Humanizing the Internet: 2019 Message for World Communications Day


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“We are members of one another” (Eph. 4:25)

From social network communities to the human community.

This year’s Message for World Communications Day provides a helpful overview of the internet, detailing some of the challenges of the pervasiveness of the digital continent which we find so greatly influences so many aspects of our lives. These challenges become the basis for the Pope’s insights and concrete suggestions as to how we can make the internet fulfill its great potential as a resource for building up the solidarity of the whole human family. Rather than offer a commentary on the Message, I am simply going to give a quick summary, with the challenges Pope Francis raises, his insights, and the wisdom he offers to “humanize” the internet.

In this year’s Message, Pope Francis highlights these challenges of the internet today:

  • The internet used as a source of disinformation (conscious and targeted distortion of both facts and interpersonal relationships)
  • The internet used to manipulate, for political or economic advantage, while disrespecting the person and his or her rights
  • Cyberbullying
  • The internet “works” [only] when all its elements share responsibility
  • Social network “communities” are not automatically true communities, but often promote an identity based on opposition, or what divides us. Social network communities that start with what divides gives rise to suspicion, exclusion, the “venting” of prejudice, the growth of unbridled individualism and narcissism, and can incite spirals of hatred.
  • The illusion that connecting digitally is the same as in-depth personal relationships—an illusion that most easily deceives young people
  • The risk of isolation or alienation from society

All of these challenges threaten the building up of true communion of the human family. Pope Francis offers us a metaphor drawn from Saint Paul to give us a framework in which to respond to these challenges: “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each to his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25).

This metaphor is particularly helpful for Christians, who see ourselves as members of the Body of Christ. And it helps us to remember that other people are not potential competitors, nor adversaries, but persons like us: our brothers and sisters.

The question then becomes, How can we find our true communitarian identity, aware of the responsibility we have towards one another in the online network as well?

Pope Francis offers these helpful insights:

  • Multiplying connections is not the answer.
  • We don’t need an adversary in order to define ourselves.
  • Created in the image of the Trinitarian God who is Communion and Communication-of-Self, every human being longs to live in communion, to truly belong.
  • As Christians, we are called to manifest that communion which marks our identity as believers. Faith itself is a relationship, and our encounter with God’s love for us becomes the impetus for us to welcome, understand, and respond to the gift of “the other”
  • See (and use) the internet as an extension of in-person (in the flesh) encounters.
  • In the Church, true unity is based not on “likes,” but on the truth, on the “Amen” by which each one clings to the Body of Christ and welcomes others.

The advice Pope Francis offers is not easy; in fact, I think this year’s message is among the most challenging of all the World Communication Day Messages. But, the solutions offered here are more urgent than ever before. In this Message, the Church is calling us to infuse all our interaction on social media with the same human characteristics that we use in face-to-face interactions: respect, friendliness, seeking common ground, sympathy, compassion, even smiles and tenderness. 

  • Learn to see with the all-encompassing gaze of Christ, from whom we can discover that “otherness” is an integral part—and condition—of true relationship and closeness with another. (We can only receive the “gift” of the other when we are open to their “otherness.”)
  • Invest in relationships.
  • Affirm the interpersonal nature of our humanity—including online. We are truly human only if we relate to others.
  • Move from “individual” to “personal”: the authentic path of becoming more human is to move from being an individual who perceives the other as a rival, to a person who recognizes others as traveling companions.
  • Use the internet as an extension of in-person (in the flesh) encounters.

This year’s World Communications Day Message offers us all timely, much-needed wisdom of how we can use the internet to liberate, to protect communion among people, to promote truthful and respectful encounters, to open the path to dialogue, deeper encounter, and expressions of genuine human connection.

Radical Prayer: Offering Reparation for the Misuse of the Media

 

Some years it takes me longer to reflect on the Pope’s annual World Communications Day Message. Sometimes it is because I want to deepen it, sometimes it is because it contains a theme or idea that I haven’t thought about before and want to explore, and sometimes because it is extra challenging.

