Tuesday, March 01, 2011

In "Year of Wojtyla," the "Development" Continues

Yesterday, the Pope addressed the plenary gathering of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, telling the media dicastery's full membership that just as "Jesus himself was able to use the elements of the culture and the environment of his time: the flock, the fields, the banquet, the seeds," the church of today is likewise "called to discover, also in the digital culture, significant symbols and metaphors for persons, which can be of help when speaking of the Kingdom of God to contemporary man."

And on a related note, while you won't see a formal declaration of it, between B16's impending beatification of his predecessor on May 1st, August's World Youth Day in Madrid, the reigning pontiff's recent decision to hold an October encore of 1986's still-controversial interfaith gathering for peace at Assisi, and the focus of this year's Lenten Retreat for the Pope and his Curia, it's suddenly the case that the Vatican's 2011 has been scripted as a de facto "Year of John Paul II," with the Polish Pope's epic 27 years on Peter's chair returned squarely to Rome's center stage, and Benedict aiming to definitively integrate his predecessor's landmark reign into the path of two millenia of Tradition.

Of course, the lasting exegesis on Karol Wojtyla and his extensive magisterium that'll take place over the coming months will be carried out on B16's terms. Still, when it comes to the media world, the fact remains that the defining charter on the church's engagement with modern communication is still the final major document to bear John Paul's signature: 2005's Il Rapido Sviluppo ("The Rapid Development"), whose lines have held up with a remarkable sense of foresight amid the advances of these last years....
Salvation History recounts and documents the communication of God with man, a communication which uses all forms and ways of communicating. The human being is created in the image and likeness of God in order to embrace divine revelation and to enter into loving dialogue with Him. Because of sin, this capacity for dialogue at both the personal and social level has been altered, and humanity has had to suffer, and will continue to suffer, the bitter experience of incomprehension and separation. God, however, did not abandon the human race, but sent his own Son (Cf. Mk 12:1-11). In the Word made flesh communication itself takes on its most profound saving meaning: thus, in the Holy Spirit, the human being is given the capacity to receive salvation, and to proclaim and give witness to it before the world.

The communication between God and humanity has thus reached its perfection in the Word made flesh. The act of love by which God reveals himself, united to the response of faith by humanity, generates a fruitful dialogue. Precisely for this reason, making our own in a certain sense the request of the disciples, “teach us to pray” (Lk11:1), we can ask the Lord to help us to understand how to communicate with God and with other human beings through the marvelous communications media. In light of so decisive and definitive a communication, the media provide a providential opportunity to reach people everywhere, overcoming barriers of time, of space and of language; presenting the content of faith in the most varied ways imaginable; and offering to all who search the possibility of entering into dialogue with the mystery of God, revealed fully in Christ Jesus.

The Incarnate Word has left us an example of how to communicate with the Father and with humanity, whether in moments of silence and recollection, or in preaching in every place and in every way. He explains the Scriptures, expresses himself in parables, dialogues within the intimacy of the home, speaks in the squares, along the streets, on the shores of the lake and on the mountaintops. The personal encounter with him does not leave one indifferent, but stimulates imitation: “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops,” (Mt 10:27).

There is, however, a culminating moment in which communication becomes full communion: the Eucharistic encounter. By recognizing Jesus in the “breaking of the bread,” (cf. Lk 24: 30-31), believers feel themselves urged on to announce his death and resurrection, and to become joyful and courageous witnesses of his Kingdom (cf. Lk 24:35)....

Communication permeates the essential dimensions of the Church which is called to announce to all the joyful message of salvation. For this reason, the Church takes advantage of the opportunities offered by the communications media as pathways providentially given by God to intensify communion and to render more penetrating the proclamation of His word. The media permit the manifestation of the universal character of the People of God, favoring a more intense and immediate exchange among local Churches, and nourishing mutual awareness and cooperation.

We give thanks to God for the presence of these powerful media which, if used by believers with the genius of faith and in docility to the light of the Holy Spirit, can facilitate the communication of the Gospel and render the bonds of communion among ecclesial communities more effective....

