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World Communications Day 2019 won’t be officially celebrated until June 2, the Sunday before Pentecost. That’s part of the tradition behind this annual opportunity for reflection, established after the Second Vatican Council to generate insights about how we’re all getting along with each other via the mass media.
Pope Francis has once again allowed us to open this gift early, thanks to the online preview of his 2019 World Communications Day message posted on January 24. That’s the feast of St. Francis De Sales, patron saint of media, writers and journalists.
Here are four useful quotes from this year’s message, titled “We Are Members One of Another: From Social Network Communities to the Human Community.”
- “The net works because all its elements share responsibility.” Pope Francis praises the power of the digital media to spread an abundance of information and bestow a sense of vast, interactive community. But he cautions that too much of the information we share is used to defame others, spread untruths, violate human dignity, and affirm our narcissistic identities by defining our social-network communities in terms of whom we exclude. Real communities, in physical places or in virtual “social media,” require us to build connections of trust and interdependence, he says. The most resilient communities contain networks we form with others not because they are “the same” as us, but because they are unique, bringing different perspectives.
- “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each to his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” This quote (Ephesians 4:25) extends the community metaphor to the idea of a body and its many parts, a powerful mirror of the Body of Christ. It echoes the Epistle reading (Corinthians 12:12-30) from the Sunday Mass of January 27, where Paul describes for a different Christian community how the eye must not wish it were an ear or a hand. Each member provides something uniquely valuable: “God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as He intended.” One might say these roles should inspire a sense of empowerment, along with humble truthfulness and responsibility, in each of us. We owe it to each other to be authentic and cooperative, not identifying ourselves by our supremacy or our adversaries. Our community strength comes from our otherness, Pope Francis says, as well as “the connections between that otherness.”
- “God is not Solitude, but Communion; He is Love, and therefore communication, because love always communicates.” The pontiff extends the network and community metaphors to God as Trinity, a relationship between the lover, the beloved, and the very act of loving. We humans participate in that trinitarian love in our life-giving encounters with others. We must always communicate love, thinking not in individualistic terms—as the media often encourage us to do—but in personal and interpersonal terms. If we use “the Net” to share stories of beauty and suffering that build up our best selves and encourage us to pray and learn together, “then it is a resource.”
- “The Church herself is a network woven together by Eucharistic communion, where unity is based not on “likes,” but on the truth, on the Amen.” Our joint “Amen” in worship and thanksgiving, clinging to the Body of Christ, encourages us to welcome others as brothers and sisters, and particularly as “traveling companions” on a purposeful journey toward the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The Pope has many other inspiring thoughts in his World Communications Day message, and we among the first readers can start now to consider our responses.
He draws a connection between one’s devotion to the love of God and the networking we do through values-informed conversations in everyday life. That recalls what St. Francis De Sales recommends in Introduction to the Devout Life, as discussed in the January 24 post in the McGrath Institute blog.
Francis sees truth, trust, mercy, and justice as essential to the proper use of online media. Otherwise, our huge daily doses of information may be weaponized. We turn against each other in relativistic wars of labeling and lies. Today’s networks can become traps of vulnerability and isolation, as was discussed in this blog’s January 23 post, with reference to insights from the “Higher Powers” conference of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.
The pontiff’s reference to the “Amen” we give in our Church communities reminds us we can activate good stewardship of real-life relationships with God and our neighbors right where we are. As I comment in a book of reflections on Pope Francis’ 2018 World Communications Day message, our Amen in prayer can gratefully affirm the dignity among imperfect children of God. We’re peacemakers called to stem tendencies toward social polarization. God’s communion of redemption overrides any notion of “me-dia” that spotlight me. We share a journalistic role reaching out to a world hungry for good news.
Bill Schmitt is the author of When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer? The Pope’s Words of Hope for Journalism (2018), available from Amazon as an e-book and paperback.
An independent journalist, author and marketing-communications consultant with clients in higher education, community-building, and faith-based collaboration, Bill is an experienced commentator on the subject of news, social polarization and problem-solving conversation.