S3E6 – Pandemic Communications

  1. Ken and Bill recorded this episode from their respective homes because of the COVID-19 lockdown, and they shared a number of reflections about the crucial nature of the pandemic’s effect on the Church and the People of God. It’s both a great challenge and an opportunity. Testing new forms of community life, new uses of social media to convey messages of faith, treasuring the full beauty and power of the Lord’s real presence among his people in a time of distancing. 
  2. Fr. Stephen Hamilton in Oklahoma City has been doing a parking-lot Mass, which Ken has prayed along with via the internet livestream.  Communication in the Church always benefits from creative, problem-solving thinking. Our incarnational faith challenges parishes and their pastors to shepherd each individual flock, to make sure that the community’s people are available to minister to each other, especially with the Blessed Sacrament. Some of this can be handled with the help of technology. But Pope Francis has pointed out that technology cannot replace the face-to-face celebration of the sacraments. As he put it in a homily during one of his Masses in March, the Lord calls us to “draw near” in the Spirit even in a time of “social distancing.”
  3. Our faith needs to be lived every day and to be in dialogue every day with the People of God. The Church’s quick development and publishing of a special Mass in Time of Pandemic reflects a dynamic Church that is not simply like a museum, relying on technology and archiving.
  4. An immensely moving and meaningful scene occurred during the 2019 Lenten season as the Pope led a special prayer service in a rainy and vacant Saint Peter’s Square, followed by an extraordinary blessing of the world with Eucharistic benediction. During this pandemic, the Church has also seen the Holy Father walking the empty streets of Rome in a Eucharistic blessing procession. These are powerful reminders of the persistence of relationship in the Church’s faith that God brings good from the evil of today’s suffering.
  5. In times of change and difficulty, the Lord can always help us see more than we saw before. Since “Love Always Communicates,” as per the title of this EncounterPoints series three, we see there is no replacement for the physical presence of Jesus Christ with His people in a combination of communication, community, and communion. 

S3E5 – How Great Thou! Art

  1. Not all forms of communication are verbal or purely journalistic or sent via social media. A wonderful world of communication is found in art and beauty. We need to spend time on this form of communication as part of any tour through Church wisdom on communication. Saint Pope John Paul II issued his Letter to Artists in 1999.
  2. John Paul was a mystic who climbed mountains and enjoyed the beauty of creation. He appreciated beauty on a panoramic scale. He had also been a poet, playwright, and actor. He was writing to his fellow artists.
  3. Beauty and goodness are intertwined, the Holy Father said in this important document. Artists are captivated by the hidden power of sounds, colors, shapes, and their reflection of the glory of God. One important point about art of all sorts: God is the Creator. We do not create out of nothing,  but we build from what God has already created. Artists cannot bring something out of nothing. The craftsman uses something that exists and gives it form and meaning. Artists participate in this as “sub-creation,” as J. R. R. Tolkien described it. 
  4. All art and communication require a sense of humility. We are dealing with something bigger than ourselves. We are copying, learning, listening. The creative person must be a good observer. 
  5. From paragraph 2: The special vocation of the artist. Artists must work within the rules and dictates of art and the chosen medium. The medium chosen is an expression of their inner soul.
  6. From paragraph 3: One’s artistic vocation is in the service of beauty, in response to the divine spark. One must develop this sense of service and respect if they feel that spark. Art must honor the dignity of the individual and that individual’s reflection of the Spirit communicating through his or her unique talent and character.
  7. From paragraph 4: Society needs artists. Our artists reflect who we are as a people. They may be pulling or pushing from the edges of society. “Edgy” or not, there still is a requirement for lines and limits that establish framework and cohesion. Artists challenge us to be mindful of the perspectives they bring us from the margins of the society and the status quo. 
  8. The Church pays attention to communication partly because it realizes its messages in many forms have an impact beyond the current moment. Communication is going to have ripple effects that need to be thought out. Need consciousness of the context—not just the words, but the effect of those words upon others. Communication is serious business, but the beauty of great artistic communication is meant to lift us up or surprise us.

S3E4.1 – BONUS! 2020 World Communications Day Message

  1. Co-hosts Ken and Bill interrupt this current EncounterPoints series {“Love Always Communicates”) for a bonus episode reporting on Pope Francis’ message for World Communications Day 2020. 
  2. The Vatican released this message on January 24, the feast day of St. Francis de  Sales, the patron saint of journalism and Catholic media. This is the 54th annual World Communications Day message. The messages are posted as a preview on this particular feast day, although World Communications Day itself officially occurs on the Sunday before Pentecost—this year, that’s May 24. 
  3. The title of the message this year is taken from Exodus 10:2—“That you may tell your children and grandchildren … Life becomes history.” See the New American Bible translation of this passage as provided on the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. In this passage, God tells Moses the Israelites should recount to future generations the story of how God has done great wonders and taken His people out of captivity. This is salvation history, the ultimate story to be remembered and shared.
  4. Pope Francis goes on to talk about storytelling, a human phenomenon at the core of how we live our lives and give them a sense of meaning and purpose. Our search for, and sharing of, truth helps us see the connections between each other, among generations, and with God in personal relationship.  The Holy Father points out that the word “text” comes from the same root as “textile,” which means something which is weaved together. Our lives are weaved together, and stories help reveal this.
  5. God is the Great Storyteller, says Pope Francis.  Jesus shows Himself to be a great story-teller through His parables. We need to make our own the truths that are told in good stories. They remind us that there is indeed reality external to ourselves, not reducible to relativism. Powerful  stories are not merely imagination or statements of principles; they reach us where we are, with relevance to our personal experiences. Ken noted that the Parable of the Mustard Seed was very relevant to people of Jesus’s day because they could see mustard seeds all over. Good stories are not an isolating thing. They connect us to reality and to each other.
  6. Not every story is good, Pope Francis pointed out in section two. Many  of the stories we hear in the popular media are manipulative. These stories, often driven by the profit motive and the desire to manipulate, strip others of their human dignity.
  7. The stories we want to cling to, as parts of our liturgy, or as parts of high-quality  journalism and the sharing of legacies, are those which enlighten and expand our world view. They often have an element of surprise because they are stories woven by a God who loves surprises. They tell of God’s presence in our lives extending across time, giving us the context of His Lordship and our discipleship into the future. They help us see where we fit into the broader story of humanity and our relationship with God. They give us a sense of identity and purpose which is lacking for too many people today. 
  8. This message about passing along godly stories between generations holds differences and similarities with Francis’s World Communications Day texts of 2018 and 2019. Bill noted that the 2018 message talked more specifically about the need for journalism as an instrument for finding truth and thereby building peace. The 2019 message talked about social media and today’s digital culture, which too often establish alternative communities that isolate us and disconnect us from reality. Both messages dealt with specific topics, but they share with the latest message a call to connectedness that ties together communication, community, and communion.
  9. The need for human beings to spread good stories to future generations recalls a theme Pope Francis addressed in his 2019 apostolic exhortation on young people called Christus Vivit. Older members of a community show their love for the young by sharing instructional stories with them, he said. Storytelling responsibilities of the older generation were explored in paragraphs 187-197.
  10. Scripture is the story of salvation, a great love story, and God is a great narrator who nevertheless allows the various Biblical writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to express themselves, to share their story and play a role in telling the overarching story of God’s salvation. In this story, God loves man so much He enters humanity’s story. The story is alive and ever-changing. Saints have stories; they are sinners who embarked on a journey toward experiences of redemption and conversion.
  11. You can find Biil Schmitt’s writing about the World Communications Day messages of 2018, 2019, and 2020 in his blog at OnWord.net. He spoke with Redeemer Radio program host Kyle Heimann about this year’s message in an interview on Jan. 28, 2020.

S3E4 – An Exhortation on Digital Communication

  • This episode examines Pope Francis’s messages about communication as conveyed in Christus Vivit (“Christ is Alive”), his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation following the Vatican’s 2019 Synod on Youth. The document, addressed to young people and all the People of God,  reflects on many of the challenges faced by today’s young people and how the Church can help confront those challenges. The messages included the pope’s return to themes he expressed in his 2019 World Communications Day message about the need for our digital culture and its so-called social communities—and for flesh-and-blood communities, as well—to more fully support an individual’s search for true community, personal identity, human dignity, and a grounding in reality.
  • Ken and Bill began the episode by talking about underlying digital-media trends seen by the Holy Father—trends which could be called “information inflation” (because the torrent of information that confronts us every day tends to reduce our appreciation of important information) and “information deflation” (because so many presentations of fact and opinion tend to deflate the dignity of the human being through isolation, defamation, exclusion, snap judgments about people and outrage toward them). The exhortation’s section on digital dangers grapples with all these ways of harming youth’s sense of trust and truth and weakening their hope for community and conversation.
  • Paragraph 86 in the exhortation is of interest in this regard. Pope Francis points out that the focus on consuming  visual and video input can affect the ways in which young people learn and perceive reality. Without reading and processing information critically, audiences of all ages may have a learning experience that is shallower and less demanding of substance and coherent meaning.
  • Prof. Ernest Morrell, who is director of the Center for Literacy Education at the University of Notre Dame, has explored the need for “critical media literacy.” In a speech he presented for the University’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, Morrell urged cultivating this quality in young people today. 
  • Elsewhere in the Pope’s exhortation, he credits digital media with an array of opportunities for new encounters with people. But there is also the danger that many communities formed online define themselves less by an openness to new, inclusive engagements, and more by a tribal instinct that defines the community through the exclusion of people and alternative opinions. “Summary trials” are conducted online, appealing only to one version of the truth. This is a point from paragraph 89.
  • Young people face the risk of resorting to artificial realities, the pope says. They lose a sense of truth, which could be a uniting and stabilizing force for them and their communities.
  • The pope notes there are many people who use the digital realm well, represented by someone who recently began the path toward canonization. Venerable Carlo Acutis (1991-2006) was a Catholic teenager who created his own faith-filled content online as a computer programmer, Ken pointed out. Catholic News Agency recently reported that his path toward beatification has been cleared.
  • Communication, as a process of seeking truth, is potentially a holy process because it is a search for Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Bill pointed out.
  • The insights found in Christus Vivit are not entirely new. Ken indicated there are other Church documents stating the same principles of concern for community in a digital culture. See “Ethics in Internet” from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, published in 2002. The digital culture must be accompanied by a sense of communion, as well as solidarity, a principle of Catholic Social Thought seeking the common good.

S3E3 – Pastoral, Powerful Messages from “World Communications Days”

  1. This episode of Series 3 (“Love Always Communicates”) moves on from the Second Vatican Council to look at a long-running series of annual messages spawned by the Council and its document on social communications, Inter Mirifica. That document set the stage for the Vatican to observe a World Communications Day every year, proclaiming the connection of Catholic values to some aspect of the growing, ever-changing communications environment.  The first of those messages was issued in 1967 by Saint Pope Paul VI, and 2020 is the year of the 54th message.
  2. World Communications Day occurs on the Sunday before Pentecost. The Papal message for that day is posted well in advance on January 24, the feast day of Saint Francis De Sales, patron of all journalists and of Catholic communications. Here’s a blog post Bill wrote about the saint, connecting his Introduction to the Devout Life with the art of Christian conversation.
  3. In discussing these annual documents of reflection and instruction, Bill and Ken mentioned the “newsworthy” nature of Pope Francis’s 2018 message, “The Truth Shall Set You Free: Fake News and Journalism of Peace.” Bill recalled this document captured his attention as a journalist and spotlighted the Pope as a distinctive voice among world leaders: Francis was, and is still today, identifying weaknesses in our information flows and communications culture at the roots of global frictions and factions.
  4. One underlying theme in the Pope’s comments which have gone beyond the 2018 message to some of his more recent statements, is the idea of communication as the basis for community. As with Inter Mirifica and other relevant documents, Francis is saying that communications media should not be viewed merely as instruments of technology and information transfer, but also as forces that can influence the health of society—through our relationships with each other and with the Lord. Fitting with that message of the widespread need for spiritual growth, Pope Francis concluded his 2018 message with a prayer—a version 2.0 of the beloved Peace Prayer of Saint Francis. He reworded the prayer to ask for renewal and peacefulness in the realm of journalism and journalists, and drew a powerful connection between “mass media” and the role of individuals in providing loving service and compassion as members of a true human community. The pursuit of greater solidarity and integrity amid torrents of information can’t make progress unless we are communicating God’s love to each other in everyday life. Our task of discipleship through the media is local and global, inter-personal and institution-wide.
  5. Ken pointed out that Pope Saint John Paul’s 1994 World Communications Day message discussed “guidelines for good viewing” of television as a family. The Holy Father warned that television can cut people off from their families and other realities, distorting their spiritual and community lives. This is very similar to Pope Francis’s messages about smart phones and digital culture contributing to human isolation, a theme he stressed in his 2019 World Communications Day message, “We Are Members One of Another.” From the context of “TV” in 1994 to the more omnipresent subject of “screens” in 2019, the Church’s call to unity and truth remains fundamentally unchanged.
  6. The 2019 message carries an important reminder about the need for community – especially in the digital realm, where face-to-face interaction is minimized. Pope Francis says we too often exclude others because they are “different” or they express disagreement with what we ourselves deem to be the truth. Pope Francis calls us to consider others not as adversaries, but as people who are to be loved and valued precisely because of their God-given uniqueness. Parish and family life are all about the embrace of all of the different people within the community, seeking stronger communion—a deep fellowship based on our shared values and our shared journey.
  7. We will discuss Pope Francis’s message for the 2020 World Communications Day in a special episode to be released as soon as your intrepid hosts have had a chance to digest and reflect on it. Keep your ears peeled!

S3E2 – The Church’s Counsel on Media

  • Your co-hosts Ken Hallenius and Bill Schmitt have started the journey through the Catholic Church’s teaching documents relevant to environments of communication. The Second Vatican Council (held from 1962 to 1965) was the first such council at which a document specifically about communication media was promulgated. The primary document we want to consider, Inter Mirifica, issued in 1963, is the council’s Decree on the Media of Social Communications.
  • The concept of “social communications” embodies a big-picture understanding that covers all forms of human interaction and story-telling — plus the content and context of those forms, as well as the impact they have on individuals, societies and the world.
  • The Church affirms that individuals have a right to information, with the stipulation that such information should be true and should be complete “within the bounds of justice and charity.” Rights always entail responsibilities; part of the reasoning for some restraint on access to any and all information about anything is the occasional need to protect reputation and the universal duty to respect human dignity.
  • See this insightful analysis of Inter Mirifica (links to PDF) by Fr. Franz-Josef Eilers, SVD, written 50 years after the document was promulgated.
  • The Zenit News Service has a page with a special look back 40 years after the promulgation of Inter Mirifica.

Introduction to Series 3

A TOUR OF RESOURCES TO BOOST CATHOLIC COMMUNICATORS

  1. We welcome you to Series Three of our podcast! Through the first two season of “EncounterPoints,” your co-hosts Ken Hallenius and Bill Schmitt have looked at the crucial Church mission of evangelization through a couple of lenses which have “caught our eye” as Catholics. Series One examined evangelization as a process of sharing joy with others in various ways. Series Two examined the process of loving outreach and encounter as something nurtured by “incarnational piety”—our use of sacramentals and the five senses to bring out the best in our faith as we share those gifts with our neighbors.
  2. Series Three raises our sights to perhaps a more detailed and complex lens. It helps us to see evangelization as fundamentally a process of communication. The Church gives us the tools of evangelization by helping us to embrace the nature and value of good communication. Communication, especially in this “information age,” is a complex package of globally exchanged data, sophisticated technology, ever-changing news and opinions and sometimes dubious approaches driven by entertainment, profit and power motives.
  3. Our podcast’s aim to see evangelization through the lens of communication challenges us to go beyond personal experiences and activities, such as joy and devotional practices. Now we’re digging deeply into a knowledge base built up by high-tech gurus; political partisans and sociologists; analysts of how the communication infrastructure disseminates or distorts truth; and religious leaders, past and present, reflecting on communication as a humble, holy mission to grow closer to Jesus—the Way, the Truth and the Life.
  4. In short, evangelization, communication, love and spiritual growth are inseparable. Much of what the Church says about our earthly life as God’s pilgrim people will hold crucial lessons about how to communicate. Pope Francis, in his message for World Communications Day in 2019, said it well: “God is not solitude, but communion; He is love, and therefore communication, because love always communications; indeed, it communicates itself in order to encounter the other.” That’s why we’ve titled this new series of our podcast about encounters Love Always Communicates. Wherever communication seems to be breaking down and social polarization seems to be rising, we know we’re suffering from a love deficit. We’re faltering in our shared search for truth, our pursuit of a deeper relationship with the Lord.
  5. This urgent perspective on evangelization challenges us all to dig more deeply for understanding at the intersection of Church wisdom (in Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium) and the communications ecology of today’s world (in communities, parishes, families, media of all sorts and individuals. In Series Three, Ken and Bill wish to serve not only as celebrators of experiences like joy, remembrance and outreach, but also as curators of resources providing solutions for modern-day isolation.
  6. Our task as curators prompts us to do research so as to introduce listeners to a collection of Church documents, instructive writings and other support for the ongoing pilgrimage. In this new series, we’ll tell you about hope-filled resources we have found. Pope Francis, in one such resource (his 2018 message for World Communications Day) helped us see how the Church might offer an immeasurable service to secularized, relativistic society that communicates poorly. Growing numbers of secular authors are pointing out our rampant mistrust and negative snap-judgments, as well as our weak accountability to the common good. We’ve seen the Pope emerge as a singular voice among world leaders, warning against misuse of media technology. We’ve also learned his diagnoses and prescriptions for relief are not really new; they are drawn from a treasure trove of insights—from Scripture, saints and prophetic commentaries over time. Ken and Bill will help to gather these on a virtual library shelf to be perused.
  7. In this Episode One of Series Three, Ken and Bill start mentioning some of the materials they’re finding for that shelf. You will hear mention of the Second Vatican Council document Inter Mirifica, which gave birth to more than 50 years (and counting) of papal messages for World Communications Day. You will hear references to insights from St. Francis de Sales and St. Pope John Paul II. You will be invited to learn more about Marshall McLuhan, a Catholic convert who wrote about dangers from modern media and their messages in the 1960s.
  8. Separately, you will benefit from browsing through the videos of presentations made at the 2019 conference, “Toward a Renewed Catholic Communications Pedagogy,” sponsored by the McGrath Institute for Church Life (and cosponsored by the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, where Ken works in his day job). Bill recommends the opening talk by McGrath Institute director John Cavadini. Citing St. Augustine’s own book on Catholic communication (translated as Teaching Christianity); he suggests that those communicating Christian truths should avoid overblown rhetoric or punditry and simply allow the innate, resonant eloquence found in Scripture to shine through in our faith.
  9. Those providing ministry in parishes, which are crucial to the renewal of discourse at the local community level, do have a responsibility to take today’s communications culture seriously. They must let the authoritative, resonant voice of God’s love stand out more sweetly than secularized bluster as they sort through issues of diversity, inclusiveness, generational differences, the falling-away of young parishioners, etc. They will benefit from a new “Church Communications Ecology Program” at the McGrath Institute. The program recently received a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment to develop educational and formational offerings at the parish level. Ken and Bill hope that an increased awareness of the Church’s resources and reference points for revitalizing discourse and easing polarization, locally and globally, will be a major boon to the efforts of this new McGrath program and its participating ministers.

