Formed.org: Can it Form Us?

Carol Hollywood and Jane-Rose Ediau

Some parishes in our diocese have memberships to the website Formed.org, enabling their parishioners to access Catholic resources hosted there. Formed.org is an online platform, which some have nicknamed the “Catholic Netflix.” It hosts an impressive amount of content including Bible studies, presentations on the sacraments, on Catholic thinkers, saints, and theology. Formats include video programs and feature films, audio presentations and downloadable books, all accessible on demand through the Internet. You may already be familiar with some of the programs used in small group parish settings, such as the Symbolon Bible study or Fr. Michael Gaitley’s retreat, 33 Days to Morning Glory. At the website these are all available to revisit whenever and wherever you are. The website is simple and reliable to use and has proved very popular with many parishioners I have spoken to.

Recently I checked Formed.org out in depth. I found many things there to encourage and challenge my faith. I particularly liked the Opening the Word segments which give short video commentaries for each Sunday Gospel reading. Designed for RCIA, a printable leader’s guide and participant’s journal are available for each Sunday. Although the translation used is from the New American Bible, differing slightly from the New Revised Standard Version we hear at Mass, the commentary still applies.

I also listened to Keep Holy the Sabbath by Dr. Tim Gray. Gray has an in-your-face style that some will find compelling and convincing but others defensive or alienating. Similarly the video presentation Why God Still Matters by Karlo Broussard, of Catholic Answers, comes out fighting against public atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens, using philosophy and reason to undermine the strident claims that there is no God. While their arguments here are traditional Catholic teaching, the apologetic sensibility of these speakers bleeds into other content on the site giving it an energetic but combative stance, of a church newly embattled (hasn’t it always been?) and a forceful rather than humble evangelization.

Many parishioners have already experienced Dr. Edward Sri as an engaging speaker. I watched his class room discussions with college-aged students as he presented on relativism in Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love. Sri made some strong and substantial points that I could imagine using in discussing my faith with others. As a whole the speakers bring welcome clarity to points of theology. It is interesting to note, though, the lack of diversity in style and presentation. It took me a while to discover authoritative women’s voices, although I found Dr. Mary Healy delivering the Lectio Bible Study on Evangelization looking at the Book of Acts. Cut and dried answers and “I know I’m right” fervour leaves little room for real debate. The audio lecture on G.K. Chesterton seems less about the man and his faith than a thinly veiled partisan political speech. This style could alienate some parishioners.

These issues aside all the video that I watched was of consistently high quality and a wonderful starting point for parish meetings and discussion. Parishioners will have to buy workbooks and other resources in order to get the full benefit of some sessions but the content goes a long way to helping form Catholics in our faith albeit with a particular flavour. Formed.org is a great resource for busy parishes although it would be a mistake to think it covers all bases. There is little on Catholic Social Teaching and there is a “preaching to the converted” tone – perhaps not surprising for a “Catholic Netflix,” but which may make it less helpful for new Catholics or inquirers. Still the site is evolving. Perhaps the Augustine Institute, owners of Formed.org could be persuaded to diversify and include Canadian content, or materials on Catholic Social Teaching? It you have the chance I urge you to take a look. Can Formed.org be a wholesome part of your formation in faith?

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