St. Juan Diego’s Cup of Tea

The Unofficial Patron Saint of lay-persons, St. Juan Diego strikes again. This time, with Interwebz. Alright, for those of you who don’t know St. Juan Diego is actually an unofficial patron saint of Laypeople, ask anyone who follows anything related to Guadalupe. But anyways, we’re here to day to talk about laypeople, and specifically, their cup of tea.

Matthew Warner over at the National Catholic Register published an article a while back on the way that some bishops are troubled by the Catholic bloggers out there. Bishop Gabino Zavala, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee expressed concerns over when bloggers take upon themselves the mantle of Magisterium and use judgmental, or hurtful language or engage in personal attacks. He said “Such actions shatter the communion of the Church that we hold so precious.”

While I do agree that some bloggers out there may take it too far with cynicism, surely what the bishop means by having us not “assume the role of the Magisterium” is not passive acceptance of anything that comes from higher-ups. Surely this cannot mean we are not to speak the Truth, or evaluate decisions with confidence. We might read the statement wtih cynicism and say that this is clerical elitism, but I suspect that’s not his point. I suspect his point is that the demonization of our leaders, rather than disagreement is the heart of the issue. I do not assume Bishop Zavala to be saying that Catholic bloggers should die off. Speaking pastorally, he makes a point. Catholics have not only the image of, but are supposed to have actual unity. They are supposed to have a unity that shows them not to be splintering at the seams with rage for one another, but in the common unity of faith, they are to be united even when disagreement is necessary.

The Digital Diocese

Bishop Ronald Herzog said, “Social media is proving itself to be a force with which to be reckoned. If not, the church may be facing as great a challenge as that of the Protestant Reformation.” I have to agree. The Reformation was a confluence of religious, political and technological changes that are being mirrored in our own day, but at a much more alarming rate. The Church has the responsibility to shore up Her presence online and lead the way in digital presence online. I thought long and pondered well the statement by Bishop Zavala, and I think implicit in his statement is a recognition of a second Tea Party in America. No, not the Tea Party Express, nor any other political Tea Parties. It’s a Lai-Tea Party (pronounced just like laity). A movement that is increasingly recognized by the hierarchy of Catholic bloggers and news reporters who are taking to arms with certain issues and even working hard to bring the faith into the digital age. The Bishops are recognizing the growing social force that is the Catholic blogosphere and the presence of the “Digital Diocese” in our everyday lives. The web has garnered reporters and pastors and made the Catholic online community worth contending with and recognizing.

To define the Lai-Tea Party movement in brief: I coined the term today, while thinking about the effects the Tea Party had on American Politics. The Tea Party is a social reform movement that started in America sometime between 2008 and 2009 and focuses on reforming American social life and fiscal life. The Lai-Tea party movement is a conservative social reform movement that is usually perpetuated by the laity, though some notable priests have made an online presence. This movement has actively devout Catholics hoping to influence politics, social justice, family and life issues, social media and even Church politics in the public sphere by pressing for Orthodox commitments to the faith. These bloggers are grassroots movements, often centering charismatically on the best and most thoughtful and Orthodox bloggers. They openly call for the laity to support certain leaders and agendas over others, and are haivng an increasing effect on Catholic culture in America. Evidence shows that these bloggers, and tweeters are strongly pro-life, devout and ardent for the Orthodox expressions of their faith. Not only that, they have a growing voice in American politics, pro-life organizations and grassroots business support. For example, a 30 year old mother of three might have a blog on culture and parenting, and have relatively little impact in her immediate social circle, yet have a following of 15-20,000 regular readers. This is a prime example of what’s at the heart of the Lai-Tea movement.

There is a growing Catholic lay presence in the goings of of Catholic life and culture in America. I think this can be a very good thing, especially because it is this creative and Orthodox laity who are fighting to retain the Tradition of the Church, and to revitalize her authenticity and voice in our own world today. The “Digital Diocese” is basically what Catholicism is online, a collection of various Churches coming together, and right now the head is loosely the Pope Himself through his Apostolic exhortations and statements on New Media. He’s the most outspoken of all the Catholic Bishops on New Media and Catholicism st least as far as I can tell. Right now this digital diocese has no specific Bishop, or head to report to. It is a growing web presence and mayhap should even have it’s own Bishop someday, but we’ll leave that up to the Vatican and Pope Benedict and his successors.

