Panning for gold on the Catholic internet

Panning for gold on the Catholic internet Dominican Sisters of St Joseph

Some weeks ago I was lucky enough to be present in England’s New Forest for my god-daughter’s first profession as a Dominican sister. Her community, the Dominican Sisters of St Joseph, is a remarkable group of women – warm, supportive, fun, energetic, contemplative and evangelical – and very much a case study in G.K. Chesterton’s observation that it is equally possible to be both funny and sincere.

With five women, including two Irish girls, currently in formation there, they look well set to make a vital contribution to the Church in the years to come.

You can pray along with them at scheduled hours of prayer broadcast live every day at Alternatively, at the sisters’ own website at, you can access their weekly Sunday Gospel Podcasts, visit their shop, and watch events such as the aforementioned profession with a fine homily by a priest ordained just days earlier and who himself originally found his vocation with the help of one of the sisters.

One of the impressive things about the sisters – or indeed anybody trying their vocation in today’s world – is their courage. It seems clear that a willingness to get out there and speak of the faith in the public square is vital for the future of the Church. Indeed, it’s vital not simply to sow seeds for the Church’s future, but to give hope to beleaguered Christians today.

Alien life

Given this, it was great to see Los Angeles’s Bishop Robert Barron stepping into the bearpit of the other day to face a grilling from all and sundry on topics as diverse as what the discovery of alien life on other planets would mean for the Church, his favourite character in The Lord of the Rings, the Church’s progress in tackling abuse, how he feels about being addressed as ‘your excellency’, the reality of exorcism, and the most challenging of the deadly sins in today’s society.

It’s pride, for what it’s worth. It’s always pride, blinding us to reality, blinding us from seeing ourselves, and each other and things as they really are, and as they really have been. One obvious danger of this is that it breeds denialism, a tendency to say that things we like are fine now or were fine then, and a refusal to look facts in the face.

It is bad for conservatives to indulge in sweeping self-indulgent romanticisation of the past”

Niall Gooch – like Sr Carino, another friend – in a post at entitled ‘Panning for gold in the past: Downton Abbey and the uses of nostalgia’, turns a thoughtful spotlight on tendencies to dismiss shows like Downton Abbey as simple nostalgia, and asks that an honest and nuanced eye be deployed when reflecting on the past and changes in our society.

“It is bad, as I have said, for conservatives to indulge in sweeping self-indulgent romanticisation of the past,” he writes, “but the opposite error – a sweeping and self-righteous scorn and hostility to the very idea of learning from the past, what Roger Scruton calls the culture of repudiation – is just as serious.”

For some Catholics, of course, learning from the past could helpfully take the form of deploying Google a bit more readily to establish that the election of Pope Francis wasn’t Year One for the Church.

Those inclined to dismiss or play down today’s environmental concerns and the attempt to engage with them systematically in Laudato Si’, for instance, would do well to look at something like the page on ‘Statements on Climate Change from the Popes’ at


Going back to 1990, for instance, it’s especially impressive to read afresh St John Paul II’s call for an “ecological conversion” or Pope Benedict’s many comments on the subject, not least his recognition that genuine care for the poor demands care for the world.

Finally, there’s no scope here to do justice to Amy Welborn’s essay at on ‘The hazards of online faith-writing’, where she talks seriously about what we produce, how it shapes us and our readers, and the ever-present threat of pride. Read it please, and pray for us.