By James A. Wehner
It is impossible to exercise competent, effective ministry in the Church today without the use of social communications. Our people are immersed in the world of media and internet.
From the earliest days of the Church, including the era in which Jesus Christ would reveal the Gospel, an array of communication tools has been employed because, after all, man is a person of communication. But, with all communication, the ability ''to understand'' is essential. For example, the oral tradition of handing on the message of God requires interpretation.
Each culture and society has its own understanding of language. The written form of Tradition has a linguistic accuracy which captures the truth requiring exegesis for a proper understanding of the text. Both the oral and written traditions explain the actions of the prophets, the physical gestures used by Jesus Christ and the heroic activities of those early martyrs in the Church.
The magisterium of the Church has confirmed the positive use of social communications, i.e., the Second Vatican Council. The post-conciliar Church has given emphasis on social communications with the establishment of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. And so, the Church has given direction in how we can use social communications in pastoral ministry.
The Congregation for Catholic Education released a document in 1986 called Guide to the Training of Future Priests Concerning the Instruments of Social Communication. The document reaffirmed the necessity and value of social communication in pastoral ministry and how its proper use can advance the whole cause of evangelization. I must admit, there probably has not been a ''concentrated'' effort in seminary formation to implement the norms of this document.
In light of the rapid and unstoppable use of the Internet and all the facets related to Internet use, now is the time for all seminary formators to step back and evaluate how best to not only implement some level of study of communications in a formation program but also how seminarians are using social communications before their ordination.
I know of priests who spend hours at a time before their computer. They call this ''ministry'' however, ministry, by its very definition, is personal in nature. Are priests neglecting their ministerial responsibilities for a consumption of time before the computer? Are priests over-delegating their pastoral responsibilities to others so they have more time before the computer? These are important questions. I believe these questions need to be studied in the seminary before tendencies become habits.
Each year the seminarians and I visit churches on Holy Thursday evening to keep watch with the Lord. A couple of years ago, as I was taking my dog out for the final walk, I noticed that most of the seminarians' doors were still open but with no students to be found. As I descended the stairwell, I heard the chatter of our seminarians gathered in the computer room. Considering the long night of pilgrimage and the full schedule that awaited us on Good Friday, I was surprised so many seminarians would be in the computer room. Very proud that our students must be working on papers or completing academic projects, I found the students were all checking their e-mail messages. This both alarmed and startled me!
What could possibly be so important that half the community needed to check their e-mail at 12:30 a.m.? I began to open my eyes a little wider to notice how frequently seminarians spend their day behind the computer.
There are so many expectations placed on the seminarian, particularly as seminary faculties implement the governing documents of priestly formation. Seminarians learn how to maintain a busy schedule in the seminary. Consequently, time management must be prudent, productive and truly formative. How much time does a seminarian spend behind his computer?
The governing documents highlight four areas of priestly formation: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. One could easily identify all the contributions social communication has on each of these four pillars. But one must also understand how an improper or unbalanced use of social communications, particularly the Internet, can impede a healthy progression of personal formation.
As seminarians, you have a certain, and maybe unofficial, but definitely visible status in the life of the Church. People are very much interested in your vocation. People are eager to hear what you have to say, how you say it, and why a young man might even consider priestly ministry in today's world.
In your discernment and formation to priestly ministry, it is necessary that you understand what it means to be a ''man of the Church.'' Our loyalty, fidelity, and love for Mother Church are essential dimensions of diocesan priestly spirituality. This love for the Church does not come with ordination. It is something cultivated in your formation from the day of your baptism and in a most deliberate way through seminary formation.
I know of seminarians who have their own Web site. Are these Web sites being used for the good of the Church? Why do seminarians even need to have their own Web sites? The Church has a right to ask certain questions. What is the content of that Web site? Is everything you download completely in conformity with Church teaching? At the end of the day, the People of God want to hear the truth, not your opinion. What we teach from the ambo, what we celebrate in liturgy, and how we minister to the faithful is always grounded and expressed as the ''mind of the Church'' (sensus ecclesiae).
I hear how some seminarians and priests use their Web sites to disparage, for example, liturgical music written by certain composers. Is this really the position of your bishop? I heard of seminarians who are obviously supportive of the Latin Mass but disparage the novus ordo liturgy. Is your bishop aware of this position? Are you speaking with the authority of the Church in those disparaging remarks or is this simply your own opinion?
You have heard the mantra often -- we are forming happy, healthy, holy priests. As Pope John Paul II wrote in the foundational document on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, human formation is the basis of all priestly formation. One of the facets of human formation is the socialization of the seminarian. Are your friendships healthy? Do you have friends? Are you able to relate with both men and women? Do you understand boundaries?