This year, I have to confess that it has taken me longer, in part because the Message itself is challenging, but also because I have been personally wrestling in my prayer with the evils that the misuse of the media can cause. It’s not that I’ve been naive about the harm that the media can cause—it’s something I have been aware of and prayed about for most of my life. But for some reason, a number of recent instances of the misuse of social media—some participated in by people of good will—touched me more personally.

To overcome the temptation to discouragement I’ve felt, I have been digging deep into both the Message and our Pauline spirituality, bringing the misuse of the media repeatedly to prayer over the past several weeks. My prayer has brought me face to face with one of the most beautiful and demanding aspects of our spirituality as today’s media apostles.

One of the reasons that Blessed James Alberione founded the Daughters of Saint Paul was because of the great harm that the misuse of the media was causing in his time—and he foresaw how much this harm would multiply. The mission that he gave the Daughters of Saint Paul was really twofold:

1) To evangelize with the media, and

2) To offer our prayers, actions, consecration, our very lives in reparation for the evil caused by the misuse of the media. (He invited us to do this with a daily prayer, originally entitled: For Those Who Thirst for Souls as Jesus Does, which you can find here. I’ll post more about this beautiful, powerful prayer laterBut I invite you to bring your use of social media to your daily prayer, if you don’t already.)

So in these weeks, I’ve prayed specifically for the people using social media who, lacking in goodwill, have deceived and misled others, even those with the best of intentions, to the point that the truth has seemed lost. I’ve also been praying for those who, despite their goodwill, have been swept up on social media by the trends, sensationalism, or “causes” that really don’t reflect the Gospel. A focus of both my prayers and sacrifices has been reparation for the lies, division, and hatred fostered by this misuse of media.

This year’s Message for World Communications Day directly addresses this challenge of people who misuse social media by stating outright, “The [inter]net works because all its elements share responsibility.” This is where we can find the hope of using social media for good, for building up human solidarity: to increase the number of people who want to use social media for good. But it’s not enough just to have good will. We also need to be wise and discerning in how we use social media. In that spirit, I’d like to share this insightful article written by social media Catholic hipster Tommy Tighe, who invites each of us to reflect on our personal use of social media, in the spirit of Blessed James Alberione.

Next week, I will post some of my reflections on this year’s World Communications Day Message, which is so timely and relevant to what is happening in and through social media today. In the meantime, if you are looking for a patron for your social media, I cannot recommend Blessed James Alberione enough. Even though he died in 1971, his use of the media and his influence in changing and developing the Church’s approach to media is amazing. You can read more about him here. He is the saint to pray to about the media, because he promised to watch over and care for those who seek to use the media for good:

“This is how I intend to belong to this marvelous Pauline Family: as a servant both now and in heaven. There, I will care for those who use the most effective modern means to do good: in holiness, in Christ, and in the Church.” – Blessed James Alberione

 

 

Here is the prayer that I pray daily for his intercession:

Most Holy Trinity,
who has willed to revive in the Church
the apostolic charism of Saint Paul,
revealing yourself in the light of the Eucharist
to Blessed James Alberione, Founder of the Pauline Family,
grant that the presence of Christ the Master, Way, Truth, and Life,
may shine in the world through Mary, Mother and Queen of the Apostles.
Glorify in your Church this apostle of the new evangelization
and raise up men and women open to the “signs of the times,”
who, following his example,
will use the modern means of communication
to lead all of humanity to you.
Through the intercession of Blessed James,
grant me the grace that I ask for at this time…
Amen.

Writerly fun & resources

One of my favorite things to do is to listen to other writers talking about writing. I believe I have highlighted this author before, but K.M. Weiland is one of my very favorite podcasting authors. I find her podcast, Helping Writers Become Authors, always enlightening and thought-provoking (plus it’s super-quick). And, she has an amazing series within the podcast on plot and character arcs that essentially teaches you how to write the life of a saint in an interesting way (because saints don’t always have character arcs!) She has oodles of materials and resources to help beginning writers at her amazing site, Helping Writers Become Authorslots of valuable resources that are free with her blog, all about writing craft. Plus you can delve into her published books for further depth.

She even wrote the notes in the Writers Digest Annotated Version of Jane Eyre, one of the best primers for writing a great novel that I’ve ever seen.

Can you tell I love her work?