The New Evangelization

Social media, the New Evangelization, and the rise of the Catholic Blogosphere are all hugely important aspects of Catholic life in the 21st Century. New media is shaping the Church towards the empowerment of the laity to serve and evangelize.We must recognize a growing influence of laity in the Catholic Church, and that it’s not a bad thing. The 20th and 21st Centuries have seen a revitalization of lay efforts around the world, and with prelates like Opus Dei in the mix, empowering lay-people for active service is imperative. It is the call of every Catholic to be prophet-priest-king in their own way. Surely those with holy Orders have a special responsibility and means of exercising those, but this does not mean that the laity is irrelevant. The revival of lay-participation on every level of ecclesial life has been hugely beneficial for the growth and maintenance of Catholicism, and without the Digital Diocese, and the freedom of Catholic information online, I wonder how many Protestant conversions and eventual reversions would be stunted.

The Lai-Tea Party in Action

Speaking of the power of the Lai-Tea Party, there have been a few things we can speculate have indirect involvement of Catholic bloggers in their midst.

Huge news this week was the election of Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the Presidency of the USCCB. Reasons for the breaking of a tradition that saw the vote as more of a formality has been the subject of speculation since the upset. The New York Times reported “The vote makes Archbishop Dolan the most visible face of the church in the United States. It also suggested that the bishops were seeking a powerful and reliably orthodox voice to reassert the church’s teaching in the court of public opinion and to disarm critics who insist that the bishops have lost their moral authority as a result of their role in the sexual abuse scandals. Kicanas’ example was far from a shining light in dealing with sex abuse, and Dolan was obviously the most fit for the job. This election is a move to restore a credible face for the American Catholic Church, at least in the opinion of Phil Lawler.

I tend to agree with Lawler, but also have to cite the increased moral accountability demands from the laity. Lawler writes “As the expected ascent of Bishop Kicanas to the USCCB presidency approached, the bishop’s unhappy connection with the [Daniel] McCormack [sex-abuse] case drew new scrutiny—first from a Chicago radio station, then from Tim Drake of the National Catholic Register, and finally from groups representing abuse victims. These abuse victims, were a driving factor as well as the American Hieracrchy’s need for a new face with credible leadership. The laity spoke out, the Lai-Tea Party spoke out, and the election was given to a more credible leader.

Dolan himself denies the caricaturization between pro-life and social-justice issues saying “We bishops would bristle at the characterization that there are some bishops who tend to be more pro-life and family issues while others tend to the social-justice issues.” Whatever the case, there is a noticeably stronger and stronger influence from the laity who are pressing for more Orthodoxy, and a stronger voice on social issues in the public sphere. The American Church wants to be done with sexual abuse and timid leaders who wash their hands of situations will simply not do. It is my suspicion that the active proliferation of news across the web by laypersons and the Lai-Tea party had a lot to do with this election. In other words, thank you Tim Drake.

This Lai-Tea Party is not trying to break from the Church, or become the Magisterium, but has gained a considerable following, and is generating lots of talk and shared ideas on the internet. It is the voice of the Church echoing back to itself the high-standards of ages past. The Lai-Tea Party movement among Catholics need not be a bad thing, if we have the fortitude to recognize it as a correcting mechanism. An empowered and preaching laity is part of the Church’s acceptance of a type of priesthood of all believers. We don’t evangelize as in the classical world with ideas, and doctrines, as much as we need to show people that our faith is a matter of thought, heart, morality, and meditation. Catholicism is a life in service to God with a universal body of believers, not a collection of dogmas exclusively. The Lai-Tea Party wants both the social presence that social-justice advocates are pressing for, as well as an outspoken commitment to Orthodoxy and a swift handling of sexual abuse wherever it happens.

A Call to the Bishops

I think the bishops are right to be concerned about the dark side of all this, that is apologists, bloggers and general Catholic internet users who have mean-streaks and are not witnessing with the charity necessary to make positive witness. I think the bishops are right to ask us to remember charity, and love as part of our witness in the New Evangelization. There are big challenges afoot, and my call to Catholic bloggers and writers out there is to support the Bishops in making the change into the Digital Age. I mean there are a few ideas out there that might help in establishing what I have called a Digital Diocese. If The Bishops are wise, they might take up keeping tabs on their own local bloggers, or publish a document with guidelines and rules for blogging as a Catholic. There should be rules in place that safeguard readers from extremists, and generally cohere with the tone and nature of the New Evangelization. In other words, the Bishops can, by example and perhaps with their own blogs, set the tone and by example demonstrate how the faith is best communicated and taught.

