I spent the first week of October in Rome, along with OSV President Greg Erlandson, attending the Congress on the Catholic Press sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Church communicators, and Church leadership overall, have an urgent reason to familiarize themselves with, and to enlist, all the new media virtually whirling around us: Facebook, Twitter and cyberspace in all manifestations. These media already are overwhelmingly affecting people everywhere, and will continue to do so even more in the future.
Still, I felt that Pope Benedict XVI hit the nail on the head when he spoke to the closing session of the meeting, and what he said was nothing new.
Addressing delegates to this congress, he said that the new technologies can make “the true and the false interchangeable.” Proclaiming Christ, only Christ, is the greatest mission.
After the meeting, and reflecting on the pope’s words, I am convinced now more than ever that the task of Catholic social communications is not simply to be state of the art when it comes to delivery systems, or excellent in all the other professional requirements, but that basic to it all is the wish, and the will, to make known the reality of God, and the divine justice and mercy revealed in God. Only in realizing God and understanding the saving mission of the Lord is there an understanding of the meaning of human life, human potential as well as human inadequacy and, ultimately, purpose and hope in life.
This may sound quite theoretical. It is not. It has very fundamental implications, especially for Catholic media and for Catholic communicators.
The great abundance and variety of modern social media can render everything subjective, equal and debatable. As a result, nothing is permanent, or applicable to all everywhere. Nothing then is true.
People always have searched for answers, and people always will search for answers. The search always has been, and always will be, in the setting of human nature and in that context that theologians call “original sin.” We humans are limited. We cannot find every answer ourselves. Original sin left us further impeded and shortsighted, unable to choose the best for ourselves every time, to wit sin.
Church communicators have a very particular role, specifically by reminding people who as humans they are, but also in knowing God, and living according to the revelation of God in Christ.
New technologies seem to be opening the way to vastly expanded areas for dialogue. However, no dialogue will be fruitful, at least insofar as ultimate issues in living are concerned, unless those involved genuinely know who as humans they are, the pluses and minuses of human nature, and unless they glimpse what truly can be beautiful and enduring in human life. In other words, now more than ever, it well may be argued, this is the time to proclaim Christ, “the way, the truth and the life.”
This must be achieved in the context of service, not of bullying; of love, not of conflict. It must recognize the enormous complexity of questions about life, and the mystery of the workings of grace. Christians might speak the Gospel, but they will not always convince.
Being in Rome always brings forth memories of the martyrs, beginning with the apostles Peter and Paul. These martyrs, like the untold numbers of other Christians through the centuries, died believing that knowing and following Christ were the only things that matter in life. Modern Catholic communicators, and indeed all professing Christians today, must find in themselves the same conviction and serve it.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.