call the site an “experiment,” and mentioned that it’s still very much in development. “I’m happy to hear from people who have ideas about how to do more outreach and more distribution,” Sundrup said. “I’d love to hear from students in Seattle who know something about that or have ideas. I’m all ears.” And if the staff at The Jesuit Post has any further growing pains while their site becomes more and more popular, they can always remember these words of wisdom from The Jesuit Post’s Twitter account: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the tweets I cannot change, the courage to delete the tweets I can, and the wisdom to do it before anyone notices.”