Friday, January 22, 2021

The Most Important Thing I Have Written

Why I am walking away from social media and my smart phone cold turkey:

In 2009, when I was ordained, I despised blogs and Facebook.  But in 2010, in his address for the World Day of Communications, Pope Benedict specifically asked priests to use blogs and social media to help spread the Gospel.  He warned about the dangers, but said at the time that it was his belief that technology/social media are “morally neutral” (meaning it depends entirely on how it is used).


So I dove in.  I didn’t expect anyone to care about what I had to say, nor did I care if anyone liked what I had to say.  But I almost immediately saw the power of social media.  Just a few years later, I was flying to New Zealand to address a Eucharistic Congress there about how to use technology in Evangelization.


However, in 2015, in his encyclical Laudato Si, quoting Romano Guardini about the inherent dangers of technology, Pope Francis wrote the following: “We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups…Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all” (Laudato Si, 107-108)


So, which Pope was right?  I believe at the time Pope Benedict was asking priests to get involved, there was not evidence about the effect that social media and smart phones have on people because smart phones were just starting to become wide-spread.  2010 was the first year the majority of teens had a smart phone (55%).  By 2015 though, when "Laudato Si" was written, evidence was already indicating a terrifying annual growth in teen suicide rates.  Looking at yearly teen suicide rates, after a fairly consistent level through the 90’s and 2000’s, it jumps up in 2010 and increases sharply up through our own day.  So I think both popes were right.


I have discerned that it is best for me to just walk away both from social media and my smartphone cold-turkey.  I am doing this for several reasons.

1) Despite NOT being formed in the era of social media (thanks be to God) I still found, over time, it changing me in subtle ways.  I knew, despite all my efforts to spiritually avoid it, that, over time, I became aware of what topics were more likely to spread around than others, and it was changing me, over the course of years, into someone I didn’t want to be.

2) I think it is wrong, at least for me, to draw people to social media (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Parler, Instagram, Gab, MeWe, Snapchat and on and on), and that it does real damage to them.  The whole playing field is slanted, not against a particular political party or ideology, but slanted against REALITY!  That was what Guardini so wisely forecasted already in 1950, and we see that playing out in our own day.  Catholicism is meant to be LIVED in real community, and that is how it spreads.  It is one thing to spend some time online learning about Catholicism, it is another thing entirely to try to live Catholicism on social media.  I believe that it can’t truly be lived, long term, online.  And if I have given that impression and drawn people away from real community, I apologize.

3) I also realize I have covered every topic out there.  I have taught EIGHT SEMESTERS of classes online for our high school religious ed program.  I have preached on every topic under the sun in my 11 years as a priest doing online evangelization.  I have gotten lots of letters and emails through the years thanking me for a homily or video that awakened in someone a call to join the Catholic Church.  I am leaving my Facebook page, Twitter page and Youtube channel up in case anyone still wants to share those or revisit them.

4) In a war, I see why the troops in the trenches need to regularly rotate off of the frontlines.  Battle fatigue is a real thing, and it is hard, day after day, to see all the evils in the world and to feel like you have to combat them all.  I have realized that after 11 years in the trenches, I need a break.  There are still lots of troops in the trenches who are continuing to do heroic work online. 


It isn’t like this snuck up on me.  I’ve been aware of this change taking place over time, and, in discussing this with brother priests through the years, have expressed that I know this is happening but that I consider it a cross that comes with the territory – a sort of thing to be endured.  And I’ve carried this around for 10 years but consider it time to step aside.

5) I want to recommit to my parishioners.  I don’t think I was as present to my parishioners as I could have been.  It was also easy to blame the fact that I have 2 different parishes 30 minutes apart, and so it was easy to use that as a crutch.  But I think I can be more present to my parishioners and to the poor in our communities vs. spending what amounted to several hours a day in online evangelization.


And on my walking away from my smartphone:

The most widely-read thing I’ve ever written was in 2017: “7 Reasons Why Your Smartphone is Like Bilbo’s Ring” (click here to read:  and I am only now understanding its appeal – it was and is becoming even more true.  There is a line by a priestly figure Gandalf when Frodo tries to give him the ring at the very beginning of the movie: Gandalf begs, distraught: “Don't tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand Frodo, I would use this Ring from a desire to do good. But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine."


I am not sure if there is a person who can wield a smartphone responsibly.  For my part, I have resolved to step up to the edge of the Fires of Mount Doom, and throw my phone in forever. 


I have ordered a new “dumb phone” from charity mobile.  They actually give 5% of their profits to any pro-life organization on their list.  The Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ “Office of Pro-Life Ministry” was on there so I selected them to receive a percentage of my monthly bill. 


I invite you to prayerfully consider throwing your smartphone and social media into the fire as well.  And to go out and meet your neighbor (according to COVID regulations).


