Media Literacy

Preaching Jesus from the Pulpit of the New Media

Today’s Office of Readings from St. Gregory the Great has me reflecting on something very near and dear to my heart, namely… the beautiful gift of social media as a pulpit to preach from.

Here’s Gregory’s quote:

Pray for us that we may have the strength to work on your behalf, that our tongues may not grow weary of exhortation, and that after we have accepted the office of preaching, our silence may not condemn us before the just judge.

Vatican II, in its decree on the Media of Social Communications, says that “Pastors should hasten, therefore, to fulfill their duty in this respect (i.e. using the instruments of media communications)… which is intimately linked with their ordinary preaching responsibility.

This line is powerful and convicting for me.

The Church is essentially telling pastors that utilizing communications technology is not a nifty option for those interested in that sort of thing, but rather “intimately linked with their ordinary preaching responsibility.

Applying this to the Gregory quote cited above, it would seem that priests failing to engage the “digital continent,” as Pope Benedict XVI once called the internet, would be comparable to “falling silent after accepting the office of preaching.”

Blessed James Alberione, the “Media Apostle,” once said it well: 

“To preach is to communicate Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life.” 

It seems to me that priests, future priests, religious… and ALL baptized Catholics for that matter… have a unique and weighty responsibility to communicate Jesus using every means we have at our disposal… including the tools of the New Media. We should do this in ways that are relevant, positive, humanizing, and beautiful.

Another point of concern: 

“Preaching” via the New Media cannot simply become a process of regurgitating great content other people have made (like Bishop Barron and others).

As wonderful and useful as that stuff is, parishes and dioceses alike should think in terms of producing their own unique, quality content. Here, I’d like to appeal to the principle of “subsidiarity” which is part of Catholic Social Teaching. Subsidiarity basically says that responsibilities should be tended to at the lowest level possible, with the support and oversight of the highest only as required. In other words…

Think local.

Start a parish blog. Invest in a weekly podcast ministry. Record short weekly videos of exhortation geared to things going on in your parish. Get creative. As a universal Church, I believe we need to think “local” when it comes to our use of media. We tend to rely on what others have already made, and simply recycle that stuff… probably out of convenience more than anything else. We pop in the DVD program. We pull up a relevant youtube video. We “outsource” the evangelization to somebody else.

Why outsource when our parish communities are so full of gifted, talented BAPTIZED people on fire for the Lord? — Let’s empower them!

Granted, we don’t all have to be “Bishop Barron(s),” but we can and should use media according to our own particular gifts (or, like I said, at least empower others with those gifts to help us). No matter how we do it, we need to preach to the flock entrusted to us, including our digital one! 

Some might read all this and think: “Why do we need to create local, unique content? Isn’t that just reinventing the wheel?”

Valid concern. And I agree, we shouldn’t waste time, money, and energy “copying” what others already have done effectively. We should make use of the fantastic resources already out there. But think of the potential of speaking directly to the particular needs of YOUR community. Plus, If we are on fire for love of Christ, producing our own unique content is not “reinventing the wheel” but rather “incarnating” the Gospel within our own social network… our own circle of family and friends.

It’s about sharing a personal witness of what the Lord is doing in our OWN hearts… and not the hearts of somebody else! Unique content is meaningful. It shows that we care and are accompanying the flock where they are at… even on their facebook feeds.

I’ve often reflected on that scene from the gospels where Jesus feeds the 5,000. When the apostles tell Jesus to send the crowds away to go buy food, the Lord says: “You give them something to eat!” What if parishes & dioceses took these words to heart when it came to producing unique, quality, evangelization-focused content? “You give them something! Don’t send the crowds away! Feed your flock!”

This, I believe, is a key ingredient to good online evangelization:

Avoiding an over-reliance on what others have done, and instead becoming zealous content-creators ourselves: Content that is specifically made out of love for the people we come into direct contact with on a daily basis. 

In the end, our online content MUST lead to communion in real life. The most efficacious “content” we can possibly give to those in our lives is a pure and undivided heart totally in love with God and neighbor, empowered by the Holy Spirit, nourished by the Eucharist.

To conclude: Let us never abandon this “pulpit” of the New Media! Learn how to use it well. Invest in “media literacy.” Avoid the bitter zeal and narcissism that the internet so often leads us into. Preach “Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life.” His grace will render our every effort efficacious, even if we sometimes go unnoticed on this vast “digital continent.”

We must preach Christ the Crucified One, not ourselves. Let us never fall silent in this great adventure!

About Anthony Ferguson

Anthony Ferguson is a seminarian discerning the priesthood of Jesus Christ for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. He is currently in Third Theology at Theological College in Washington DC.
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