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


  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.    

S2E11 – Lectio Divina, Lectures Divina

What’s the Good Word?

  1. A culture that has become less focused on words and more focused on images needs to remember and savor the power of good words. St. Benedict, in the Rule for his order of monks, encouraged meditation upon the words of Scripture every day. The words of your own mouth need to be related to the Word of God. Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading, is a practice of reading a Scriptural passage and entering more deeply—with our hearts and minds— into the scene and its lesson. This is an encounter with the living Word of God, the Word Made Flesh. In Lectio Divina, we read the words of Scripture and ask the Holy Spirit to make them live in our hearts. Here’s an introduction to basic steps for Lectio Divina.
  2. Upon repeated reading of the Scripture passage, the participant in Lectio Divina asks for the Lord’s help to unpack a particular word or segment of the passage, leading ideally to a level of contemplation that encounters the Lord in a personal way. Passages can become important parts of our live through the focused meditation on them and the love they contain. A good way to start is to spend time in advance reading of the Gospel for a Mass you’re going to attend. This prepares you to receive the Gospel message well and incorporate it into every day.
  3. One might gain inspirational value from words in other settings through a process that is weakly analogous to Lectio Divina. People can be led to conversion through words of edifying books and oral presentations (Bill called it “Lecture Divina”) in which wise people share uplifting counsel. We sometimes tend to become echo chambers stuck in our own thoughts and words, but we must get better at receiving the gifts of inspiration others can give us through the working of the Holy Spirit.
  4. The Liturgy of the Hours is a way to encounter the Sacred Scriptures and receive enriching insight into our faith. Every time you encounter a Psalm, you can get something more from its rich meaning, partly because youI are in a new place on your own journey. This reflects the living presence and accompaniment of the Lord through the Scriptures.
  5. Ken and Bill encouraged listeners to take up the habit of reading the Liturgy of the Hours.

S2E10 – Trading Cards of Tradition

  • Incarnational piety can take the form of putting faith into words and pictures through holy cards. Cards honoring saints and containing prayers, sometimes cards specifically intended for events such as wakes/funerals or ordinations, are a distinctly Catholic tradition. They call us back to a mindfulness of our call to holiness, as well as someone else’s response to that call and the Church’s nurturing of that call. Ken “wittily” compared them to trading cards from our youth. Bill remembered the gum that came in those packages. This guy on YouTube went beyond merely remembering.
  • Holy cards are valuable for pointing toward the spiritual reality that is beyond us. They celebrate the incarnational nature of our faith; for example, cards received at the wakes of loved ones are treasured reminders of those people who blessed us by sharing their faith and love. The cards are an invitation for us to pray for them. Holy cards honoring saints also invite us to pray to those saints for intercession.
  • With a funeral memorial card, the image of the saint on the card and the words of the prayer on the card tap into our memories and integrate us into the broader vision of the community of faith, the Communion of Saints. Traditional prayers make us mindful of graces from the past, complementing the practice of spontaneous prayer as a present-moment conversation we have with God. 
  • The prayers on these cards aid the conversation that is part of our ongoing relationship with the Lord. Such words, whether they are in formal or spontaneous form, have power for building that relationship. We appreciate the value of well-chosen words that resonate in our minds and hearts.

S2E9 – Gifts That Keep on Giving

Show Notes

  1. There is something social and sociable about the “smells and bells” traditions of our Catholic faith. Incense is one of the examples of incarnational piety that yield positive visceral experiences of blessing and bonding in our liturgies—engagement on the personal and community levels. Here’s an additional commentary on the use of incense, posted by EWTN.
  2. The use of incense in the Mass involves an altar server called a thurifer and an incense vessel (or censer) called a thurible
  3. Psalm 141 calls our attention to the importance of incense as a gift to God: Let my prayer rise before you like incense. Incense rises up to the Lord, and our prayers go up with it.
  4. The Liturgy of the Hours fills the hours of the day with blessing and an intimate awareness of the Lord’s loving presence. 
  5. The Book of Tobit begins with a dramatic story and introduces us to the Archangel Raphael. Ken recommends it heartily.
  6. Frankincense represents the priesthood, the priestly act of offering up sacrifice, and honor—a sweet-smelling gift unto the Lord. Myrrh, an oil used for embalming, foreshadows the death of Christ; in the Eastern Churches, it is mixed in with oil during the consecration of the sacred Chrism. Gold is literally a gift fit for a king. Jesus Christ is indeed Priest, Prophet, and King.
  7. Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s book, Mystery of the Magiprovides extensive research explaining the Bible’s story of the Magi who paid homage to the young Jesus as Priest, Prophet and King.
  8. There is a photo of a silver reliquary case containing what tradition tells us are the gifts of the Magi (the gold, frankincense, and myrrh presented to the newborn Jesus). The relics were on display in 2014. A shrine containing relics of the Magi themselves has long been treasured in the Cologne Cathedral.
  9. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts to the Lord appeal to the five senses but also engage our minds and our hearts, which are parts of our bodies, too. These expand our appreciation of incarnational piety and give us much to ponder, Bill pointed out.  
  10. The Christmas song “We Three Kings” includes a reference to King and God and Sacrifice. These tie into the trio of roles of priest, prophet, and king which Jesus Christ personified and to which we all are called as Christians. 

S2E8 – Virtuous Reality

  1. We talk about using sacramentals to bring grace into our everyday lives, and this is achieved through habits of mindfulness we consciously form. Habits are practical acts accompanied by a disposition—the ways we approach life and pursue holiness and virtue. It’s faith in action. Sacramentals, as instruments for incarnational piety, are a wonderful aid to this approach. Here is an interesting essay about incarnational spirituality.
  2. Ken said his graduate studies explored the formation of virtue as the development of good habits, a firm commitment to choose the good and exercise it in concrete action. Seeking a closer relationship with God, there are qualities we can develop ourselves and more fundamental qualities that God infuses in us. Think of the four cardinal virtues—prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance—as human qualities that can be pursued with or without Christian faith. There are also theological virtues—faith, hope, and love—which are the greatest gifts, infused in us by God, who is Love. (CCC 1804-1829) Human virtues are purified and elevated by God’s grace. All goods point toward the Creator.
  3. William James wrote about the development of habits. In a famous quote, he urged people to strive diligently to develop good habits; otherwise, one can fall into bad habits which seem trivial at first but can build up to steer us toward a kind of hell on earth.  
  4. God can infuse courage and goodness and prudence as we need it, if we are receptive. The Catechism also discusses a related subject, receiving the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, as set forth in the Catechism. (CCC 1830-1832). In terms of incarnational piety, habits can be a beautiful way of receiving and cooperating with God’s grace in how we deal with everyday experiences. Some habits may tend toward mindlessness, such as the cautionary practice of checking whether the door to one’s home is locked. But we must strive to receive from the Holy Spirit habits of mindfulness that embody a sense of purpose centered on the Kingdom of God—the goal of growing closer to the Lord, participating actively in His grace and love.