But there is hope. The challenge is to the bishops to step up, and realize the positive impact this can have. You cannot keep people from blogging, or even from disagreeing with you, but you can establish guidelines that further the Church’s cause in the New Evangelization. Then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote “In proclaiming conversion we must also offer a community of life, a common space for the new style of life. We cannot evangelize with words alone; the Gospel creates life, creates communities of progress; a merely individual conversion has no consistency.” So too, a merely individual proclamation of the faith has no consistency. If the Bishops seek to outline guidelines of charitable communication so that the Catholic blogosphere can be a community of life it is possible. It is possible to create a culture progressing towards life, the Lai-Tea Party has proven that with the increased attention on Catholic bloggers even by the bishops and Rome. It is possible to establish a well ordered Digital Diocese, the impetus is on the bishops, their staffs, and Catholic bloggers everywhere to do so.

Bishop Herzog quoted above also said… social media is not the latest fad, but a paradigm shift…”(emphasis mine).

My call to the bishops is to take advantage of the time and the way in which online Catholic culture is forming, and to step in with their presence, making themselves bishops in not just the physical world, but the digital as well. Maybe then the Church will recognize that the strong arm of Orthodoxy or the bleeding wrist of acquiescence to culture will always be the laity. Without contact with the people of the digital age, and recognition that it is the laity that will lead the frontiers of online participation, the hierarchy does poorly to establish an online presence. But if there is a motion to be drawn together, and take advantage of existing structures, we can do so much more.

A Call to The Lai-Tea Party

You know who you are. You’re a blogger, a mother, a father, a Catholic.

The New Media will either be Babel, or a type of second Jerusalem, a community that empowers people to go forth in loving power, towards social justice, towards upbuilding of families, towards a technologically savvy Catholic Church.

What it becomes is up to us, and I think we have gotten off to a great start. From where I’m standing, we have a lot to do, but we’ve already done so much.

The New Evangelization and the New Apologetics are not so much about refuting arguments or winning numbers as they are about developing connections with people in our daily lives and online who can share in friendship with us.

5Things to briefly Keep in Mind:

1) We are witnesses, and to that end, we must be united. -We must hold true the values of communion over conflict and common cause over splintered debates.We are the presence of the Church online and in some ways, we are the priests to the online world. We have a priestly vocation to embody Christ

2) It is ok to disagree, it is not ok to debase. -When arguing a point, winning the argument is not the most important thing in the world. Arriving at the Truth in love is. If you cannot reach the Truth through logic, drop it. It’s not the end of the world. I can’t remember the last time I got flamed and was excited to change religions or point of view.

3) We may have a growing social presence, but we are not the Magisterium. -We have a responsibility to embody the Truth of the Church, and to uphold that in our lives, but we do not have the responsibility to pronounce anathemas, or excommunications, or any other sort of unnecessarily inflammatory language.

4) Remember that online presence is as Spiritual and Moral as it is Intellectual and Social. -What I mean is, when you engage your online life, do so spiritually. Do it morally. Surf the web with charity, temperance, moderation, self-control. Sometimes those things can be challenging, but they are necessary. We are a massive laity, and we do well to act as we should, and in so doing give the internet’s Catholic voice not simply voice, but a soul also.


Young people [bloggers, thinkers and writers] of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer, be coherent with your faith and generous in your service of brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to his word, draw strength from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and penance. The Lord waits you to be intrepid apostles if his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.

-Pope John Paul II

With the Prayers of St. Juan Diego, St. Josemaria Escriva, Pope John Paul II and all the saints who pray incessantly for and with the laity, we should all recognize the call to preach the gospel at all times.

In Closing Our Father Benedict Says “… I renew the invitation to make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications. May the Lord make all of you enthusiastic heralds of the Gospel in the new “agorà” which the current media are opening up…”

To which I say, Amen.


