Finding God in a Digital Age
Finding God in a Digital Age - Photo by Don Doll, SJ

A woman takes a photo at the Midwest Jesuits’ 2015 first vows Mass at Saint Thomas More Catholic Church in St. Paul.
Photo: Fr. Don Doll, SJ

By Michael Rossmann, SJ

Saint Ignatius never could have imagined the number of ways we distract ourselves with a device that fits in our pockets. According to one recent study, smartphone users check their phones an average of 85 times per day. Many of us have become so “connected” that we do not even notice the people immediately around us. Doctors have reported increasing numbers of people injured because of “distracted walking.”

And yet Ignatius surely would not have recommended that everyone ditch their phones and flee modern technology. This is where much of humanity now spends a great deal of its time. We cannot fail to be in these spaces. While our smartphones and tablets can be devices of distraction, they can also be tools for meaningful connections.

For the past five years, I have been part of The Jesuit Post, a project involving Jesuits in formation who use digital media to offer a Jesuit, Catholic perspective on our contemporary world. We and our fellow young adults — and a fair share of not-so-young adults — are going to be online anyway. We might as well do our best to offer something of substance.

Our effort is but one of many ways Jesuits and collaborators are innovating in the digital realm. America Media, known for its magazine for more than a century, has expanded to film and radio in recent years, in addition to completely revamping its website. Several Jesuit institutions use the web and various apps to offer the day’s Mass readings and a Gospel reflection. Loyola Press released an Examen app based on the book Reimagining the Ignatian Examen by Fr. Mark Thibodeaux, SJ, which offers a fresh take on St. Ignatius’s classic prayer. The British Jesuits offer a daily podcast, Pray as You Go, that has now been replicated in five other languages.

The Jesuit Post
Taking our ministry online allows us to cast a global net and get a sense of what does and does not connect with people. Previously, someone who wrote an article in a magazine might have heard some feedback from a few subscribers, but the number of people who read a particular piece was largely unknown. Today, we can see exactly how many people view and share an article or video online. People around the world are also able to encounter our work.

Michael Rossman, SJ

Click here to see Michael Rossman, SJ,
on Facebook Live at the Midwest Jesuits' offices.
Still, there are limitations to digital ministry and online connections. Perhaps the most valuable gift we can offer each other is our full attention — something rarely given when there is a screen between us. If we think a notification might arise at any moment, we tend to keep our interactions on the surface. When I pray with my phone, I am just a click away from any number of possible distractions. I have often had the experience of wanting to “check something” online during prayer, only to journey down a rabbit hole of other “somethings.”

Many of us could benefit from a digital Sabbath, whether that means spending a screen-free Sunday or not using digital devices after a certain hour in the evening. We can also fight technology with technology by using programs that hide our Facebook News Feed or prevent us from going to certain sites when we are supposed to be working.

It is easy to spot some digital weeds, but we also cannot miss the wheat. I have 4,795 “friends” on Facebook, most of whom I have never actually met. That is absurd. But Facebook is also where I initially met some of my best friends in the world — and not just “friends” in the social media sense. Nothing replaces one-on-one, in-person ministry, but why would we not also try to reach thousands more across the world by communicating online? Many of us get distracted when praying with apps, but such tools easily allow us to fill dead moments throughout the day with the living Word of God.

It has only been a decade since Apple released the first iPhone. We are still sorting through the weeds and the wheat of this new digital environment. We will inevitably make mistakes and will certainly get distracted. But these are the places where we need to be. In fact, they are the places where we already are.

Michael Rossmann, SJ, is a Jesuit scholastic currently studying theology at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, in addition to serving as editor-in-chief of The Jesuit Post at He will be ordained a priest on June 3, 2017, at Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee.

Click here for the Spring 2017 Jesuits magazine index. 

Jesuit Prayer
Making Room for God
Silence: Jesuits in Japan
Lessons from Standing Rock


Jesuits Spring 2020

Jesuits Fall Winter 2019

Jesuits Summer 2019

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