In a culture where relativism, moralism, divisiveness and desperation about urgent global challenges are all taking a toll, and many of us turn to social media for repair or respite, we all need to talk more about the real cures. We have a healthy instinct that a renewed sense of community is part of the answer. But Pope Francis has been pointing out, in messages which seem like a best-kept secret, that the Catholic imagination can help us move closer to solutions (and inner peace) if we add a deeper reality to the “news” we’re posting.
That’s the point of my little book, When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer … The Pope’s Words of Hope for Journalism. I wrote it last year because I felt moved to help bring the “good news” found in faith and reason–and in the Pope’s insights from the internationally beloved Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi–to discussion groups everywhere. I have just been notified that my Kindle edition was awarded a Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval. This more affordable updated version, containing valuable links to research and resources, carries the assurance of Catholic beliefs and values but is especially suited to groups representing diverse backgrounds and religious experiences–people seeking common ground with concern for the common good.
Pope Francis offered several wise suggestions for healing our polarized culture when he issued his 2018 message for World Communications Day. He focused largely on journalism and its purposeful search for truth, and he addressed everyone because, these days, you might say millions of us are in the journalism business. We consume news and create news, we’re “gatekeepers” and publishers of things we call truth. Often, our “professional” handling of this serious vocation slides toward distorting and oversimplifying facts, even weaponizing details or at least distracting ourselves from the need to put people’s needs, human dignity and shared values at the heart of today’s torrents of information. (See my collection of blog posts here.)
Now, Pope Francis has released his 2019 World Communications Day message, “We Are Members One of Another: From Social Network Communities to the Human Community.” He uses Bible passages and images of communion in Christ to take us beyond the noblest-sounding visions of social media, which may have started out idealistic but too often have proven materialistic and narcissistic. He urges us to ponder the need to recapture the humility that must accompany truth-seeking and the compassionate curiosity that must accompany trust-building.
Today is an ideal time to be discussing this because the Catholic liturgical calendar marks this as the Solemnity of the Annunciation, an event where God was the presenter of glad tidings about a savior, the angel Gabriel was the messenger acting to bring the news to and through a human person, and a faithful, strong woman named Mary was ready to listen, pursue a dialogue to clarify this great mystery and say a simple “yes” that had world-shaking ramifications. I thank Matt Swaim, who co-anchors “The Son-Rise Morning Show” on national Catholic radio, for suggesting this date to remind us all of the Pope’s reflections and our potential as communicators.
If you would like to do more pondering about news, truth and community, just as the Bible says Mary did, please consider reading my past and future blog posts, plus other resources I’m compiling and the book I wrote. More importantly, read the World Communications Day messages of Pope Francis and of the pontiffs who preceded him. Consider how the Church’s thoughts might change our thoughts about the fruitful sharing of information in our social media communities and our flesh-and-blood communities–in parishes, towns, groups of shared interests and groups of unique people whose differences mean we need to hear them and love them. Please engage me (firstname.lastname@example.org) as a local discussion-leader if I can contribute my passion and experience. Wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever our communities may be, here’s to a happy, healing Annunciation.