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For this podcast, host Rick Howick welcomes Mary Flock to our studios in the Tower of Hope, on the campus of Christ Cathedral. Mary is the principal of St. Polycarp School Online Catholic Academy.

Together they will talk about the all new “virtual” school which serves students locally and nationwide for at-home learning.

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Originally broadcast on 8/29/20


By now the entire country has seen a video of a supposedly racist confrontation, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, between a grinning young high school student and a Native American elder, chanting and beating a drum. The immediate and ferocious judgment of the internet community was that the boy was effectively taunting and belittling the elder, but subsequent videos from wider angles as well as the young man’s own testimony have cast considerable doubt on this original assessment. My purpose in this article is not to adjudicate the situation, which remains, at best, ambiguous, even in regard to the basic facts. It is to comment, rather, on the morally outrageous and deeply troubling nature of the response to this occurrence, one that I would characterize as, quite literally, Satanic.  

When the video in question first came to my attention, it already had millions of views on Facebook and had been commented upon over 50,000 times. Eager to find out what this was all about, I began to scroll through the comments. They were practically one hundred percent against the young man, and they were marked, as is customary on social media, by stinging cruelty. As I continued to survey the reactions, I began to come across dozens urging retribution against the boy, and then dozens more that provided the addresses and email contacts of his parents, his school, and his diocese. I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness, do they realize what they’re doing? They’re effectively destroying, even threatening, this kid’s life.” 

At this point, my mind turned, as it often does today, to René Girard. The great Franco-American philosopher and social commentator is best known for his speculations on what he called the scapegoating mechanism. Sadly, Girard maintained, most human communities, from the coffee klatch to the nation state, are predicated upon this dysfunctional and deeply destructive instinct. Roughly speaking, it unfolds as follows. When tensions arise in a group (as they inevitably do), people commence to cast about for a scapegoat, for someone or some group to blame. Deeply attractive, even addictive, the scapegoating move rapidly attracts a crowd, which in short order becomes a mob. In their common hatred of the victim, the blamers feel an ersatz sense of togetherness. Filled with the excitement born of self-righteousness, the mob then endeavors to isolate and finally eliminate the scapegoat, convinced that this will restore order to their roiled society. At the risk of succumbing to the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy, nowhere is the Girardian more evident than in the Germany of the 1930s. Hitler ingeniously exploited the scapegoating mechanism to bring his country together—obviously in a profoundly wicked way. 

Girard’s theory was grounded in his studies of Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and other literary figures, but his profoundest influence was the Bible, which not only identified the problem, but showed the way forward. Take a good, long look at the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel to see what Girard saw regarding both the sin and the solution. It is surely telling that one of the principal names for the devil in the New Testament is ho Satanas, which carries the sense of the accuser. And how significant, thought Girard, that it is precisely ho Satanas who offers all of the kingdoms of the world to Jesus, implying that all forms of human community are tainted, at least to a large degree, by the characteristically Satanic game of accusation, blaming, scapegoating. 

All of which brings me back to the incident in Washington and the nasty reaction to it on the internet. I have used the internet to great positive effect in my evangelical work for many years; so I certainly don’t agree with those who denounce it in an unnuanced way. However, there is something about social media comboxes that make them a particularly pernicious breeding-ground for Girardian victimizing. Perhaps it’s the anonymity, or the ease with which comments can be made and published, or the prospect of finding a large audience with little effort—but these forums are, increasingly, fever swamps in which hatred and accusation breed. When looking for evidence of the Satanic in our culture, don’t waste your time on special effects made popular by all of the exorcism movies. Look no further than your computer and the twisted “communities” that it makes possible and the victims that it regularly casts out. 

A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published a piece on me and my work. The author referred to me as “the Bishop of the Internet,” a title which I find more than a little strange. But for the moment, I’m going to claim it, only so I can make a pastoral pronouncement to all those who use social media. When you’re about to make a comment, ask yourself a very simple question: “Am I doing this out of love, out of a sincere wish for the good of the person or persons I’m addressing?” If not, shut up. If it becomes clear that your comment is simply spleen-venting, scapegoating, or virtue-signalling, shut up. The internet can be a marvelous tool, and it can be a weapon used for Satanic purposes. Applying the test of love can very effectively undermine the scapegoating mechanism and drive the devil out.  


Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.


Do you feel confident responding to the pro-abortion arguments against Brett Kavanaugh? People are saying women will die. Is there a right to abortion? On Trending with Chris Mueller and Timmerie Millington, your hosts will discuss taking back control of your devices and parenting in the internet age. Do you have a healthy philosophy for connection? They’ll also discuss the fundamental masculine need to provide as they continue their ponderings on “What you need to know about the inner lives of men” by Shaunti Feldhahn. Listen up and send us your tough questions about human life and sexuality.