S2E13 – Please Indulge Us!

  • Last week, we talked about the idea of pilgrimage. Our acts of pilgrimage, to shrines and other holy places, are geographical journeys we take together. This week, we talk about indulgences, julbilees and holy years—reflections of incarnational piety that can be described as journeys transcending time. They unite us with each other in a less physical way. Nevertheless, these are real and profound demonstrations that “we’re all in this together.” We are connected with the Communion of Saints and the Church’s treasury of merit.
  • Indulgences grant a remission before God of temporal punishment due to sin. They recognize that our sins have temporal effects on us and our relationships with others in the Body of Christ as we live as pilgrims here on earth.
  • When one person is harmed, when we do an evil act, we suffer the effects together. When one person acts in a holy manner, the effects upon others are even greater. We can help each other in the process of healing and purification. Through the Church and the merits of Christ’s love, there is a great “exchange of holiness,” as described in paragraph 1475 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The good effects of our acts of goodness, like the bad effects of our sins, are shared.
  • Pope Francis declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016. This was an act of healing unity within the Church.
  • Jubilees date back to the Old Testament. They had a cycle of forgiving debt. Every fiftieth year, everything would be restored to its original owner.
  • Pope Boniface VII declared the first Catholic jubilee in the year 1300. In the 20th century, jubilees were celebrated in 1933, 1950, and 1983. The Great Jubilee of 2000 was the goal of Pope John Paul II’s entire pontificate.
  • Jubilees are celebrated not just in Rome, but in every local diocese. A special Holy Door is set apart (usually in the Cathedral, though other Holy Doors may also be declared), representing the physical threshold of the pilgrimage, the sign that one has reached the goal and “earned” the indulgence. The pilgrim must also fulfill certain other duties, typically the reception of Holy Communion, Confession, and prayers for the intentions of the Pope. 
  • Crossing the threshold of a Holy Door shows the incarnational nature of our faith. It’s a tangible act of “walking the walk.” It’s an act of the mind, the heart, the body. It recognizes that we’re entering the Lord’s house and he’s welcoming us. Pope Francis said that we also go out from the doors of the church as missionaries, keeping the cycle going.

S2E12 – Pilgrimage Progress

  1. We are journeying toward God in our lives—ever forward, or higher, “Excelsior!” We are in the world but not of the world, so we are pilgrims advancing toward our eternal home. We are nurtured on our “Christ-ian” (pronounced by Ken with three syllables) journey by the sacraments. Starting with our Baptism, the sacraments strengthen us as we make spiritual progress amid inevitable slips and falls.
  2. The Eucharist, consumed by a dying person in the Anointing of the Sick, is called “viaticum”—food for the journey to our eternal home.
  3. Our theological understanding of the Christian’s journey through life gets walked out and lived out geographical travels, especially to pilgrimage sites. Canterbury was a pilgrimage site that contained the bones of the martyr St. Thomas Becket. The narrative frame for The Canterbury Tales tells of a journey to that shrine. Today, the act of pilgrimage travel can help a family focus on its faith journey together. Ultimately, people take the pilgrimage experience back home as an inspiration to themselves and others.
  4. Think of journeys in the Scriptures—not technically “pilgrimages,” but still life-changing. The Road to Emmaus depicts a transformative encounter in which travelers were joined by Christ along the way. The risen Jesus broke open the Word, and they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. Paul, on his journey to Damascus, encountered the Lord in a dramatic way. After hearing the Lord’s call, he went off to a foreign land—taking time away on a kind of retreat, a time of personal change.
  5. Retreats are another form of journey in which we embrace the incarnational nature of our faith. Your senses are heightened when you’re in a different place, living life in a different way. A retreat changes you, and you bring back to you everyday life the fruits of your contemplation. One well-known retreat site is the St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana.
  6. The Salve Regina prayer (the Hail Holy Queen), speaks of our journey through the Vale of Tears. We pilgrims ask Mary to advocate for us as we travel as pilgrims on the earth, eager for the joys of eternal life.