The Pope Calls for "Rapid Development" of the "Marvelous Things"
By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"Do not be afraid of new technologies! These rank "among the marvelous things" -- "inter mirifica" -- which God has placed at our disposal to discover, to use and to make known the truth, also the truth about our dignity and about our destiny as his children, heirs of his eternal Kingdom."
Pope John Paul II
Today, February 22, 2005, the Feast of the Chair of Peter in the Western Church, the current Prophet occupying that Chair, Pope John Paul II, released an Apostolic Letter entitled "The Rapid Development." It was addressed to "those responsible for Communications" and to all the faithful. It is wonderful. This article is a first reflection upon the content of the letter and its implications.
First, it is important to note that as millions the world over have prayed for the recovery of this wonderful Pope, still others have been too quick to "count him out", fanning efforts to call for his "resignation". Once again, he has showed his mettle, as well as his backbone, demonstrating the essence of his call to build a new culture of life and civilization of love. He has now become his message; a prophetic sign of how God's power is still, in the words of the Apostle Paul "made perfect in weakness." Pope John Paul II is an example of an elderly, disabled and frail giant, fruitfully pouring himself out for the Lord whom he so beautifully serves. He has also revealed the beating of his holy heart for the "New Evangelization."
In the closing of this succinct yet profound letter he uses the very words with which he began his service to the Church and the world into which she has been sent to continue the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ; "Be Not Afraid!" He points to one of his earlier encyclical letters "The Mission of the Redeemer", wherein he referred to the world of communications as one of the "Aereopagi" of modern culture. The "Aereopagus" was a public square in Athens where the ancient of Greece would discuss the weightier issues of the day with the goal of discovering the truth.
St. Paul discoursed with these Greeks (See, Acts of the Apostles, and Chapter 17) in a now famous example of how Christians are sent into every culture to engage the age with eternal truth through dialogue. Clearly, Pope John Paul II, faithful to his namesake, the Apostle Paul, is positioning the media and the new communication technologies as an opportunity, as well as a challenge to the believers of our age, to do just that...and a whole lot more.
Noting that this insightful and directive letter is being written "more than forty years after...fruitful progress in the wake of the Decree "Inter Mirifica"", the groundbreaking Decree of the Second Vatican Council on Social Communications, he concludes this current letter by playing upon the literal translation of the Latin Title of that Decree promulgated by Pope Paul VI. "Inter Mirifica" means "Marvelous Things!"
The use of this linguistic device in the current letter gives us a profound insight into the message and the mission of this wonderful Pope. He is clearly "not afraid" of the internet or the growing integrated media platform which it has opened. He sees all of these communications technologies as "marvelous things" to be used by holy men and women for the Gospel, the mission of the Church and the common good.
Never in the history of the Church have we been able to send the liberating message of the Gospel and the beauty of the treasury of Catholic Christian teaching throughout the world in "real time." He has called for the faithful to do just that in this letter. In doing so he has underscored why many, myself included, are convinced that he will go down in history as "John Paul the Great."
This letter is a clarion call to use all of the new media technologies, through the pipeline that is the internet or the "world wide web", for the missionary task of the Church in all of its fullness. John Paul writes: "the Church is not only called upon to use the mass media to spread the Gospel but, today more than ever, to integrate the message of salvation into the "new culture" that these powerful means of communication create and amplify. It tells us that the use of the techniques and the technologies of contemporary communications is an integral part of its mission in the third millennium." (par.2)
In the first part of this small but poignant letter he deals with the challenge we face in this task, the very real need for the conversion of the medium by the message. There is no doubt that the potential presented by these new technologies can be used for good or for evil. That is where the human person - and our extraordinary capacity for freedom- is so integral to the task. This medium will be used as a tool by human persons. It will either be used by those who proclaim the liberating truth of the Gospel or those who use it to enslave others in the chains of sin and the delusion of evil. The choice is ours. The Pope writes:
"The world of mass media also has need of Christ's redemption. To analyze with the eyes of faith the processes and value of communications, the deeper appreciation of Sacred Scripture can undoubtedly help as a "great code" of communication of a message which is not ephemeral, but fundamental for its saving value. Salvation History recounts and documents the communication of God with man, a communication which uses all forms and ways of communicating. The human being is created in the image and likeness of God in order to embrace divine revelation and to enter into loving dialogue with Him. Because of sin, this capacity for dialogue at both the personal and social level has been altered, and humanity has had to suffer, and will continue to suffer, the bitter experience of incomprehension and separation. God, however, did not abandon the human race, but sent his own Son (Cf. Mk 12:1-11). In the Word made flesh communication itself takes on its most profound saving meaning: thus, in the Holy Spirit, the human being is given the capacity to receive salvation, and to proclaim and give witness to it before the world. (par. 4)"
Those who have experienced the fruits of the Redemption of Jesus Christ now have the capacity to use these "marvelous things" to bring the whole world to the foot of the Cross of the Word made flesh, through that Cross to the empty tomb, and through the waters of Baptism, into the new world of the Church. Jesus is the great "Communicator of the Father" (par. 13), writes the Pope. This communication from the Father, of the Son, in the Holy Spirit, is meant for the world. Those of us who now our lives in Him, through Baptism into His Body, the Church, carry forward in time the message and the mission:
"The communication between God and humanity has thus reached its perfection in the Word made flesh. The act of love by which God reveals himself, united to the response of faith by humanity, generates a fruitful dialogue. Precisely for this reason, making our own in a certain sense the request of the disciples, "teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1), we can ask the Lord to help us to understand how to communicate with God and with other human beings through the marvelous communications media. In light of so decisive and definitive a communication, the media provide a providential opportunity to reach people everywhere, overcoming barriers of time, of space and of language; presenting the content of faith in the most varied ways imaginable; and offering to all who search the possibility of entering into dialogue with the mystery of God, revealed fully in Christ Jesus."(par.5)
Among the many themes of Pope John Paul is his continuing emphasis on the nature of authentic human freedom. Christians are set free by the redemption of Jesus Christ to now exercise our freedom rightly. We can only fully become the new persons we were re-created in Christ to become, through the gift of self to the Lord, and in Him, the gift of self, both personally and in the communion of the Church, for the world. In this sense we become, in a spiritual sense, "co-redeemers" with Christ. This process of entering into His redemptive mission involves a re-creation, a transfiguration, of the human person and the family.
