I grew up into the media culture that was already all-encompassing and was only to become more so through the development of digital technologies. Movies, television, music and books were my passion, along with sports, and absorbed my time when not engaged in other activities. I would not have known then that my life’s vocation and work would be in the communications industry and the Church’s mission of evangelization, but it makes sense now that I think about it. Dedicating my life to God while communicating his Love with and in the media culture is a perfect match for this Pauline Sister and I get excited to know that the Church dedicates a whole day to this media industry.
World Communications Day often comes and goes without many Catholics or even priests and religious men and women knowing it happens and the significance of such a global celebration.
In 1963, Pope Paul IV promulgated the first document that came from the Second Vatican Council and it wasn’t the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, as many think. It was the Decree on Social Communications, Inter Mirifica. This little document was so small that it slipped by many in the Church in light of the weightier topics from Lumen Gentium or Dei Verbum. Inter Mirifica, meaning among the wonderful, taken from its first line, reflects on the considerable influence the media in all forms has on society, the Church and the world. The document recognizes media as “gifts of God” while also cautiously addressing the problems media can create. Most importantly it made the Church aware as a whole that the media are not going away and we must use them and work within the media culture to bring the Good News of the Gospel to every person on the planet. The follow-up document in 1971, Communio et Progressio, brought a theology of communications into the discussion as well as the Church’s immersion into the world of communications.
Pope Paul VI called for a World Communications Day to be celebrated by the universal Church the Sunday before Pentecost, as a way of recognizing these gifts of technology and a communication of ideas, views, news and entertainment. This year, we celebrate World Communications Day on Sunday, May 28, 2017. Pope Francis’s message for this special event is titled: “Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43: 5): Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time. Why this message of trust and hope? Well, it is not too difficult to see that within our digital culture hope is sorely lacking. With the rise of fake news, cyberbullying and vicious lashing out on social media, Catholics are called upon to be a different kind of presence in the digital culture. We are to be people who give the world a “lens” of positivity, truth, light, and hope, as Pope Francis encourages.
Culture of Encounter
He begins his reflections with a reference to the Doctor of the Church, St John Cassian, who spoke of the human mind as a “grinding millstone.” The miller needs to determine what it grinds—good wheat or weeds. Pope Francis comments that our minds are always “grinding” the innumerable media messages we receive daily and it is up to us to choose what to feed our minds. He says that human tragedy can too easily turn into entertainment that leads to pessimism and dulls our consciences.
There is so much “bad news” out there that I have to consciously refrain from reading my social media news feed first thing in the morning so as not to make me feel discouraged by the depressing situations happening in our world.
Pope Francis encourages each of us to “create a culture of encounter” and to “seek a creative and open style of communication.” What does he mean? Pope Francis lays out three points to achieve this: 1. Concentrate on solutions when facing evil; 2. Inspire positivity in all media interactions; 3. Be responsible, draw on your life history and tell stories that promote good news.
As creative media storytellers, we all have a responsibility to the wider community to put on the lens of positivity as a way to view the entire story of human history and current affairs. I use as my motto this message from St Paul (which is as relevant today as it was when Paul first put quill to papyrus), “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up…so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). This goes for my digital media words, images, video and commentary. It is my opportunity to bring a bit of light, hope and truth into the digital networks, hopefully sparking that desire in others, so that we may be, as Pope Francis says, those who highlight goodness in every story and each person. Let us be the bearers of the Good News, who is Jesus, the one in whom each human being and every person of history finds utter and complete fulfillment of all desires and longings. This truly is the hope of our digital age.
Media Literacy Resources
For more reflections and resources for being a responsible user and media creator, see all the resources, movie reviews, faith and film guides and media literacy events at: bemediamindful.org. Media mindfulness is media literacy from a faith perspective and is a way to question the messages coming from the media. Let us help you navigate this cultural landscape. See the many resources for families, parents and educators.
About the Author
Sr. Nancy is the Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies and a Media Literacy Education Specialist. She has degrees in Communications Arts and a Masters in Theology and the Arts from Fuller Theological Seminary. She has extensive experience in the creative aspects of social media, print media, radio and video production as well as in marketing, advertising, retail management and administration.
Sr. Nancy has given numerous media mindfulness workshops, presentations and film retreats around the country to youth, young adults, catechists, seminarians, teachers and media professionals helping to create that dialogue between faith and media. She is a member of NAMLE (National Association of Media Literacy Educators), SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communicators) and THEOCOM (Theology and Communications in Dialogue) and board member of CIMA (Catholics in Media Associates). She is the author of a theology of popular culture called, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics from Wipf & Stock Publishing. Sr. Nancy is a theologian, national speaker, blogger and film reviewer.