Cyberspace is an opportunity to maintain those healthy relationships in so many different ways. However, there is now the phenomenon of anonymity where people replace the personal dimension of forming relationships with the anonymity of posting information for all to read. Is this healthy? Should one be creating new relationships through cyberspace?
When you think of priestly ministry, the priest is a ''people oriented'' person. Why? Because our preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments are for the salvation of our people. The sacraments are not administered virtually. They are administered personally, charitably, confronting the human condition. I am wondering if an overuse of cyberspace (i.e., Face Book, My Space, YouTube) is not creating unhealthy tendencies.
For example, seminarians who use cyberspace to disparage positions of others or even attack the position of bishops. Is this how seminarians should be using their time? It is easy to be bold and courageous in making statements through these mechanisms but how will you do that face-to-face with your people?
There can be a tendency for the individual to make obvious truthful statements that might touch upon pro-life issues, doctrinal conclusions or liturgical orthodoxy that are posted on your Web site or Face Book. This is good, however a teacher of the faith is more than one who can correctly recite Church teaching -- he must be effective in communicating this Gospel in such a way that people will want to hear it, embrace it and live it. Social communication does not replace the development of social, pastoral skills.
I would encourage all of you to consider the following principles in your use of the Internet and your travels through cyberspace.
1) How much time do you spend before the Blessed Sacrament? Is this quality time? So many of our younger people find it difficult to sit still until there is a commercial break. Maybe some of you have that same restlessness. Every seminarian and every priest must be able to pray a Holy Hour each day. If you are spending more time on the Internet than before Our Lord, what does this say to you?
2) How much spiritual reading is a part of your routine? Learning about the spiritual masters of our faith, the heroes and martyrs of the Church, requires extensive reading and the ability to start emulating those virtues. Is the Internet a distraction or a useful aid?
3) What is the quality of your academic work? We do not necessarily require priests to be published theologians, but we need educated men who really know and understand their faith. Time for research, good scholarship, and academic work that has your best effort in it is expected in the priestly formation program. If you are rushing through these academic obligations so that you can spend more time on the Internet, you might want to think otherwise.
4) Do you have friends? How healthy are those friendships and how extensive are they? The Internet is not a replacement for friendships. In the seminary community, you forge some of the most important friendships that will ever take place in your life. Priests need to have good priest friends. Use the time now in the seminary to create those friendships, to forge fraternity and to enjoy this unique moment in your life. If you are finding yourself in front of the computer for hours at a time, speaking with people you do not even know, you are missing some of the best days of your life.
5) Are those ''friends'' you claim on your Face Book really friends? Do these people have a right to know your journal each day? What is your real motive for posting information on the Face Book? For those of you who have your own Web site -- are these social by nature? If you are posting any doctrinal, theological, liturgical or catechetical information on the Web site, is it truly expressed with the mind of the Church and is it orthodox in its content?
Has anyone authorized you to be the voice of the Church? Does your bishop know what you are posting? Is your vocation director aware of your particular ecclesiastical leanings? There is never any room to disparage individuals because you do not like their position, their music or their conclusions. We are to be men of integrity and not reduce ourselves to pundit behavior.
Each individual needs to be sure he is maintaining a ''chastity'' with his use of the Internet. Even nonsexual and non-perverted uses of the Internet can be addictive, narcissistic and certainly unhealthy. When you step back and look at how your day unfolds, the use of the Internet should not be the most significant time in your schedule.
Gentlemen, the Church needs bold, courageous evangelizers in a society that is pluralistic, hedonistic and so often selfish. Yet, the people of our time are truly looking for inspiration and the truth. Pope John Paul II once referred to this era as a springtime for the Church. The fields are awaiting the seeds of truth, a truth which has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ. The Church will give you the mandate to seek out those who are lost and to encourage those who journey with us on the day of your ordination.
Until that time, your primary focus is devoted to discernment and formation. The Church has given to you, through the seminary, all the instruments necessary for strengthening your relationship with the Lord, coming to know more about his marvelous plan and becoming loyal sons of the Church. In a small yet important way, the Internet can serve those purposes.
With moderation and chastity in your approach to cyberspace, you will be able to remain focused on the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ. TP
FATHER WEHNER holds a doctorate in dogmatic theology (summa cum laude) from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Ordained in 1995, Father Wehner presently serves as the rector of St. Paul Seminary, director of the Office for the Diaconate, and director of the Department for Evangelization in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs