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.

Called To Communicate Mercy—But How Do We Do It?

If you live in Boston, come and celebrate with us on April 24, 2016! http://store.pauline.org/landing-pages/world-communications-day-mass

If you live near Boston, come and celebrate with us on April 24, 2016! For more information, visit: http://store.pauline.org/landing-pages/world-communications-day-mass

It’s been a really full late winter/early spring for me! I’ve had to let social media “rest” for a while, and it may still be another month or so before I’m back consistently, but I want to take the opportunity to post when I have a few free minutes.

In January, I looked at Pope Francis’ Message for the 50th World Communications Day (while it’s actually on May 8th, we are celebrating on April 24thcome and join us if you live in the Boston area) from the perspective of listening. But I wanted to take another look at it more closely in light of its theme. It seems to me that, during this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis is looking at communication in its fullest meaning, in all areas of life, and in all the ways by which we communicate, but with a particular focus for us that we, as followers of Christ, are called to communicate mercy. It is, in a very real way, the Pope’s urgent call to all of us to use our power to communicate to:

  • build bridges
  • bring about and restore peace
  • promote mutual understanding
  • heal
  • include
  • speak the truth in a way that never intentionally ruptures relationships—the truth in love.

Pope Francis cautions us about exacerbating misunderstanding, and using inflammatory or judgmental language and gestures in a way that can divide or “stoke the flames of mistrust, fear, and hatred.”

One of the reasons I feel that communication spirituality is so important is how much time each of us spends every day communicating. I often start my workshop on communication spirituality by asking participants to think of all the ways they communicated and used the means of communication by noon of that very day. From listening to the weather on the radio, checking the traffic on a cell phone, greeting a loved one with a morning kiss, checking email as soon as we walk in the door of our office…the list goes on and on: we are constantly communicating! Now, we can also add in the multiple times a day that the average smartphone user checks their social media for updates.

In this year’s Message, Pope Francis takes a 360-degree look at communication that can be applied for all people of good will  and all levels of communication—from digital or technologically-enhanced communication to face-to-face interaction between individuals, to the close communication that happens within the intimacy of the family, to that of leaders whose communication affects groups or culture in important aspects of life, such as politics, institutions, or opinions. Religious leaders are particularly mentioned as having the responsibility to speak the truth in love, communicating mercy but never superiority or judgment of individuals.

Digital technology, especially social networks, are highlighted for their ability to exponentially multiply the effect of communication: “Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups.” But I think the previous sentence in the Message goes to the heart of communication spirituality in our digital age: “It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.”

The Pope concludes this exhortation to us to be authentic communicators by encouraging us to think about communication in terms of closeness. Communication that facilitates mercy is a communication that generates a closeness between individuals and peoples: a closeness that cares, comforts, heals, accompanies, and celebrates that we share a common humanity.

Here’s a link to the entire Message for the 50th World Communications Day. I’d love to hear your insights if you feel to share them!

Listening: My Lenten Focus

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In addition to making the 7 Qualities of Mercy online mini-retreat for Lent, I have decided to focus my Lent around listening. Pope Francis’s Message for the 50th World Communications Day is what inspired me to choose to focus on listening. Listening is a wonderful quality that is a prerequisite for genuine communication—with God first of all, but also with self and with others.  

But first I want to go back to Pope Benedict’s Message for World Communications Day on May 20, 2012. The theme of this Message was unusual: Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization. Since silence is such an important part of listening, I thought I’d begin with this:

Silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved. When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.

Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible. It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other. Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence – indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression. Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds…

As the Cross of Christ demonstrates, God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word …. God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence” (Verbum Domini, 21). The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross…  

If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God. “We need that silence which becomes contemplation, which introduces us into God’s silence and brings us to the point where the Word, the redeeming Word, is born” (Homily, Eucharistic Celebration with Members of the International Theological Commission, 6 October 2006). In speaking of God’s grandeur, our language will always prove inadequate and must make space for silent contemplation. Out of such contemplation springs forth, with all its inner power, the urgent sense of mission, the compelling obligation to communicate that which we have seen and heard” so that all may be in communion with God (1 Jn 1:3). Silent contemplation immerses us in the source of that Love who directs us towards our neighbours so that we may feel their suffering and offer them the light of Christ, his message of life and his saving gift of the fullness of love…

Word and silence: learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak.

-Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the 46th World Communications Day

I’d like to allow the beginning of my Lent to be guided by the above reflection and make a Lenten examination of the quality of silence in my life. The series of slides below (put together by one of our sisters several years ago), contains excerpts from Pope Benedict’s Message that might launch me into deeper reflections:

 Then I hope to move on to Pope Francis’s most recent Message for World Communications Day, with its theme of Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter.  Genuine listening to others is what arouses compassion in me; as I wish to invest the quality of mercy into all my relationships, I think it would be helpful to reflect on Pope Francis’s encouragement to us to listen, perhaps using his words as a way to make another examination of conscience on listening that will be ongoing through Lent:

Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.

Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the “holy ground” of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.

As communicators, we seek to imitate Jesus’ self-emptying or kenosis in our communication. In God’s desire to be close to us, in order to redeem us and heal our broken relationship with God, Jesus emptied himself, taking on our human nature, and giving himself up to a horrific passion and death. Jesus is the full expression of the merciful love of the Father. In every aspect of his person, his life, and his death, Jesus seeks to draw us closer into the embrace of the Trinity.

Pope Francis talks about listening as a form of self-emptying love, similar in a way to Jesus’ kenosis. Listening can be a sort of martyrdom. In truly listening, we imitate Jesus’ self-giving, sacrificial love, by putting ourselves and our agendas aside and becoming deeply receptive to whomever we are listening to. Deep listening enables us to become aware of the sacredness of the other. Even if we are just having an ordinary, everyday conversation, deep listening takes us beyond the surface to glimpse the depth of someone else’s humanity and thus, how beloved they are by God.

Lent is a time to die to ourselves so that we can rise with Christ. Learning to listen better is a concrete way to die to self and to welcome the other in a genuine encounter of love and mercy. When we really hear and understand one another, we are more likely to respond with compassion, gentleness, and mercy.

Above all, as attentive listeners, we can discover God speaking to us:

  • in prayer and in his holy Word
  • within ourselves in the depths of our own hearts
  • and especially in the words and unspoken longings and vulnerabilities of others with whom we relate

In closing his message, Pope Benedict entrusts the work of evangelization through the media to Mary, “whose silence listens to the Word and causes it to blossom.” May our silence and communication this Lent also blossom into expressions of God’s Mercy.

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Join me in making the 7 Qualities of Mercy online mini-retreat for Lent!

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Saint Paul: Communicator Who Reaches Out

V&A_-_Raphael,_St_Paul_Preaching_in_Athens_(1515)On this second day of the triduum for the conversion of Saint Paul, we focus on a second theme in Pope Francis’s Message for World Day of Communications last year: going out to people on the periphery to bring the light of love and mercy. (Sorry for posting so late…I traveled from Boston to California today!)
Pope Francis has repeated many times this call of all the baptized to go out to those who are “on the margins” of human existence–spiritually, socially, economically, politically–any way that a person is excluded or alone. This call to go out, to reach out to others, has always been urgent but today seems even more so. For many of us, however, reaching out is not easy; it pushes us to go beyond our comfort zones.
Pope Francis lives this call to reach out to others with love, mercy, and truth. Saint Paul is one of the best all-time examples of living this call, as he tried to reach out to the entire known world with the Gospel, which required extensive travel at a time where traveling was not just exhausting but full of risks. In addition, he not only accepted non-Jewish converts (who were not so easily accepted in the earliest days of the Church), but sought them out. He was willing to undergo prison, beatings, persecution and even martyrdom, for the sake of bringing Christ to those who didn’t know him.
Reaching out to others requires going beyond our usual  comfort zone, which can be challenging. It also demands that we let go of our assumptions about others, to listen attentively to others’ hopes, doubts, expectations, and joys. In so doing, we break down walls. True dialogue builds unity; it means discovering that we and those with whom we dialogue are the same; that in our shared humanity, we are more the same than different.
Speaking from the context of communications (and having recently mentioned social media), Pope Francis encourages us:

May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful “neighbors” to those wounded and left on the side of the road…. Today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications, too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts.

Our reaching out is meant to be warm, tender, loving, radiating the beauty, truth, and goodness of God. When we read the letters of Saint Paul, we see how he uses language, imagery, and warmth to communicate his love in Christ. Scripture scholars tell us that Saint Paul used words in new ways, and even made up new terms to express the inexpressible mystery of living in Christ.
Simply reading the openings and closings of Saint Paul’s letters as he greets the various communities so warmly, often greeting people by name–reveals his tender warmth in communicating Christ’s love as it flows through his heart. (“I thank my God every time I remember you” Phil. 1:3.)
One of the passages that first showed me the tenderness of Paul’s pastoral heart is his prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21.

[I pray] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.  (Eph. 3: 17-19, RSV)

Our first communication is with God; having experienced the Lord’s tender mercy and truth, our next communication is with others. If we find it really hard to reach out to others, then a first step may be to pray for those on the margins in a tender and warm way, as Saint Paul does here. In his goodness, God will bless those for whom we pray, but will also bless us to increase the courage, wisdom, and grace we need to reach out further with his love.