More than three years ago, when I began this blog, I said that if St. Paul were alive today he would be a blogger. Now, I must add that he would have a tablet computer, a Smartphone, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
St. Paul took the Good News to the people, in the Agora, the market place by preaching and to the world by his letters. But he was not the first.
Beginning with Jesus the Good News has been proclaimed in the media of the people. Jesus used parables, the wise sayings or stories used by rabbis to illustrate a truth. The evangelists told stories of Jesus in the idiom of their communities. Eventually their stories were put into writing.
During the early Middle Ages when communication skills were lost to most, it was the Church, through the work of monks in scriptoriums, which preserved not only the Word of God, but the wisdom of ancient cultures. With the development of the printing press and the introduction of movable type in the 15th Century, the first book printed was the Bible.
Thus began the modern era of communication when the Good News has been proclaimed to the world through telephone, telegraph, radio, television and computers. Today we live in the digital world of social media, a new Agora, where the Gospel must be proclaimed.
That is precisely the message of Pope Benedict XVI for World Communications Day. Our Holy Father wrote, “I wish to consider the development of digital social networks which are helping to create a new “agora”, an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being.”
Continuing, the Holy Father observed that “unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important”
As Christians, as the Church, we must engage the world as it is, not as it was or as we believe that it should be. If our goal is to conform the world to the Gospel, which it is, we must begin with the world as it presently exists. The mindset that would circle the wagons and wait for things to return to normal is ludicrous. There is a new normal and we must grasp it.
These are days of “information overkill.” In his message the Pope notes that “at times the gentle voice of reason can be overwhelmed by the din of excessive information and it fails to attract attention which is given instead to those who express themselves in a more persuasive manner.” Keeping in mind that the power is in God’s Word, not our efforts, it is our responsibility to make the Word present by all the means at hand.
There are also perils in the social media. In recognizing them the Holy Father observes that “In the digital environment, too, where it is easy for heated and divisive voices to be raised and where sensationalism can at times prevail, we are called to attentive discernment. Let us recall in this regard that Elijah recognized the voice of God not in the great and strong wind, not in the earthquake or the fire, but in “a still, small voice” (1 Kg 19:11-12)
There are, of course other opportunities offered by social media, that can facilitate the sharing of spiritual and liturgical resources and to exchange ideas. As the Pope wrote, “Given the reality of cultural diversity, people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it.”
Make no mistake about it the digital world and social media has reshaped the dynamics of communication. We now have a choice. We can either choose to let this new media reshape us to the world or we can use it to help reshape the world to the Gospel.