Back in the day when “media” meant newspapers, magazines, local radio and a few (very few) national TV networks, it was my teenaged dream to do something to give the Church a bit of a voice in the world of media.
When I discovered that the Daughters of St Paul had been founded (in 1915!) with the express purpose of putting communications technology at the service of evangelisation, I was all in.
Little could I know that my life as a Daughter of St Paul would coincide with a succession of technological developments that would transform media, giving me and every other person on earth the possibility of interacting with an international audience instantaneously.
Nor could I have realised that the recommendations the Founder, Blessed James Alberione, made to the members of the Pauline Family would be so relevant fifty, seventy, ninety years later. Small wonder, then, that St John Paul II referred to Alberione as “the first apostle of the New Evangelisation.”
In the early years of his media mission (1914-1935), Father Alberione spoke of his field as the Good Press. As his Pauline Family began producing its first films and audio recordings, he broadened his language, finally settling on The Apostolate of the Editions as an all-encompassing term. Etymologically, “edition” is related to “bringing forth” (from the Latin edere). For Alberione, the word choice was a kind of pun relating communications to Our Lady’s mission of “bringing forth” the Saviour of the World.
Whether at Bethlehem or through modern technology used for evangelisation, it is the same Jesus being “brought forth” and given to souls. That, for Alberione, is the essence of the apostolate, and it is a mission field in which every Catholic can find a place.
But what advice would Alberione say to Catholics who live in a media culture?
I’d like to single out five things:
1. “Let us say something to humanity”
“the world is starving for the crumbs of what you know”
First off, Alberione would tell us not to be afraid to put ourselves out there. To the extent possible, identify yourself as a person of faith. Your knowledge may be basic, maybe First Communion level, but no one is asking you to be a teacher. Instead, while you work on broadening your own familiarity with Jesus, the Church, the Bible and Sacraments etc., demonstrate the ways that your relationship with the Lord is the foundational, life-giving atmosphere of your life.
When some dimension of lived faith brings you hope, say so. When you are grateful for prayers at a difficult time, say so. When your faith lets you laugh at the things that happen in life, say so. Your witness is already saying “something” to people who may just wonder what the secret is that keeps you going.
Here’s a sample by Jennifer Fulwiler: Of First Communions and Nacho Skirts.
2. “Do not speak only of religion, but speak of everything in a Christian manner”
“The Lord’s are the earth and its fullness,” the Psalmist sings (Ps 24:1). Everything in God’s creation proclaims its Maker. Are you a scientist? Write about science with a spirit of wonder and you will be giving glory to God. Is cooking your thing? Please, share a recipe—and maybe a story to go with it!
Everything human belongs to Jesus. This is the mystery of the Incarnation. So nothing truly human is foreign to God—quite the opposite! Anything truly human can be a point of contact with the Lord. Every birth and birthday is Christmas. Every profound act of surrender to God is Golgotha. Every transformation in the heart is Easter. Tell your stories. Respectfully. Trustingly. God will speak through them.
You don’t always have to be talking about God to talk about God.
Read Jackie Francois Angel’s testimony: My Marriage is Not a Fairy Tale
3. “Let us write after Holy Mass”
“and let us create channels through which the blood of Jesus passes from his Heart, fills our own, and overflows . …the fruit depends more on your knees than on your pen!”
Sr Rose Pacatte, another Daughter of St Paul, calls Facebook “the world’s biggest prayer group.” Bring your social media activity into your prayer. Pray when you find a post provocative, or when you are upset in any way by news or opinions you encounter through media.
One of the biggest temptations we may face in social media is to defend truth (or justice) with a sin against charity. We can’t win people to Jesus (or to his truth) with clever or cutting words. Sometimes we can’t “win” people over at all, but we can always bring them to Jesus. Besides, as Alberione said in 1954, “Today the greatest defense of the faith consists in goodness and acts of charity.”
Above all, pray for the person behind the post. Whoever they may be, Jesus knows them, loves them and understands them.
The St Francis Prayer is more relevant than ever: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace!”
Here’s another way of putting it: Sr Theresa Aletheia’s tweet
4. “[The Church needs] people who are at home in their own age, people who consider the progress of the arts, the sciences, and industry as priceless gifts of God.”
This thought of Alberione’s (from 1944) was confirmed at Vatican Council II when the bishops approved the Decree on the Means of Social Communication. (Its Latin title, Inter mirifica, means “among the marvels…”) There’s no need to be nervous about communication developments, even when we see them being abused in the most atrocious ways (for example, in terrorism). The point is, the media can be used well!
Alberione exhorted his disciples to “use the very means abused by others.” This is not simply a way of offsetting some of the cascade of evil that is available online. We can offer our media efforts as reparation for sin, error and scandal involving misuse of technology.
Lived in grace, our lives can contribute something supernatural to the media environment!
Here Sr Helena Burns explains more: Why Should We Be “Digital Catholics”?
5. Let us strive “that all our undertakings will be worthy in form of the truths which they contain, so as, with Mary, to present Jesus Christ to the world.”
Story, drama, song and poem are not lost arts! In fact, Instagram, Twitter, music, video, or blogging— all are new platforms for human creativity. Focus on the form of media that best corresponds to your interests and talents and do it with artistry. The beauty of what you do will itself communicate something of the beauty and truth of God.
Watch an example by Sr Tracey Duga: Trust me…
Father Alberione’s Post-Communion Prayer for the Media
Father, in union with all those who today celebrate the Eucharistic banquet, the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, I offer my own self with our Lord:
- To make amends for the error spread by the misuse of the media of social communications;
- To beg your mercy for those persons who often allow themselves to be led astray by the indiscriminate use of the communications media;
- For those who knowingly reject your Son and use the media of social communication with malice;
- That men and women may hear and follow him alone whom you, heavenly Father, in your boundless love gave to the world, saying: “This is my beloved Son, hear him.”
- That the use of the media may help men and women learn and believe that Jesus alone is the perfect teacher;
- That there may be a great increase in the number of priests, religious and lay persons who by prayer, example and professional work are devoted to the Christian apostolate of communications;
- That all those who work with the media of social communications may strive to become holy, and proficient in their efforts, for the glory of God and the salvation of humankind;
- That we may come to know our strengths and weaknesses, and your love which alone makes us worthy to call upon you as our Father, imploring your light, compassion and mercy.
Are you a media evangeliser? Blessed James Alberione promised, “From Heaven I will look after those who use the fastest modern means to do good, in holiness, in Christ, and in the Church.”
Learn more about Blessed James and the media spirituality he gave the Church: www.MediaApostle.com
Learn about the Ten Institutes of the Pauline Family, including the Holy Family Institute (consecrated life in marriage): www.paulinefamily.com