I was both into a Catholic family. It’s obvious — my name is Magdalene. But though we drifted away from the church sometime in my early childhood, it’s still something I’ve always felt connected to. Throughout my life, I’ve worn a Miraculous Medal on my neck, a symbol commemorating the apparitions of the Virgin Mary by a French nun in 1830. The Catholic Church says the medal helps people receive grace and be capable of utilizing it; my grandmother just told me it would make me less anxious. I’ve always felt it to be true.
More recently, I, like many other young people online, have wanted a deeper connection with Catholicism. There’s a narrative richness, an aesthetic beauty and a worldwide sense of community and connection that has drawn people to the religion for centuries — despite the worthy criticisms and controversies that surround it.
So, when I saw an advertisement for Hallow, a Catholic prayer and meditation app collaborating with none other than Mark Wahlberg, I thought perhaps it could be the way back in. Not only is an app the easiest, most straightforward, effortless option, but the inclusion of Wahlberg just seemed funny, if nothing else. Could the guy from Ted and Boogie Nights — a guy who has famously committed several hate crimes but is nevertheless a publicly devoted Catholic — really be the person to bring me back to the faith?
Having launched in 2018, Hallow is essentially like the Apple Podcasts app for Catholic content. There are seemingly thousands of hours of various prayers, meditations, stories, guided lectures and conversations, all pertaining to Catholicism. This includes Bible readings, Bible explanations, medieval and contemporary chants, daily reflections, musings on mental health from nuns and pastors, dissections of critical Catholic texts and everything in between. It also includes Wahlberg delivering a week’s worth of rosary prayers, including the Mysteries. All this for the price of $8.99 per month, or $59.99 a year. As for Wahlberg, his participation is part of a promotion for his new movie with Mel Gibson called Father Stu, a film about an ex-boxer-turned-Catholic-priest.
The wealth of offerings was almost overwhelming, but over the last week, I’ve listened to their five-minute daily reflections, and lightly explored what the rest of the app has to offer. I found those reflections to be comforting and relaxing, as they’re intended to be. They calmly ask you to look back upon your day and what you’re grateful for, where you saw Jesus’ face and heard God’s voice. Most often, I thought I didn’t see or hear either. But then, I’d challenge myself to think about the small moments of beauty or joy, and always found some type of answer.
The Wahlberg rosaries, unfortunately, felt less illuminating. To start, there’s little peace or warmth to his voice. The Rosaries are a recitation of common prayers and stories, yes, but they came off bizarrely flat and he just sounded bored. He doesn’t even throw in a little Boston accent for some jazz! You do, however, have the option of adding a variety of background music choices, such as Gregorian chants or waves. These absolutely add a bit of the complexity and emphasis on story that people turn to Catholicism for, but they don’t compensate for what Wahlberg lacks.
On the app, he also does a few other short interviews and little explanations of his movie, but the ads made me think I’d be getting some hyped-up prayers from Wahlberg. No such luck. Instead, I felt like a disinterested kid at Sunday school, and despite my multiple attempts to picture him in a priest outfit, I really got the sense that he was just… some guy.
Of course, this is somewhat of a theme for the app as a whole. No matter how many features they add or how solid the audio is, it’s still an app. When I considered where I had seen Jesus or heard God each day, the answer was never “on my iPhone.” While there’s the possibility of doing live prayer with thousands of other listeners at once, there’s no actual connection between users. There’s no true community. And worst of all, you’re paying $60 a year for it — money they’re apparently using just to run ads of Mark Wahlberg all over Twitter.
I did enjoy the structured opportunity for daily thinking about my relationship with God, and there is much the app could still teach me. But like any app, Hallow isn’t a replacement for the lived experience. It’s a way to connect with Catholicism, but it doesn’t fully offer the richness, beauty and community that many of those who pursue Catholicism are seeking. Instead, it just has Marky Mark.