Originally broadcast on 9/16/18


Recently, while working at my computer in Santa Barbara, I encountered a confounding problem and decided to call Brandon Vogt, who is not only the excellent content director at Word on Fire, but also a trained engineer and tech whiz. After trying in vain to talk me through the problem, Brandon said, “Look, let me just take over your screen.” And with that, he pressed some buttons in Atlanta, where he was attending a conference, and then commenced to move my cursor around the screen, click on all the right settings, and resolve the difficulty.

Though I had seen him do this before, I was, once again, impressed by this long-distance maneuver. Displaying my utter lack of scientific expertise, I asked, “Now Brandon, is this being done through the phone lines or is outer space involved?” I’m sure he was suppressing a laugh, but he patiently explained that when we send data over the Internet, the data is broken down into invisible electromagnetic waves, which are then passed through miles and miles of cables, telephone lines, and sometimes satellites. What’s remarkable, he explained, is how the same cables and satellites handle information from billions of computers, phones, and other devices simultaneously.

At this point in the conversation, Brandon remarked, “You know, I’ve often thought it analogous to the communion of saints.” “You’ll have to unpack that for me,” I said. “Well,” he replied, “people always seem puzzled that the saints in heaven can hear and answer millions of prayers without being omnipotent; but yet, something similar is happening all the time through our technology. Each second we send and receive an unfathomable amount of data through our cables and satellites, yet they handle it. The relatively small number of intercessions we pray each day pales in comparison.” “Ah,” I said, “wouldn’t that make for an interesting column!” So at Brandon’s prompting, here is a little reflection on prayer and the communion sanctorum.

One of the forms of Catholic prayer is an invocation of those in the heavenly realm. Every time we say the Hail Mary, for instance, we are confident that Mary, the Queen of Heaven, hears that prayer and engages us. Every time we call upon one of the saints, we are convinced that he or she takes in what we say and can, in point of fact, respond to us with information or inspiration. Indeed, we believe that our prayer can prompt the saints to act on our behalf, effecting real change in the world. I realize how counter-intuitive this can all seem to most moderns. In our more “realistic” moments, we feel that the dead are just gone, that they can’t possibly hear us. Or maybe we think that, if they still exist, they are far away, infinitely removed from the things of this world. And how, we wonder, could the Blessed Mother possibly “hear” every single Hail Mary that goes up to her every day from across the globe? Isn’t all of this just wishful thinking, so much pre-scientific mumbo-jumbo?

Well, remember Brandon’s insight. A machine of our contrivance is capable of receiving and transmitting extraordinary amounts of information simultaneously to and from numberless locales. How much more thoroughly and powerfully, therefore, can an intelligence at a higher pitch of reality, in a qualitatively different dimensional system, receive and transmit information? The faith of the Church is that those who are in the heavenly realm participate more intensely in the infinite intelligence of God, that intelligence which embraces all of space and all of time. Can a saint, therefore, receive and send a staggering amount of information? Why not? But can a saint exert a causal influence on the physical dimension? Can they actually do something for us? We mustn’t think of the spiritual as simply “other” than the material, as though the two could never interact. Rather, the spiritual contains the physical in the measure that it subsists at an elevated, more ontologically complete, level of existence. Representing the medieval consensus, Thomas Aquinas said that the soul is in the body “not as contained by it, but as containing it.” Instead of being a “ghost in the machine,” as many modern philosophers speculated, the soul, on Aquinas’s reading, is inclusive of the body. It can move matter, for it is greater than matter. And so the saints, from their heavenly place, can indeed influence, impact, and shape the material world.

Perhaps a last point of comparison would be in order. The satellites that facilitate so much of our world’s communication are entirely out of sight. We don’t, in the ordinary sense of the term, interact with them at all as we do with other persons and objects. And yet, from their celestial abode, they massively affect and aid us. In one of the prefaces for saints in the Roman Missal, we find this language: “From their place in heaven, they (the saints) guide us still.” We don’t deal with the denizens of heaven as we do with those of earth, but yet they listen to us, speak to us, and influence us constantly.

So next time you receive some instruction on your GPS or make a call on your iPhone, think of the communion of saints.


Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.


In the beginning was the word. And it was spoken. Or written on papyrus. Or animal skin. Or scratched into rock or chiseled into marble. But it was the word.

Today, millennia later, there is the word. And it’s in email, Web pages, Facebook, Twitter. The word has become the stuff of creation itself, quadrillions of electrons hurling themselves around the globe at the speed of light. The Internet. The World Wide Web.

But, still, it remains the word.

It’s tempting, perhaps, to view the Internet as just another form of paper, rock, skin or other medium for writing. It’s not. It’s a revolution in communication whose potential we have yet to recognize, let alone understand. Sadly, purveyors of porn recognized that potential more quickly than did religion. But religion is catching up.

A candidate for Congress recently proposed Internet access as a human right. Up there with food and water. Considering how the Internet has transformed 21st-century life that’s not so far-fetched. Indeed, the Coca-Cola Co. has installed wireless web access — free — in vending machines in underdeveloped nations to open up the world to young people.

Information is a great equalizer. Just as the printing press shone knowledge on the illiterate world of the Middle Ages, the Internet is spreading it far wider. And, it’s more than simply knowledge. It’s how we live. We pay bills and make money with the Internet. We buy and sell. We can access almost unlimited news and information. We communicate in words, voice and face to face. Skype and FaceTime connect families. Messages and photos keep us close.

This column was written on a cruise ship plowing through the Pacific Ocean, transmitted to Catholic News Service and finally to Catholic newspapers and websites. By the Internet. For me, a kid who began his newspaper career in lead and ink, this is magic.

Nor is all this potential locked up on our desktops. Most of us carry it around in our pockets. Tablets and smartphones. And short of a worldwide societal breakdown, it’s only going to become more ubiquitous.

Parishes, dioceses and even the Vatican are finding the Internet a valuable way to connect the faithful. And yes, Pope Francis is on Twitter and other social media, even recently helping to launch a Google Hangout site. Faith thrives on communication.

The Internet is not without its shortcomings. Certainly for some people, it can be an occasion of sin. Porn and heresy can be everywhere. And the Web, for all its benefits, is not always truthful. It’s a flashback to the 18th century when anyone with access to a printing press could foist their thoughts — right or wrong, nice or vitriolic — on others. The Web today is much the same, full of slanted and often erroneous views of religion. There is bigotry and hate. Hundreds of sites spew anti-Catholic and other bile.

In that, the Internet is not unlike a huge, all-inclusive library — though easier to access.

It is that ease of access, however, which will make the Internet an even more valuable tool for religion. There is a debate today over the benefits of “open Internet,” as opposed to a Web where speed and access are limited by cost and corporate control.

Salt Lake City Bishop John C. Wester, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications, wrote, “Access to the Internet is as essential and necessary for Americans as is access to education, news and other services that allow us to flourish and make positive contributions to society.”

Whether spoken, written or electronic, the word remains the word. Maybe the church can get a few of those soft-drink machines and offer wireless access — along with homilies.

Tom Sheridan is a former editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill. He writes from Ocala, Fla.



I hate to admit it, but I rely on my Yahoo News for breaking news on basically whatever they run and see as “important.” And more and more, many of us rely on the Internet as a source of information.

We seem to believe it without question, and “there’s the rub,” as Hamlet would say. We’ve dropped our “grain of salt” along the way and are ready to swallow whatever we find as gospel truth when it most assuredly is not. Often, it is a tremendous waste of time — how many cat videos does it take to satisfy the ordinary viewer?

So much information is available, and no one puts anything on the Internet with a disclaimer that “this might not be true.” As the authors tell it, they are the experts, and we should be thrilled they are giving us the opportunity to read what they wrote, not to mention to buy, buy, buy whatever is popular at the moment.

Almost anything and everything is available, but sometimes value discernment is required.

For children, however, discernment is mentally premature because their Web use is not necessarily monitored, and they can be lured into schemes or scams that could prove dangerous or even deadly if they are not discovered. Every time something happens, more safeguards are put in place. Parents restrict access to the Internet or companies require proof of age before charges are accepted.

Even for adults, it’s so easy to get in over your head, whether you’re charging Christmas gifts at various stores or making poor choices about where you spend your free time and perhaps, money, on the Internet.

The flip side, of course, is that you can research anything, and as long as you look for more than one opinion on a topic, it can be a valuable experience. Using the Internet to find out about an illness from reputable sites can allay fears or help you make a decision to call a doctor now, not sometime in the distant future. Then, it can be a godsend.

We can find a saint for the day, a reflection on daily Scripture, the Bible, spiritual authors and material that fits our needs wherever we find ourselves in life.

In November, our thoughts and research can lead us to learn about All Saints or All Souls, how some cultures celebrate el Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Or we can look for information for holidays, whether they belong to us or other nations or cultures.

Catholic information abounds from Catholic magazines and newspapers to Catholic authors and essayists. All we have to do is get close to spelling a word or a name correctly, and we can be reading for hours.

That also points out a problem with the Internet and a highly frustrating one. If you don’t key in the correct word or close to the correct word, it’s like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. You search and search and find many interesting topics or pieces of information, but you can’t find what you need. It’s not that it isn’t on the Internet, you just can’t find it.

I’ve been lost in Wonderland myself, sometimes for lengthy visits without finding what I need. When that happens I call someone I’ve discovered who is expert at researching. That usually works.

However we use the Internet, we have to use caution. So much information exists, and while some of it is wonderful and enlightening, some of it is wrong and misleading. When we have questions about what we read on the Internet, we need to keep clicking, find a different source, contact a real person, someone we know and share what we’re doing.

With the Internet, reading one entry is seldom a good idea, even if it’s Yahoo or CNN or any other source. In this instance, truly more is better. c

Liz Quirin is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.