Ministries of the Word

Posted By: Daniella Zsupan-Jerome Catholic Media Blog,

My first academic job after finishing my doctorate took me to New Orleans. It was an appointment that rooted my husband and I in that city in many ways: it was not only the place of my first job, but also the place of our first home, our first dog, and eventually the place of birth for both of our children. We lived there for about a decade. 

During my time in New Orleans, I was a commuter.  We settled on the North Shore, a suburb-like part of the metro area. Unlike most other suburbs of North America, the North Shore is separated from the city of New Orleans by a body of water of significant size: Lake Pontchartrain. North Shore commuters endeavor the way across the 24-mile-long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge to get to work, which makes it one of the most unique metro commutes I am aware of. For 24 miles there is nothing but water on either side. On sunny days, it is a beautiful ride, with pelicans hovering close by. On stormy days, I would hold that steering wheel a bit tighter, in the wind and driving rain, and be acutely reminded of God’s grace!

Lessons Along the Way

During my decade of commuting across Lake Pontchartrain, I indeed received many spiritual insights and graces. I thought a lot about the symbolism of water, and what it means for the city of New Orleans. Driving over that water, I thought about the Spirit of God hovering above the waters of creation, Noah and the flood, the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, Peter walking on water, Jesus calming the storm, death and life, the Paschal Mystery, baptism. These reflections often became part of my lesson plans with students.  I still teach baptism through this lens.

I also prayed and learned during the commute. New Orleans Catholics generally agree that those 25-ish minutes to make it across the Lake is the perfect amount of time for a rosary.  I would also tune in to the local Catholic radio often, and listen to call-in shows, talk shows, or the daily Mass broadcast from St Louis Cathedral.  This opportunity as a commuter to spend substantial amount of time with Catholic radio also crystallized for me the conviction that I still hold firm now:  the profoundly impactful ministry this medium provides for people of faith. 

New Ways to Educate All Students

Over time I became aware of some interesting contrasts. I would drive to work while listening to interesting, challenging and formative Catholic content on the radio. While at work, we would very often have conversations about how to reach out and extend opportunities for theological education to more people – the perennial conversation in higher education. While we would admit about a dozen or so new students a year, I increasingly wondered how many more people tune in to Catholic radio daily, and receive content that becomes impactful for their life of faith, their vocations and more. The aims of theological education at a university and of religious broadcasting are each unique, yet it is undeniable that many, many people are receiving something impactful for their faith from Catholic media. By comparison, those who come for formation to the university classroom or even to their parish programs are a much more specific sample of the Catholic population.

The Bigger the Reach, the Bigger the Potential

For those who seek it, Catholic media has enormous formative potential. At the same time, I am not sure if everyone working in Catholic media and communications necessarily defines the purpose of their work as formative or even catechetical.  Media traditionally understands its role to inform, to entertain, to educate, and in our case with faith-based media, to inspire.  When it comes to the way that the media educates, it is worthwhile for us to pause and reflect on what kind of education we envision by that. Is it a kind of content-driven education that ensures that the public has access to complete and accurate information about matters of faith? Or does education have room here to step into a more wholistic definition, a kind of formation for life, a pursuit of wisdom, that touches mind, heart and soul?  To put it in catechetical terms (because for many, consuming Catholic media becomes a source of catechesis) is the media nurturing a person’s faith response to God toward deeper maturity?

The answers to questions like these will rightly vary, depending on various media outlets, platforms and roles. Yet, when recognizing that media sometimes is formative, and even catechetical, it again becomes illuminating to consider this work as a ministry.

Catholic theology identifies a variety of ministries to be especially beholden to God’s Word, or more broadly, the facilitation of God’s self-communication to humankind, desiring to evoke the human faith-response. The category of such ministries is called “ministries of the word” and includes activities like evangelization, preaching, catechesis, as well as theological instruction. Insofar as the work of Catholic media intersects with these, it remains a worthwhile ongoing conversation to what extent we might consider media work a “ministry of the word” as well.  Can an article or vlog stir a person’s faith?  Can a podcast reveal God’s invitation? Can an image or design feature inspire? If so, as a “minister of the word,” how does the media professional approach his and her work distinctively?

This post was adapted from the April 2024 issue of the Catholic Journalist.