It is also missionary, intended to spread the embrace of Christ to the whole "world" into which God still sends His Son through His Church. All men and women are called to live in the new home of the human race, the Church, which is, in patristic language, "the world reconciled" and the "world transfigured". Jesus Christ is the full communication of the Father, revealing who God is and who we are all intended to become in Him It is into this deep theological anthropology (the study of the nature of the person), soteriology (the study of the nature of salvation) and missiology (the study of the nature of the Churches mission), that this letter is written and in which it is most fully understood. These new media technologies can become "marvelous things", in the hands of a Church that is holy, serving Jesus Christ with a renewed mind and a missionary zeal. The Holy Father writes:
"Thanks to the Redemption, the communicative capacity of believers is healed and renewed. The encounter with Christ makes them new creatures, and permits them to become part of that people which he, dying on the Cross, has won through his blood, and introduces them into the intimate life of the Trinity, which is continuous and circular communication of perfect and infinite love among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Communication permeates the essential dimensions of the Church which is called to announce to all the joyful message of salvation. For this reason, the Church takes advantage of the opportunities offered by the communications media as pathways providentially given by God to intensify communion and to render more penetrating the proclamation of His word. The media permit the manifestation of the universal character of the People of God, favoring a more intense and immediate exchange among local Churches, and nourishing mutual awareness and cooperation.
We give thanks to God for the presence of these powerful media which, if used by believers with the genius of faith and in docility to the light of the Holy Spirit, can facilitate the communication of the Gospel and render the bonds of communion among ecclesial communities more effective. (par. 6)"
This letter is one more gift from the pen of Peter. Like all the letters that Pope John Paul II has written, it must be read, prayed through, contextualized and then "incarnated" in the lives of the Christian man and women of our time who recognize the "signs of the times" and are willing to pour themselves out in mission, no matter what their state in life or vocation. We are all missionaries through our Baptism and there is a universal call to holiness.
We are not here to simply "protect ourselves" from a hostile culture. There is work to be done. We are the new missionaries of the Third Christian Millennium. Like missionaries of ages past in Church History, we are called to proclaim the liberating news of the Gospel and to bring about the transformation of our age with the light of truth.
Using these new media technologies we are, in John Paul's words "to communicate with the Power of the Holy Spirit" Of course we will be opposed. So what! No-one ever said that following Jesus Christ would be easy or free from opposition. However, there is no other way to live, once we have been grasped by the One who emptied Himself for us we are invited to empty ourselves for Him and those whom He loves. (See, Phillipians 2) This should be undertaken with faith, in Pope John Paul's words:
"Do not be afraid of being opposed by the world! Jesus has assured us, "I have conquered the world!" (John 16:33).
Do not be afraid even of your own weakness and inadequacy! The Divine Master has said, "I am with you always, until the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). Communicate the message of Christ's hope, grace and love, keeping always alive, in this passing world, the eternal perspective of heaven, a perspective which no communications medium can ever directly communicate, "What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). (par. 14)
Who knows how many more letters, encyclicals or exhortations we will receive from this wonderful Pope. However, it seems entirely fitting that one of his last, in a pontificate filled with more instructions to the faithful than any in history, is this one. The message is simple yet profound. The "marvelous things" of the new media technologies are ours to be used for the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ and His work through His Body, the Church.We are not to be afraid of them but to learn them and use them with excellence and dedication.
One of my favorite professors at the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University once shunned the use of a computer. He is one of the most brilliant theologians and writers of our age. A deeply reflective man, in fact, a mystic, he eschewed the internet when I first met him, believing it was "de-humanizing" and "de-personalizing". I told him that it all depended upon who was utilizing its potential!
As I sat under his wisdom, I often thought to myself that the whole world deserved to hear the beauty of his teaching! I joked with him often, affectionately, calling him a "new Luddite."
The Luddites once resisted the industrial age, and the use of machines, as de-humanizing. Both it and they were, in the wrong hands. However, like all human invention, the machines made by man did not need to make man a machine. Rather, they could extend the gifts of God in the hands of men and women whose minds, hearts and lifestyles were genuinely converted and given over to the ongoing work of the Redeemer of Man, Jesus Christ.
Last year, I saw my friend after five years. As I walked into his office, he was sitting at a computer keyboard. I could not help but smile and thank God. Today, I hope that he, and the many men and women, the great theologians, communicators, academics, public servants, writers, artists, technologists....all the Christian leaders of our day, read this letter. Even more importantly, I hope that they take up its mission and choose to carry forward the mission of the Church through using the "marvelous things" presented by the new media technology to save an age, racing toward the abyss, yet still waiting to be born.
We are all called to respond to the Pope's call for "Rapid Development" of the "Marvelous Things."
Deacon Keith A. Fournier is a married Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia who also serves the Mel kite Greek Catholic Eparchy. He is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. A human rights lawyer, communicator and writer, his newest book, "The Prayer of Mary" will be released by Thomas Nelson Publishers this Summer. Deacon Fournier is the Senior Editor and Correspondent for Catholic Online. He has dedicated the "Second Half" of his life, having recently turned fifty, to making the teaching of Pope John Paul II known and loved, offering it as the path to authentic renewal.
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