Nowadays public events usually begin with a plea for folks to turn off their cell phones and other potentially distracting devices. But in a new course that begins today at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, just the opposite is required!
CyberTheology, an elective in pastoral theology, offers students the opportunity to weave digital technology into their seminary education. More to the point, the course takes a deeper look at the interface between Theology and Social Communications. Its two-fold emphasis is to seek the intelligibility of faith in light of our technological culture and to advance the mission of evangelization through social media.
The course owes its origin to the pioneering work of Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J. The editor of Civilità Cattolica, he garnered global recognition for publishing “A Big Heart Open to God” – the now famous exclusive interview he conducted with Pope Francis. Fr. Spadaro literally wrote the book (and the blog and the Facebook page and the Twitter feed) on Cybertheology – which will be published in English translation later this year. He also authored Cybergrace and Twitter Theology, both appropriately published as e-books.
In his view, Cybertheology deals with what machines cannot: the sense of things. “Technology is the power of organizing materials on the part of man who is a spiritual being. We are called to comprehend the profound nature, the very vocation of digital technologies in relation to the life of the spirit. In particular, the web and the culture of cyberspace pose new challenges to our capacity to formulate and listen to a symbolic language that speaks of the possibility and the signs of transcendence in our life. The distorted and ethically bad use of technology, paradoxically, confirms the fact that it has to do with freedom and the human spirit.”
Students at Overbrook will explore the place of that transcendent spirit in the iWorld. Through lectures and seminars they will examine the distinguishing features of the digital culture – its logic, its anthropology, its sociology. They will also analyze the Church’s teaching about social communications, from the Second Vatican Council to Pope Francis.
One goal of the course will be to connect the power of new media with the Church’s new evangelization. To that end, students will undertake a service-learning project that leads to the development of a social communications plan for the apostolic site in which they work (a local parish or archdiocesan organization).
As digital consumers, these seminarians are already purveyors of the power of social media. As future priests, they will soon be proclaimers of the wonders of salvation. Though distinct, these two realms are no longer separate. Digital technology has become the existential operating system for people the world over. The Gospel message offers them Good News as they continually search for hope. Integrating the two is now a critical task facing anyone who ministers in the Church.
Last month, Pope Francis told members of the Pontifical Council for the Laity that “it is indispensable to be present [in the digital realm], always with an evangelical style … to reawaken the insuppressible questions of the heart about the sense of existence, and to indicate the way that leads to Him who is the answer, the divine Mercy made flesh, the Lord Jesus.”
Today that evangelical presence must also inhabit cyberspace … as these seminarians are about to learn!
Featured image from the Catholic Communications Campaign, www.usccb.com