Faith, prayer and contemplation – there’s an app for that

Prayer. We all need it, yet how many of us actually set aside time to do it? As Christians, it’s something that should always be on our minds and in our hearts; perhaps we say a quick mental prayer here and there throughout the day, or maybe we say a few words to God before plopping down into bed. However, in the hustle and bustle of daily life, setting aside intentional time to pray can be hard; in fact, at times, it seems impossible.

Conversely, how many of us spend time “doom scrolling” on our smartphones each day? Listening to audiobooks or podcasts? Shuffling through our favorite songs and playlists on Spotify? Watching the latest viral TikTok clip? The answer is probably not something we’re proud to admit. Smartphones are an integral yet often unnecessary part of our daily lives, but they do have some redeeming qualities. One, as counterintuitive as it may seem, is that they’re always on our person, and another is that there are a wealth of apps that can be useful for our own personal and spiritual formation.

Have you ever considered using your smartphone to help you pray? It sounds crazy, but hear me out. In recent years, several Catholic apps have made their way onto the App Store that are actually quite helpful in maintaining a consistent, intentional and yes, even fruitful prayer life. If you’re having difficulty finding time to pray, here are three apps you might consider using; they might be just what you need.

Hallow

The rise in popularity of meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm is certainly not a bad thing (after all, we could all use a little quiet from time to time), but those who take their prayer life seriously understand the unavoidable overlap between spiritual and mental health. For those who like the meditative exercises of Headspace but desire something more in line with Christian spirituality, then Hallow is an answer to your prayer (no pun intended).

Launched in 2018 by Notre Dame engineering graduate Alex Jones, the app continues to grow in both popularity and notoriety, especially within the Catholic world. While Hallow can be used by anyone who is Christian (or even those who aren’t!), the app is thoroughly and distinctly Catholic – and is well-designed to boot. Users have a wealth on content to choose from, be it custom “pray lists” based on various themes, meditations using the rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet and other Catholic prayer methods (including Lectio Divina), music-based prayer and even prayers for sleep. What’s even cooler is that Hallow continues to add special guests to its lineup of speakers and prayers, which presently includes Bishop Robert Barron, Father Mike Schmitz and Jonathan Roumie, who’s best known as playing Jesus in the hit show The Chosen and is himself a devout Catholic. We especially recommend his reading of the Our Father prayer in Aramaic.

Hallow makes it easy to listen through headphones while at your desk or through your car stereo on the commute to work. You can even participate in prayer “challenges” with other Hallow users. No mater how you use it, Hallow’s goal is a noble one: to help people make prayer a part of their daily life. Some content is free to use, but to get full access (which is well worth it, in our opinion), subscriptions start at $9.99 per month or $59.99 for an entire year.

Learn more about Hallow here.

Journey with Ignatius

If you prefer something a little more interactive on the app front, Boston College’s Journey With Ignatius Virtual Pilgrimage might be more up your alley. The app was really a fruit of the pandemic last year, when the Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies at Boston College hosted a virtual Ignatian retreat in May. Over 1,100 people participated in the retreat, and from that, in collaboration with Roche Center for Catholic Education and The Church in the 21st Century Center, the idea for a virtual pilgrimage was conceptualized.

The Journey With Ignatius app was developed over the summer last year, and is now available to download for free on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. The app itself is a miniature crash course in Ignatian spirituality, with daily exercises aimed specifically at body, mind and soul, and it also includes brief audio of a daily reflection and the Examen, or an examination of conscience. Additionally, there is a Community tab where users can post testimonies, prayer intentions and other thoughts, and a Discover tab which includes various resources provided by Boston College.

The daily exercises are done within the greater context of a 12-week retreat, which gives the user a good reason to keep coming back to the app. Each week the retreat explores a new location associated with the life of St. Ignatius; hence the name of the app being a “virtual pilgrimage.” Again, the app is completely free, and it’s probably a better and more enriching use of your time than another round of Candy Crush.

Learn more about Journey With Ignatius here.

FORMED

If you’re a Catholic and you haven’t heard of FORMED, then we can only assume you’ve been living under a baptismal font! Bad joke aside, Formed is affectionately known as the “Netflix for Catholics” for good reason; their comprehensive catalog of original programs and other Catholic shows serves as an excellent resource for anybody who desires to come to a fuller understanding of the Catholic faith.

Born out of a partnership between the Augustine Institute, Lighthouse Catholic Media and Ignatius Press, FORMED launched in 2015 and has grown exponentially since then. In addition to a robust library of video content, FORMED also features high quality audio content that can be listened on the go via the FORMED app. Furthermore, the platform offers occasional prayers such as a recent novena to St. Joseph, and daily reflections from Dr. Tim Gray, president of the Augustine Institute, are also available. Beyond just enriching media, the content of FORMED offers a important means of formation and contemplation that’s beneficial for both individuals and groups.

Most parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver offer a free subscription for their parishioners, but if you’re outside of the archdiocese or just want to get an individual subscription (or even gift a subscription to someone else), you can get access to the vast trove of Formed content for just $9.99 per month. Not a bad deal for on-demand, ongoing faith formation!

Learn more about Formed here.


Featured photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”