She also does really, really fun book launches, and she has a new novel out today, Wayfarer, which is right up my alley: gaslamp fantasy.  This one line of her write-up got me: Think being a superhero is hard? Try being the first one.

So if you are looking for a little writing support or writing inspiration (or a lot), check out her site here. And if you want a good read for these cold winter days, check out Wayfarer. And don’t forget to enter the super-fun book launch below, which gives you a chance to win fun prizes and helps her promote her new novel. (And I’m giving her this space in a blog post not because I know K.M. Weiland personally, but because I have been impressed over the years with how generously she has helped so many writers – including me!- and I felt she deserved some recognition for her good work. Besides, it’s fun to share the work of someone you wholeheartedly enjoy.)

 


My absolute favorites of K.M. Weiland’s work:

Podcast Helping Writers Become Authors(you can subscribe in iTunes)

Jane Eyre (Annotated Version)

Invaluable Series on Character Arcs

Invaluable Series on Story Structure

This blogpost is a good place to start if you just want to get introduced to the work of K.M. Weiland.

A Christmas Prayer!

Angela’s Christmas: a delightful new family Christmas classic

In the bleak landscape of new Christmas films this year, a delightful new half-hour children’s Christmas special has appeared that is perhaps deserving to be called a new family Christmas classic.

It’s been more challenging for me to keep up with the latest films this year, and perhaps I found the slate of Christmas films emptier than usual because I simply scrolled through Netflix’s offerings. (I have lately grown increasingly disappointed with a large portion of Netflix’ original programming, but that is a matter for another post.) I confess I haven’t seen 2018’s Grinch nor Disney’s Nutcracker—both of which I plan to see.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I started watching Angela’s Christmas (a Netflix original), which is based on the short story written by Frank McCourt, and I continued to enjoy the entire delightful little Christmas special. (Listen to my 5-minute review on Salt + Light Radio Hour here.)

Angela’s Christmas totally deserves to be the new animated family Christmas classic. Centered around little Angela’s imaginative concern for the Baby Jesus being cold, the story has lots of moments of fun and suspense. The animation is delightful, and it has some fun moments that Catholics will appreciate—such as whether or not there was a miracle in St. Joseph’s Church that night! On top of the delightful story, layered writing, compelling characters, believable character arcs, the film is just so darling—it begs for a repeat viewing. Simple enough for young children, the story has more to it for thoughtful adults.

Rather than giving story spoilers, I’ll simply list why Angela’s Christmas is perfect to watch together as a family to “put us in the mood for Christmas.”

1) The Christ Child is the focus of the story, in a way that perfectly brings together the deeper meaning of Christmas (Christ came to save us by sharing everything with us, even our sufferings), and a story that little kids can relate to.

2) The focus on family. Not only is there a lovely plot line for Angela and her brother Pat learning to get along together, but also how their mother explains to them that the real meaning of family is to shelter and support one another. (We catch a glimpse of St. John Paul II’s reference to the family as the domestic church here.)

I also found it completely darling how one of Angela and her big brother’s main concerns was how worried the Blessed Mother would be about Baby Jesus.

3) A focus on the less fortunate. References to the less fortunate—beginning with Angela’s family and of course, with Baby Jesus—are interwoven throughout the story: Angela’s family generously shares their coats with each other just to go to Christmas midnight Mass; the children are obviously compassionate and generous with those less fortunate than themselves, the compassionate policeman who observes how tragic it is to separate a child from his or her family also highlights the plight of those who are deprived of the necessities of life. In a bold choice by the filmmakers, instead of telling the story of Jesus’ birth, Angela’s mother retells the story of Angela’s birth—a day that should have been full of joy but instead was full of suffering that was changed to joy by the love of her children. Her simple story, her gratitude to the children, her obvious courage in the face of hardship, point to the ways that the Christ Child still suffers in our midst today, needing our outstretched hands.

Even though such a delightful film, Angela’s Christmas is missing 2 important things that could have made it an even stronger movie:

1) A lovely Christmas hymn, for which there were many opportunities, and a setting and a tone that would have been perfect. Many hymns would have reinforced the themes of the story, especially a hymn like “What Child Is This.” This is a glaring omissionthe filmmakers really missed a big opportunity here to make this a “practically perfect” film.

