Practicing religion is all about, well, practice.
A new app developed by the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life is trying to restore traditional Catholic practices with the help of smartphones. 3D Catholic was named for the three devotions it promotes (prayer, fasting and almsgiving) and appeals to those who are seeking to deepen their faith in the age of digital distraction.
“Technology can be a distraction from religious practice,” said John Cavadini, director of the Institute of Church Life at Notre Dame, “so we worked with theologians, media professionals and Notre Dame students to figure out how devices could point us back to the ‘distinctive sign of Christian faith’ — the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.”
Cavadini explains how the 3D Catholic practices recall the Incarnation. “The Angelus prayer recalls the moment Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb, and abstaining from meat on Fridays keeps us mindful of Christ’s Passion.” Lastly, “every corporal work of mercy, whether feeding the hungry or taking care of the sick, helps us learn to recognize Christ embodied in those in need.”
Aleteia spoke with Dr. Brett Robinson, director of communications for the Institute of Church Life, about the 3D Catholic app, what inspired it, and how it can help us enter into the Year of Mercy.
Robinson is the author of Appletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs.
Dr. Robinson, what inspired the 3D Catholic App?
The research that sociologist Christian Smith has done on the tendency of young Catholics to leave the Church when they reach their twenties was a real wake-up call to those of us who are concerned about young people at such a pivotal phase in their life. They are seeking answers about life’s most perplexing questions but are finding a real dearth of meaning in secular culture. The Church has a duty to inspire young people to not give up the search but to embrace it.
3D Catholic was inspired by the idea that simple practices can have a profound impact. Mass and the Eucharist are the “source code” for our faith but there is a lot of user friendly “software” that exists outside Mass that is available to anyone who is earnestly seeking the deeper meaning that the Church offers. The practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving emerged as three of the habits that have the potential to unite the most devoted Catholics with those who are not so sure about the Church but are seeking meaningful practices to connect them to something bigger than themselves. 3D Catholic is about rekindling the imagination around those three simple devotions: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Using modern media like smartphones and and an app seemed like a culturally relevant way to share this idea.
Tell us more about 3D Catholic.
3D Catholic is an app-supported movement to promote three practices or devotions: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The app has the following features:
Prayer: A reminder to pray the Angelus every day at noon. The Angelus prayer is based on Scripture verses that focus on the Incarnation of Christ. Each of the devotions is focused on the Incarnation in their own way.
Fasting: A reminder to abstain from meat on Fridays (not just during Lent but all year) brings to mind Our Lord’s Passion on that day.
Almsgiving: Suggestions for corporal works of mercy as well as a way to connect with others who are practicing this essential devotion.
Prayer Intention Stream: A place for users to post and read prayer intentions from people in their local community. The messaging platform is based on a popular messaging platform that allows users to connected with others in their area in a pseudo-anonymous way.
Nearby: Each time a user completes a devotion, a pin is added to the map. The pins are color coded (yellow for prayer, blue for fasting and red for works of mercy). Looking at pins placed all around the world is very uplifting!
How can the 3D Catholic app help people enter into the Year of Mercy?
The works of mercy are central to the app and they are the fruits of an interior life well lived (through prayer and fasting). Connecting the mercy of our Lord to the everyday acts of mercy that we perform for others is an essential tenet of our faith. Our Lord tells us that each time we serve the least of his people, we are serving Him. What an astonishing idea! God is not abstract and distant but dwells among us. It’s a fitting idea for the Advent season as well!
Pope Francis has given us a beautiful gift with the Year of Mercy and many ways to enter into it. We think that the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are concrete reminders of just how deep God’s mercy can be.
What potential does 3D Catholic have for building community?
The idea of a Catholic community has become something of an anachronism for many people. Parishes and schools strive mightily to build a sense of community often to no avail given the demands on our time and the cultural shift towards more secular activities. The 3D Catholic movement, because it’s simple and social, has the potential to forge new connections among Catholics who find solidarity in praying for an intention they saw on the app, abstaining from meat, or meeting up with others at a nursing home to spend time with the residents. The three devotions are really for anybody — you need not be Catholic to practice them. We hope the app will start new conversations among those fallen away or just curious about the faith who see these devotions in action.
Were university students involved in the development? What response have you received from them?
The Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame sponsored a discussion among Catholic leaders from all over the country about a movement to recover these three practices and students at the university embraced the movement right away. The students are constantly providing ideas to upgrade and refine the app. 3D Catholic launched at Notre Dame in the fall and we are already on our sixth update thanks to the students who have taken the lead on this movement.
Any final insights or thoughts?
Much like Facebook, this is an idea that started on a college campus but has the potential to connect many more people in communities around the country. 3D Catholic is fueling a revival among those who have dismissed, forgotten or never experienced the grace that comes from the regular practice of simple devotions.
3D Catholic is a free app available for download on iOS and Android. More information can be found at: 3dcatholic.nd.edu.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.