Pope Benedict’s Message for the 47th World Communications Day

“Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization”

Pope Benedict XVI has released his message for the 47th annual World Communications Day.  This is a special day that was initiated by the Second Vatican Council so that “the faithful are instructed in their responsibilities” in the use of modern means of social communications (Inter Mirifica #18).

The theme this year is about the use of social media. As some of you may have noticed, this has been a particular passion of mine. I was also honoured to be asked to present on this topic at the recent CCO Rise Up conference in Saskatoon.

Pope Benedict hits this one out of the park!  The full message can be found at pccs.va.

Here are some of my initial thoughts. This part particularly resonated with me:

I wish to consider the development of digital social networks which are helping to create a new “agora”, an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being.

Jesus commanded his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28.19), and his first followers took him at his word.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, they went to continents of the known world.  Pope Benedict has referred to the internet as the new “digital continent.”  It therefore is a natural conclusion that these new technologies and communities should be an integral part of the ministry of the Church — a new “agora” or a new Areopagus (Acts 17).  We must encounter the culture where it is, which today increasingly includes the online realm.

To that end, the Pope writes about the need to build and strengthen real relationships online, which is the place that “is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young.”

However, he notes that online communication is often lacking in real dialogue. In my experience, online communications can often become downright nasty and overly emotional. Further, I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a post, comment, or story about Christianity which showcases some fundamental misunderstanding about the faith or about the practices of the Church, etc. And so, he writes:

The social media thus need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation; of people who strive to cultivate forms of discourse and expression which appeal to the noblest aspirations of those engaged in the communication process. Dialogue and debate can also flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas are different from our own.

We need to engage and dialogue with people where they are, while remembering to be inclusive of others. There can be a real tendency to only seek out those who think like us, but that doesn’t further real dialogue. It’s just preaching to the choir. Welcoming others who don’t think like me can be a real challenge. It’s uncomfortable. But sharing the good news of Jesus is not always comfortable. And let’s remember a sense of perspective here: many Christians died (and continue to do so) for sharing the gospel. We are concerned with getting negative feedback in an online forum.

What’s up with that?

Regarding the methods used to share the gospel online, Pope Benedict encourages communicating in ways that engage “the imagination and the affectivity of those we wish to invite to an encounter with the mystery of God’s love.” Or, as I’ve heard Archbishop Richard Smith put it (paraphrased), our communications need to be beautiful because our faith is beautiful.

Ultimately, our eyes need to always be fixed upon Jesus, because he alone is the source of all good:

It is natural for those who have faith to desire to share it, respectfully and tactfully, with those they meet in the digital forum. Ultimately, however, if our efforts to share the Gospel bring forth good fruit, it is always because of the power of the word of God itself to touch hearts, prior to any of our own efforts. Trust in the power of God’s work must always be greater than any confidence we place in human means. In the digital environment, too, where it is easy for heated and divisive voices to be raised and where sensationalism can at times prevail, we are called to attentive discernment. Let us recall in this regard that Elijah recognized the voice of God not in the great and strong wind, not in the earthquake or the fire, but in “a still, small voice” (1 Kg 19:11-12). We need to trust in the fact that the basic human desire to love and to be loved, and to find meaning and truth – a desire which God himself has placed in the heart of every man and woman – keeps our contemporaries ever open to what Blessed Cardinal Newman called the “kindly light” of faith.

Or, as I put it in my CCO Rise Up presentation, “Be prayerful. Be joyful. Be authentic.”

Read the entire message here.

Also check out Brandon Vogt’s thoughts. He’s much more eloquent than I!


Vatican II Reflection Vol. 1

In a post from a few weeks ago, I invited us to take another look during this Year of Faith at the rich teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

However, my reading hasn’t actually begun with one of the 16 documents produced from the council. Instead I read the opening address from Blessed Pope John XXIII, given on Oct. 11, 1962.

You can find it here.

There is much to digest in this text. I am immediately struck by the immense hopefulness of the Pope. He is very clear about the immense challenges that faced the church back then (many of which are the same today, if not intensified). Yet, in the face of this, he says:

We feel that We must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.

Why would he say this? In the midst of his world – filled with uncertainty and fear resulting from communism, the threat of nuclear war, and rapid societal change – how could he have had this hope?

In his wisdom, Bl. John notes that we must be students of “history, that great teacher of life.” We can learn from those who have gone before us, who have experienced trials and tribulations, and who not only survived but thrived. Through this reading of history and through the gift of faith, we can thus “recognize here the hand of God.”

In the light of this, the Pope calls upon the council to safeguard “the sacred heritage of Christian truth” and to ensure that this truth may be “expounded with greater efficiency” in our world.

In short, it seems to me that he was calling for a rediscovery of who we are as Christians – as members of Jesus Christ – and for a real creativity and urgency in proclaiming this Jesus who is Truth to the world.

If you’ve been following any of the documents or events surrounding the Year of Faith (such as the excellent letter from Pope Benedict, Porta Fidei), this should sound very familiar.

The Year of Faith, beginning as it did on the 50th anniversary of this address from Blessed John XXIII, is challenging us all to reawaken this same sense of faith. It’s calling upon us to rediscover the richness of our heritage and of the coming of Jesus, who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13.8). And it’s challenging us to take up our essential calling as Christians, which is to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28.19).

This is a huge challenge. We cannot meet it on our own. But today’s gospel at Mass is instructive: “For humans it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” (Mark 10.27).

May we take up the challenge in this Year of Faith in a new way by allowing ourselves to be transformed by Jesus Christ, who gives us our identity and our mission.

Year of Faith: A Proposal

In a few short weeks the Catholic Church around the world will be embarking upon a very special project. It’s been called the Year of Faith – a thirteen-and-a-half month year in which all of us are invited to deepen our faith and personal conversion.

(Yeah, it’s a 13.5 month year. No one ever accused Catholics of being great at math. Heh.)

But there’s something else, something fundamentally important for this upcoming Year of Faith that I wish to call to your attention. The Year of Faith begins on Oct. 11, 2012. This date is no accident. It is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Now, these councils where all the Catholic bishops get together are relatively rare. Vatican I was held in the late 1860s. The Council of Trent was in the 16th century. Other councils happened before this, often to resolve some important doctrinal issues. Vatican II was held from Oct. 11, 1962 to December 8, 1965. It produced much discussion and 16 amazing documents that are meant to help guide and inspire the actions of the Church.

There is a problem that I’ve often encountered with respect to Vatican II, however. Unfortunately, the first reaction I get from far too many people when Vatican II is mentioned goes something like: “Vatican II? Isn’t it that the thing that changed the Mass and stuff?” Or, “Vatican II? Now we can have the Mass in English!” Or, “Vatican II? That’s that scary thing that changed too much of our liturgy.”

Umm. No. Not exactly.

Yes, liturgical reforms were called for by the Council and were implemented in the years following it. But Vatican II is so much more than this!

In a recent document for the Year of Faith, Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI wrote the following (par. 5):

It seemed to me that timing the launch of the Year of Faith to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council would provide a good opportunity to help people understand that the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s Tradition … I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.”

So let’s take the pope at his word: let’s (re)read these documents together during this Year of Faith.

The documents of Vatican II are freely available online.

Confused about where to start? Don’t worry! Here is an interesting guide to help you read through the documents. In short: There are 4 major documents (called “constitutions”), and Dr. D’Ambrosio recommends reading the first (and shortest) one first – Dei Verbum. That’s not bad advice.

I’m planning to re-read these documents as well… and (hopefully) to post some brief reflections as I go.

Who’s in?