Moving out … online

With more than 60 boxes and a dozen crates of file folders (the fruits of 29 years of university teaching!), it was time to move from Center Valley to my new residence at Saint Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, there to assume full-time the role of the John Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics & Social Communications.

Thankfully the university’s maintenance crew generously offered to do the transport and heavy lifting!  And given the lack of an elevator in a building constructed in 1869, the three helpers certainly got a workout.

But who knew that just as onerous would be the online move?

In our digital world, so much of life is lived online.  It’s where we learn news, where we connect with others, where we share who we are.  And in this new role at the seminary, it’s what we teach about where we work.  As Fr. Antonio Spadaro rightly pointed out at a recent conference, “it’s no longer possible to talk about pastoral work without understanding what goes on in the digital world.”

What goes on in that world nowadays requires a consciousness about security when it comes to personal identity.  That’s why accessing almost every website requires a username and password, along with an email address.

So, in addition to changing a physical address, that meant I had to view, update, and change all my digital links (45 at last count) … not to mention cleaning out old and duplicate ones.  And then that process had to be repeated across multiple devices!  (It would help if the faculty residence and academic offices had Wi-Fi connections, but that’s a lament for another day.)

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Moving out online also required the time-consuming process of collecting and storing all my computer files.  Thankfully they are not as heavy as the cardboard boxes!  I lost count of the number of gigabytes it took to copy three decades worth of work.  How humbling to see one’s professional efforts reduced to a tiny container of plastic thumb drives!

But these are the tools of the trade in the world of social communications.

Some have opined that we should put up self-cautious resistance to the encroaching sphere of the Internet.  But evading the digital world is not an option.  Granted, we are not made for this world alone; but at least for now we are in it, and to thrive here we must live and work with it.  As Archbishop Chaput noted at the recent national Convocation of Catholic Leaders, our task, as individuals and as Church, is not to escape contemporary society but to foster the religious development of conscience, rights, and responsibility that have been the hallmarks of American culture.

That’s a task that demands our attention online, as well.  It’s the job that I’ve been given.  And there’s plenty of work to do, for the sake of the next generation of priests and the evangelizing work of the Church.

Now if only I can figure out where I put everything …

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