About Eli


4 responses to “St. Juan Diego’s Cup of Tea”

  1. practicinghuman says :

    Took me a while to get through your post, but I think you’re dead on the money that the strength of the Church is found in Her laity. Well-catechized laity do defend Orthodoxy. A grandmother who has raised her family in the faith knows much about that faith. It is said that grandmothers are the true saints of Russia. Additionally, I think your call to relationship is key. The traditional voice of the Church is one that cries “Incarnation!” Simply fronting the Church as a conservative soundbite will do little good.

    • Eli says :

      Thanks Anna, it is truly appreciated. I know this was a long one, took me a few hours to write with all the research and formulation of ideas.

      But I think that the Russian saying is supremely accurate, having had a grandmother like that myself.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Mike says :

    Hey Eli,

    Interesting post. I agree with your assessment of the laities role in the Church, especially at the cutting edge of Internet and social media. There’s one thing i’d like to touch on though, I think I mentioned it before but it fits in well with what your talking about here.

    One of the largest challenges that I think we have to face with this media form is how fractured it is and how easy it is to ignore dialogue. Because setting up a blog has no upfront cost and only costs as much time as you want it to, you get a really fractured media landscape. What this means is that it’s very easy to follow sources that your comfortable with, or that you’re predisposed to agree with. Once you find these sources, it is almost too easy to ignore everything else, lessening exposure to other viewpoints.

    Let’s compare this with print media. Starting a paper has a much higher cost, and requires more people. Each paper is contributed to by a variety of people, often with different viewpoints. In the course of becoming informed, you are forced into contact with other opinions. This is not so in online media, especially independent online media, and I think it’s the biggest problem we have to face.

    As Catholics, we have a strong belief in universal community. I think that the current situation is degrading that community, from being “everyone” to being “people I follow online”, which is all too often “people I agree with”. It becomes too easy to categorize other blogs, to say “oh, thats just a progressive/traditional liberal/conservative blog”, and by labeling them we feel like we can ignore them.

    I’d like your input on this as a blogger, if you see the same thing. If so, I’m not sure what the solution is. I know that I have become a huge fan of group blogs, especially when the authors have different views, because they force exposure to other opinions. Comments do the same thing when there is a group of relatively regular people who engage with it as a discussion. I’ve also been a fan of forums, I think all these styles have an important role to play.

    I don’t mean to say there isn’t a valuable role for single-shop blogs, or media sources with a strong, unified editorial voice, but I think at present we’re skewed too far in that direction.

    Comments, anyone?

    • Eli says :

      Sorry I haven’t replied, yesterday was the rite of acceptance. It was glorious.

      I think you’re right to comment on how fractured blogging media can be, but given the nature of the internet I think that the best we can do is shape our intake to be wide and well-read. Just like we might consider books a fractured media, or television, or any other such output. There are scholarly journals out there, but most people just settle for reading the paper, or time magazine.

      I think the onus of responsibility is on the readers, and the hierarchy should invite us into a broad exposure, which they have through the New Evangelization campaign. I think we do not have a strong sense of “everyone,” either in print or online, because certain bishops are misdirecting or avoiding teachings of the Magisterium, or abusing the liturgy, or whatever else is being allowed to continue. It is the task of the Christian person to create a sense of the universal where they do find gaps, and it is the task of the Magisterium to invite us to collaboration and unity, which they already have.

      I think as a blogger I can see where you’re coming from, and that’s why I try to niche myself away from rewriting other articles or commenting on exactly the same things that other people talk about. I enjoy blogs with multiple authors, like a bigger discussion forum, and am actually discussing starting such a blog ring with my friends from college. Several of us have converted and it’s been interesting to see.

      I have tried to break into some blog rings just to get the ball rolling, but it’s really hard to be the new kid on the block in some of those blog rings, if you can even get in. Most of them require you be a Confirmed and practicing Catholic, not just a candidate for confirmation and even then a blog ring isn’t a discussion panel, it’s a circle of people who might not even be conversing with each other.

      But again, I think the onus is on the consumer.

      As an author I try to read several other blogs before talking on certain issues like news events, because there’s always spin in every aspect of media, even Catholic media. So, I read many articles and then link to a few, some i agree with more than others, but I try to share links around and let people know I am not the only voice out there.

      Thanks for bringing up such a crucial issue, i may have to write on it at some point.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: