Finally I had the chance to view the latest installment of the Catholicism documentaries, this one on the New Evangelization. As with the groundbreaking original series, this segment presents the Catholic faith through strikingly beautiful videography coupled with the insightful analysis and engaging thought of Fr. Robert Barron. He and his multi-media team at Word on Fire are amazingly gifted, and their talents are and will be a boon for the Church.
In this latest episode, what struck me most was the people. Contrasted with majority of those who subscribe to what Fr. Barron’s calls “the ‘whatever’ culture,” the persons shown and heard from in the video display an energy and enthusiasm for the faith that is contagious. As one worker in this virtual vineyard commented about spreading the Gospel via new media, “we’re not selling screwdrivers here.”
His point, of course, was not to demean hardware suppliers! Rather, he recognizes, as we all should, the incredible power and potential of social communications as a means to evangelize the world. What the new media makes possible is outreach on a global scale. (Consider, for example, that there are now 1.2 billion people using Facebook!) And from that outreach to others, the vast majority of whom rarely, if ever, set foot in a church, a dialogue about faith and its import for human existence can be initiated. Today, the “courtyard of the Gentiles” has gone from a particular place in the Temple to the virtual space that knows no geographic bounds.
But how many of us take advantage of this medium to spread the message? Church groups, organizations, movements, not to mention every parish in every diocese – all should undertake this media examination of conscience. It is not a question of whether to be online; today we must ask how we can integrate the faith with the digital culture in which the world now lives and communicates. (For a local example, see this CatholicPhilly story.) No longer is social media simply a mechanism or instrument; it has become the very fabric (a “web”) of everyday life. As such, we all have the duty and responsibility to “go out to all the (digital) world and tell the Good News.”
Fortunately, several ecclesial efforts are gaining ground in this new realm of evangelization. For example, the Vatican offers a multi-faceted news aggregator and the Pope’s online app. Anyone can watch international Catholic television (like Salt & Light TV) or join virtual Catholic communities (such as iCatholic.com). And the number of blogs and vlogs and other Catholic internet sites continues to expand.
But, as the Catholicism documentary vividly shows, the medium is not the message – people are! And this includes, especially, those people who will be the next generation of leaders in the Church. Although it is not currently part of the “Program of Priestly Formation,” seminaries nowadays should include education in the technology and the theology of social communications. Given the numerous areas of study already required, this will no doubt prove challenging. But without it, the work of evangelization will be made more difficult because priests and deacons and lay ministers will not be as well-equipped to meet people where they are – in the virtual but ever-present spaces that constitute our contemporary world.
Featured image from www.amazon.com