Some think that smartphones are a threat to spiritual life. Nonsense, says Angelo Stagnaro
Is it just me or does anyone else think it odd that Apple uses for its logo the bitten apple, a symbol of humanity’s Fall? Such weighty questions are more the ken of saintlier minds than mine but, regardless of the answer, I won’t be giving up my iPhone any time soon. I don’t revere the memory of Steve Jobs and I’ve never owned an Apple product in my life before my iPhone purchase.
I am decidedly and unapologetically a PC man but like any red-blooded man I love electronics. Portability and accessibility are my mantras. I’ve always have been very anti-Luddite in my approach to life and that spills over into my faith. Fr Benedict Groeschel was proud to tell me he had never once used a computer in his life but Sister Mary Gregory, my first teacher, who is now 100 years old, was annoyed whenever she encountered younger people (ie, people in their 50s) who still didn’t have email accounts.
“What are they waiting for?” she once asked me. “They won’t need them after the eschaton!”
With the introduction of the iPhone has come a flood of apps (short for software applications). These are tiny programmes that run on a smartphone allowing you to keep your grocery shopping straight, schedule your appointments and settle pub bets before a donnybrook erupts.
Among this explosion of apps are a surprising number made for the discerning Catholic and those discerning whether to become Catholic. Many of them are free while most of the others cost a pound or less.
The free ones often have a sponsor’s banner popping up every now and again but that’s what keeps the app free for users. It’s easy to ignore considering what you’re getting for free. Many of the apps listed below are also available for the Android and Windows system and other platforms as well but iPhone controls the most possibilities. Here are some apps you might consider downloading.
You Version Bible (free)
This app offers many different versions of the Bible, most of which are not canonically approved. But it does offer three Catholic versions including the Good News Version (my favourite), the more traditional Douay-Rheims Version and the Vulgate, for the “Latin-gifted”. It also offers many others version in a plethora of languages including Arabic, Icelandic, Basque, Vietnamese and Chinese, all of which are free. The app is completely interactive and it’s easy to email your favourite passage to your friends or to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. It also offers you a reading plan to divide the Bible into daily, readable sections to get you acquainted with the entire Bible.
Confession: a Roman Catholic app (£1.49)
This is the only app that comes with official approval from the Catholic Church as it’s the only one awarded an imprimatur. It is an aid to a nightly examination of conscience but, unfortunately, it doesn’t offer absolution. It’s a good deal nonetheless. The app is best described as a nightly examination of conscience to prepare oneself to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Secular journalists worldwide went wild at the release of this app which, I’m sure, translated into many millions of sales, most likely to less discriminating non-Catholics who didn’t know better. The app is password-protected so that only you, your confessor and God have access to it. In addition, the developers included a step-by-step guide to the sacrament.
Stations of the Cross (free)
Created by Ave Maria Press, this app offers magnificent original drawings of the Stations of the Cross. Reflections are taken from John Paul II’s 1991 biblical Way of the Cross, which follows the more ancient practice.
Roman Catholic Buddy (free)
A very handy list of popular prayers and a quick reference guide to the Church’s spiritual treasures. For example, if you are trying to remember all of the Beatitudes or if washing your dog is actually a Spiritual Act of Mercy, this app will present that information handily.
This is a magnificently useful app and I’m glad someone thought of it. It provides the schedule of Masses (and Reconciliation) for every Catholic church in the world along with links to their individual websites – and it’s free. Now people on holiday in eastern Mongolia have no excuse for missing Mass. It uses your phone’s GPS system to locate the nearest church. You can also search for specific parishes. As an extra added bonus, it also offers the daily readings for Mass that day to help you when attending a Mass that isn’t in a language you understand.
Popes of the Catholic Church (free)
This app offers the biography, stats and images of every Pope from Peter to Benedict.
iPieta offers a treasure of Catholic devotions, doctrines and documents teachings, prayers, calendars, the Douay-Rheims and Latin Vulgate Bibles and early versions of the Catechism.
Holy Rosary (69p)
This offers a beautiful graphic that allows you to push down on a graphic bead. Highly recommended. It’s the best rosary out there. There are other rosary programs that are free but this one offers a convenient interface.
Catholic Calendar (free)
This is my favourite Catholic app. (My favourite app of all time is a dog encyclopedia into which I delve daily, probably more often than I pray the Divine Office.) I pray the Divine Office for morning and evening prayer everyday but I’ll admit that I often err as to the exact prayers for specific feast days. This is no longer a problem for iPhone users. The app will automatically queue the correct prayers in their correct order for you. I highly recommend this for Catholics who wish to explore the prayer of the Church. It also offers the Mass readings for the day. The daily version is free which requires you to access the internet to download that day’s seven hourly prayers.
Divine Office (£13.99)
This app offers the Divine office in text and audio files. It wirelessly downloads several days of prayers at a time, without the need access the internet. Interestingly, it offers a global map that allows you to see the location of everyone else who is currently using the same app.
This app offers the Liturgy of the Hours in English, Latin, Italian, Spanish and French. Interestingly, it also includes the Ambrosian Rite. This is highly recommended in that it uses the official English translation that those who are stuck using the paper version use.
St Augustine (free)
For those who enjoy reading books on their iPhone or iPad, this app offers all of St Augustine of Hippo’s major books, including Christian Doctrine, City of God and Confessions.
Church Father (free)
This app from St Benedict Press allows you to use Patristic wisdom readings and prayers to create your own daily retreat for a year. It’s an excellent way to spend 10 minutes and you can learn a great deal about the Fathers of the Church. You can also set the app’s alarm to gently remind you to come to prayer. It should be noted that the app doesn’t nag you to pray. If you can’t get to the readings it will hold your spot until you can get to it.
If you have access to a wi-fi signal, you can electronically attend Mass every day. What a time in which we live! One can imagine this is exactly how St Clare saw the first televised Mass.
Heresy Detector (free)
After a long, hard day playing Angry Birds on your iPhone, you can relax by scanning your Catholic friends and testing how orthodox they are.
The apps described above are an excellent means by which the average, non-computer savvy Catholic can help perfect one’s spirituality and evangelise others. And if you’re still on the fence about venturing into the 21st-century’s electronic “courtyard of the Gentiles”, remember, the eschaton is one day closer today than it was yesterday, so what are you waiting for? It’s never a good idea to argue with a sainted, centenarian nun.
Angelo Stagnaro is a journalist, author and stage magician