Monday, January 24, 2011

This makes me think.... world communication day message from BXVI

To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically. Furthermore, it is also true in the digital world that a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it. In these new circumstances and with these new forms of expression, Christian are once again called to offer a response to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

---Benedict XVI, Message for World Communications Day, 2011, entitled Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.

There is an interesting juxtaposition of the news of this day. Liturgically, it is the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, one of my favorite patrons, who just happens to be the patrons of writers and journalists... politically and culturally, today was the March for Life, commemorating the struggle against the culture of death, as evident in the decision of Roe. V. Wade. Finally, in terms of the Universal Church, we received the advance release of the Pope's Message for World Communications Day 2011, to be celebrated on June 5.

All of this news asks me, "What do you stand for, Pat?" "In the face of all of this, how would you respond?" It is something I will be reflect on today, and perhaps, every day. And I will wonder how I measure up? Am I living faithfully to the call of Christ in my life?  Am I making it count? Or am I wasting it?

I am amazed by the succinct nature of Benedict's words: they echo the bedrock of Marshall McLuhan's media theory and thesis from 1964 "The medium is the message".  That classic quote is one every communicator should take and know by heart. Even though those words were penned long before the invention known as the internet,  it tells us that the medium of our message is primary, not necessarily the content.  In other words, the medium, or the mode of communication, be it radio, tv, or new media, is a kind of messenger with inherent qualities, limitations, and liabilities.

This is sometimes hard to square with the idea that we are message-people... we Catholics, we are all about the message of the Gospel, right?  Aren't those words the most important things that we communicate in our work and ministries that may be found in the new media?  Yes, and no.

When we think of the Jesus, we may indeed think of his words and deeds that are very important. After all, they were handed down to us in the form of a written Gospel compiled from a faithful oral tradition. But before the oral tradition, there was the man, the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, that came to earth.

When all is said and done in our evangelization and catechesis in Catholic communication, is not the Person of Jesus Christ primary in our experience?  Does it not all boil down to an encounter with the living God, the Christ?

The first believers did not read a book, they met a person... a God-man who walked with them, ate with them, talked with them, and performed miracles that amazed many and scandalized others. The person who is Jesus was the medium.  Without Jesus, there is no message, there is no gospel. The Person of Jesus is the message. Nobody would ever accuse Jesus of an inconsistent witness.

Is not that true, now, of our liturgy?  Yes, the Word of God, rich as it is, is proclaimed as an appetizer to the main course; that is, the Person of Jesus, the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, is the One we come to meet and receive?  It's all about the personal presence of Jesus in our midst. The same Jesus who preached in Galilee shows up at the Eucharist, the same Jesus who cured the blind and the lame, comes in person through the miracle of the Mass.

Benedict is writing to Catholics, specifically, Catholic communicators, and he says "in the digital world ...a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it."  What is he getting at here? Well, I don't presume to know the mind of the pope, but from McLuhan's perspective, the messages heard and seen on the internet are really extensions of ourselves. The medium of the internet is an extension of oneself. As such, it's my assessment, reading Benedict, that we, the communicators are the message. We are more than just the content providers. We ourselves are the message. After all, in this social and interactive medium, we speak and listen. We may have online personas but we are real people. Behind these flickering words on a screen is a person.

Consistency and integrity, of who we are speaks more loudly and says more than our words ever will. A consistent witness. That's our challenge as Catholic in new media.

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