I will continue to post the “Read the Bible in a Year” Podcast on Podbean and my blog until that finishes around Easter.


Also, when I return to my parishes around the beginning of June, I plan to preach on this under the title “My Last Homily Online” and will post that everywhere available to me so as to try to reach as many people as possible with my rationale for why I am logging off.


In conclusion, we just celebrated the Baptism of the Lord to bring our Christmas Season to a conclusion.  There, Saint John the Baptist (for whom I am named) says “Christ must increase, I must decrease.”  Those, as much as possible, are my own words now as well.  “Christ must increase, I must decrease.”


I have lived in Brazil and Greencastle for the past 8 years; I look forward to meeting my neighbors when I return to my parishes this Summer.


  1. Fr. I hope all is well with you and I pray that your treatments are going well. I enjoy your Read the Bible in a Year Podcast and have enjoyed your other posts/YouTube videos. I respect your decision but just a couple of thoughts ... with any form of media (print, radio, TV, internet, social, etc.) one needs to be discerning. For example, I use Twitter (I am on private mode) to follow a select number of clergy, Catholic publications and news outlets for both inspiration and to be current. I do the same for YouTube, following clergy like yourself who I can't listen to in-person. Taking your thought that you have already posted sermons/lectures on every topic, why would you ever give another sermon at mass as you probably have already preached on every Gospel in your 8 years. Your answer would be because the Gospel is alive and each reading of it generates new thoughts. I hope at some point you reconsider and still post sermons on YouTube again. All the best, Steve

    1. I am thankful that you found something I said helpful. A few things:
      1) I have "preached on every topic" in that if you go to my Youtube channel and search for any Catholic topic, it is very likely that I've preached on it over the past 11 years. But, as you rightly point out, I am not saying "I have nothing new to preach on." Scripture is a bottomless treasure, so I will continue to preach every day when I return.

      2) You might then say "just turn on a camcorder and record it" but I'm saying, in this post, that I now find it very intrusive to think about the fact that the homily is being recorded. An implication of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle says the closer technology gets to the source it is studying, the more it affects the outcome. I feel that right now I need to walk away because the technology has and is affecting me detrimentally.

      3) I invite you to pray with an open heart about how the technology is affecting you as well. Listening to a couple of sermons a week certainly sounds fine. But maybe that time is better spent with your family/friends/doing charitable works or going for a walk in the woods?

  2. Good. Insight we desperately need. Thank you

  3. Father, this is the very first time I hear about you and probably the last since you're leaving the online platform. I too have considered at least downgrading to a more simple phone. I don't have any media accounts expect for a Catholic webpage that allows comments for news posts. Even then I try to limit myself. I am glad you have taken this decision, I think it is better to live and sweat in life's real terrain with real bugs, big sky, rain, soil, and ailing people who need care and true hope in a God. I find battling online extremely tiresome and gave that up many years ago. Thank you for talking about this subject, I wish more parents would consider this too and let their children know life is more than their screens and goofy emoticons. I hope they know what green grass feels like under their feet and what a real smile with wrinkles looks like. God bless you father and see you on the real side of the screen- the only one that counts.

  4. Thank you for this Father. I’ve come to the same conclusion. I actually reference your piece as well here:

  5. I totally agree with you Father John, I truly do; I am not yet as courageous as you maybe I will be one day.
    However, I live in Belgium and it was so lovely to hear your homilies every week and as far as I understood we will be deprived of such source of weekly source of faith development. And this is a pity :(
    In any case Father John please be sure of my continued prayers for you and for your full recovery. May God with the intercession of Mother Mary grant you the Blessing of Healing. Warm Greetings from Brussels. Gisela Santos & Family

  6. Father - this is truly the Holy Spirit moving you where you need to be. You affected much good for the Kingdom of God online. I truly believe this. And now is time your to delve more into in person community. A couple of weeks ago I deleted all my social media except one . . . I pray for the same commitment you have found to stamp it out completely! We are praying for you every day. And yesterday, when each of us says something we are thankful for in prayer, my husband said you. :) We are praying for a MIRACLE and will never stop - like the persistent widow!

  7. I agree totally, oh for the old phone on the wall. :-) I too have tried to limit my use on my smart phone and frankly it's not that hard since I am not a huge fan of technology. God bless you and good luck.