2) A simple retelling of the Christmas story from a child’s point of view (Angela’s, or perhaps Pat’s). The filmmakers may have decided to let this go because all the characters are so immersed in what Christmas means that it might seem redundant. But by not simply retelling the story, I think some elements of this little short could be lost for those who don’t know the story well, who see Christmas primarily as a family holiday. And who doesn’t need to be reminded why Christmas is a celebration of love?

Despite these shortcomings, this little film packs more into it than the roster of Christmas “feel good” family films. Angela’s Christmas is appropriate for all ages and deserving to become part of the family’s Christmas tradition.

Also noteworthy Christmas movies:

If you haven’t seen The Star, the full-length animated Nativity story told from the point of the view of the donkey who brings Mary to Bethlehem, I highly recommend this wonderfully imaginative tale for children, both playful and respectful approach to the story of Jesus’ birth for little ones.  The talking animals give kids an easy way to identify with the characters in the story, especially Mary, whose affinity with all creation—including the animals, no matter how humble—is a beautiful thread running through the film. The Star is also available on Netflix. You can see my full review from last year here.

2017’s The Man Who Invented Christmas is also well worth seeing as a new version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, coming especially from the perspective of the author’s struggle to write one of the best stories of all time. (I could relate!) The title is not my favorite, yet it is a worthy retelling of A Christmas Carol, with wonderful performances, some clever writing, and a lovely focus on family. Here is a review from the Director of our Pauline Media Studies Center, Sister Nancy Usselmann. 

My Inspiration for This Week: Intersections of Faith & Culture!

God surprised me last week with a wonderful, unexpected resource that explores the great connection between faith and writing, called The Festival of Faith & Writing. There are a number of these kinds of events throughout the U.S., but what makes this one special is that they podcast some of the major addresses. Here is a description in their own words:

The Festival of Faith & Writing is a biennial celebration of literature and belief, both broadly construed. Drawing more than 2,000 people from across the world to Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Festival offers three days of lively lectures, readings, conversations, films, workshops, concerts, plays, and more, all fueled by coffee and good food. It’s a feast for readers, including those who also write.

Rooted in the Christian Reformed belief in common grace, the Festival of Faith & Writing creates space for meaningful discussion and shared discovery among people with different religious beliefs and practices. On the campus of Calvin College, we bring together diverse voices and perspectives in thoughtful reflection on the stories that we shape and that also shape us.

Rewrite Radio is the podcast from the Festival of Faith & Writing, and they seem to have included all of 2016’s lectures, as well as some older ones. This week, I was delighted to listen to two writers whose nonfiction has mentored me on my faith-writing journey: Madeleine L’Engle (from an early 1996 Festival) and Frederich Buechner (Rewind episode from 1992). And there are many more that I am looking forward to listening to. I’m hoping they will post up the 2018 Festival in the not-too-distant future!

 

A #MediaNuns Update

Last night Salt + Light TV’s Catholic Focus was on My Sisters, the Daughters of Saint Paul’s online community devoted to helping members meet Christ and experience his love in daily life. Each week, we have a Monday night “Spiritual Accompaniment” on Facebook Live, where we have a conversation about a chosen spiritual theme, and throughout the week we offer prayers, mini-conferences, and other resources to enrich members’ spiritual growth and life of faith. If you are interested in finding more support for your spiritual life from a community whose spirituality is Pauline, holistic, and communication/arts oriented, you may want to check it out! (Trial month is just $1.) Next week we start the Advent retreat, so it’s the perfect time to join! (For more information, visit https://mysisters.blog/ or to join, visit: www.pauline.org/mysisters )

 

O Glorious Night “Singing Nuns” Christmas Concert

Finally, it’s that time of year when our Daughters of Saint Paul Choir go on tour-this year to 7 cities!-for their beautiful Christmas concert. Concert locations are:

  • Staten Island, NY
  • Boston, MA
  • Lafayette, LA
  • New Orleans, LA
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Los Angeles, CA

You will not regret hearing this wonderful music and witnessing their incredible joy in Christ. Check out the concert nearest you!

 

 

 

 

 

Day 9 Novena to Blessed James Alberione