In the communications media the Church finds a precious aid for spreading the Gospel and religious values, for promoting dialogue, ecumenical and inter-religious cooperation, and also for defending those solid principles which are indispensable for building a society which respects the dignity of the human person and is attentive to the common good. The Church willingly employs these media to furnish information about itself and to expand the boundaries of evangelization, of catechesis and of formation, considering their use as a response to the command of the Lord: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).

This is certainly not an easy mission in an age such as ours, in which there exists the conviction that the time of certainties is irretrievably past. Many people, in fact, believe that humanity must learn to live in a climate governed by an absence of meaning, by the provisional and by the fleeting. In this context, the communications media can be used “to proclaim the Gospel or to reduce it to silence within men’s hearts.” This poses a serious challenge for believers, especially for parents, families and all those responsible for the formation of children and young people. Those individuals in the Church community particularly gifted with talent to work in the media should be encouraged with pastoral prudence and wisdom, so that they may become professionals capable of dialoguing with the vast world of the mass media.

The appreciation of the media is not reserved only to those already adept in the field, but to the entire Church Community. If, as has already been noted, the communications media take into account different aspects of the expression of faith, Christians must take into account the media culture in which they live: from the Liturgy, the fullest and fundamental expression of communication with God and with one another, to Catechesis, which cannot prescind from the fact of being directed to people immersed in the language and the culture of the day.

The current phenomenon of communications impels the Church towards a sort of pastoral and cultural revision, so as to deal adequately with the times in which we live. Pastors, above all, must assume this responsibility. Everything possible must be done so that the Gospel might permeate society, stimulating people to listen to and embrace its message. Consecrated persons belonging to institutions having the charism of using the mass media have a particular responsibility in this regard. Spiritually and professionally formed towards this end, these institutions, “should willingly lend their help, wherever pastorally appropriate […] in order to offset the inappropriate use of the media and to promote higher quality programmes, the contents of which will be respectful of the moral law and rich in human and Christian values.”

Such is the importance of the mass media that fifteen years ago I considered it inopportune to leave their use completely up to the initiatives of individuals or small groups, and suggested that they be decisively inserted into pastoral programs. New technologies, in particular, create further opportunities for communication understood as a service to the pastoral government and organization of the different tasks of the Christian community. One clear example today is how the Internet not only provides resources for more information, but habituates persons to interactive communication. Many Christians are already creatively using this instrument, exploring its potential to assist in the tasks of evangelization and education, as well as of internal communication, administration and governance. However, alongside the Internet, other new means of communication, as well as traditional ones, should be used. Daily and weekly newspapers, publications of all types, and Catholic television and radio still remain highly useful means within a complete panorama of Church communications.

While the content being communicated must obviously be adapted to the needs of different groups, the goal must always be to make people aware of the ethical and moral dimension of the information. In the same way, it is important to assure that media professionals receive the necessary formation and pastoral attention to confront the particular tensions and ethical dilemmas that arise in their daily work. Often these men and women “sincerely desire to know and practice what is ethically and morally just,” and look to the Church for guidance and support....

To those working in communication, especially to believers involved in this important field of society, I extend the invitation which, from the beginning of my ministry as Pastor of the Universal Church, I have wished to express to the entire world “Do not be afraid!”

Do not be afraid of new technologies! These rank “among the marvelous things” – inter mirifica – which God has placed at our disposal to discover, to use and to make known the truth, also the truth about our dignity and about our destiny as his children, heirs of his eternal Kingdom.

Do not be afraid of being opposed by the world! Jesus has assured us, “I have conquered the world!” (Jn 16:33)

Do not be afraid even of your own weakness and inadequacy! The Divine Master has said, “I am with you always, until the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). Communicate the message of Christ’s hope, grace and love, keeping always alive, in this passing world, the eternal perspective of heaven, a perspective which no communications medium can ever directly communicate, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Cor 2:9).
Sure -- and gratefully -- in the six years since these lines first appeared, things have progressed to the point where whatever Text of the Day that comes down the pike now gets its fair share of circulation and insta-analysis.

Like many of John Paul's profound calls in his final days, though, much of this one remains a challenge still untaken in the church -- and, like the others, it's a prophecy as wise and needed as it's largely gone unheeded.

Bottom line: if John Paul's "Year" is going to bear its intended fruit, maybe there's no better time to revisit his insights anew.... So it seems, Rome wouldn't mind in the least.