  8. Father Hollowell: Your reasons for leaving social media are very thought provoking. I’ll take them into account to discern what changes I should make in my use of social media. For many of us, social media, television, advertising, entertainment industry, etc. has damaged our relationships with God and our fellow man. Almost without realizing it, many of us have ended up living in a fantasy world. Social media wastes too much time that could be better spent to enrich my life mentally, morally, physically, spiritually, etc. But I will miss your homilies on You Tube. (I enjoy homilies posted by you and Father Jonathan Meyer.) Praying for you. - Brent

  9. Father, You have always been a wonderful Priest and have taught me many spiritual lessons. You just taught me the greatest one. God bless you
    Jim Bewsey

  10. I agree smartphones and social media consume much time in my life. Phones and electronics are not my God.

  11. As always, 3 Hail Marys for you, Father πŸŒΉπŸŒΉπŸŒΉπŸ™πŸ»πŸ“Ώ Because of one of your posts, in which you recommended praying the St. Peregrine Novena daily, I've added it to my prayer routine (that's "routine" in the sense of strengthening exercises, not mindless activity). That was long before you were diagnosed. I'm keeping my smart phone because it has prayer apps where I can add intentions. Your name is listed in my intentions for the St. Peregrine Novena. I'll keep looking for your medical updates in my email inbox.

  12. So good to hear from you Firefighting Fr. John HollowellπŸ˜‡πŸ™πŸ™πŸ™ Thank you for allll! Take good care of your health!!! MIGHTY BLESSINGS ALLLLWAYS! MAMA MARY HOLD YOU AND REPAY YOU MOST ABUNDANTLY!!! Victorious St Joseph go before you each momentπŸ™πŸ™πŸ™πŸ˜‡πŸ˜‡πŸ˜‡

  13. I was erased from Facebook in September, I had an account since 2008. I too used it to evangalize and also to have some way to reach out to and interact with other human beings which was necessary living this life in isolation.

    It has became a thing of manipulation, programming of minds, a form of bondage to out right violent and anti-Christ promotion. It was not always that way, but now it very much is.

    You are smart to move away and keep what you share contained in your own domain. I've opted to start my own personal website for the same purpose.

    I wish I had options to interact with the faithful in the real world. The parishes I attended have abandoned them, the people have no interest to reach out and assemble. I remain as a Catholic of one, these are terrible times.

  14. Dear Father Hollowell
    Know that you are in my prayers daily. My brother Michael joined your name in my prayers for the sick, but God knows best and called him home on 21st January. May Our Loving Father continue to bless, give you strength, protection and peace and healing. Thank you for all you've done and do. Love and prayers.

  15. I am very thankful to have read this blog post. I have been meaning to divorce myself with social media for a long time now (at least I got rid of Facebook since August 2008... funny that I remember the date...) But I find myself negotiating with myself? the Deceiver? to justify its use.

    Just last summer, I wrote an essay touting the wonders of evangelization via social media. Heck, it contributed to my conversion. Then I realized that I am being dragged in online political/religious debates that were very detrimental to me... especially as a newbie apologist. Instead of bringing Glory to God, I was on the defensive and pridefully trying (poorly) to justify my beliefs. *facepalm* This constantly chipped away at my charity and landed me in the confessional "hot seat" more than once. :D

    I love that Gandalf quote. It is so true how the power of social media corrupts any original good intentions. It is true that social media can be used for good. It can also be true that it may be too powerful/evil to justify its use. For example, social media has been used to rescue victims of trafficking. Well, that's good. Also true that it has been used even more effectively to traffick said victims. Well, that's very bad indeed.

    I also entered my vocation in 2009, but mine was marriage. I can see social media suck the life out of each person in my family as well as the vigour in our relationships. You feel the call of your parishioners, while for me, it's my family. Everything you wrote makes a lot of sense, and I can see that this resolve came from much reflection. Now, you can embrace the peace that comes with this resolve. I am still struggling. I am still trying to negotiate. Let's pray of each other.

  16. Thank you to our online shepherds who are guiding us through this worldwide web! I have been reflecting on this for the past year and in fact I changed my mobile phone to use just as emergency phone and disconnected the apps and internet and just use my computer for internet communication. Thank you Father! God Bless you!

  17. I'm impressed with your resolve and would love to do it too, Father. I have cut out many social media sites I went to regularly. My phone is old and acting poorly, I was thinking about getting another but lately, I've found that maybe it is just what I need.
    You continue to be in my prayers.

  18. Awesome! So glad to hear it. My husband and I have only used Pinterest and viewed YouTube. We've never used any of the typical social media outlets. I've always felt that they were a detriment to society, the family and the individual alike. Never wanted any part of that trouble. You are the first religious figure(maybe any figure) that I've heard say it was time to walk away. I believe its time for all of us to return to the basics. It seems as though we've sacrificed our humanity and decency for convenience. Where there is God, there is still hope. I hope that people begin to wake up and follow your lead. I will continue to pray for you as always. God bless.

  19. I just stumbled upon you (via Twitter) and now may never get to know your present person, until the fullness of time. But that doesn’t mean I can’t go back and digest all your works! Rest easy in the knowledge that God will make something awesome from any suffering you may have had, and that now that I “met” you, I can and will pray for you and your lucky parishioners. Ora pro nobis, Santa Maria!