Posted May 16, 2021
7th Sunday of Easter, Yr B.
World Communications Day.
Today is World Communications Day. This annual event was inaugurated by Pope Paul VI in 1967 to give voice to the Church’s recognition of the opportunities and challenges that modern means of social communication present to the Church and the world. Of course, no one would doubt the positive potential of the social media. But since World Communications Day this year happens to coincide with the Gospel Reading where Jesus prays to the Father to protect his disciples from the ‘evil one’, it might be considered not inappropriate for us to dwell on some of the negative potential of the social media.
Some years ago Pope Francis devoted his World Communications Day message to the subject of ‘fake news’ in the media. His message is no less urgent today. Fake news is a potent instrument in the hands of the evil one. It can create or exacerbate conflict in the world; it can be used to mask heinous crimes; it can destroy people’s lives. But it is not so much ‘fake news‘ that worries me. You can unmask fake news by researching the facts and comparing your sources. What worries me is not fake news but fake values,with their insidious debasement of what is good and noble and beautiful in our humanity. No one warns us about fake values. You don’t see the newspapers analysing them or even noticing them; and it is outside the remit of the social sciences to say anything at all about them. All the more urgently, therefore, should we do our best to educate ourselves about the malign influence of fake values and to take action to protect our children from the forces that conspire to invade their playgrounds and their homes.
Parents especially have to know what it is they are up against. To educate your children in their use of the media is not an easy task, for you will first have to educate yourselves – an even more difficult task. When I was a child, my social media interaction was limited to Dennis the Menace and Desperate Dan in the sixpenny Friday comics, whereas most children nowadays have mastered their Facebook, their Instagrams, their Snapchat, their TikTock by the age of eight. ‘God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains!’, said Sean Parker, first president of Facebook. Wrong there, Mr Parker! The devil knows too. But right, in so far as you’re saying that we ourselves have no idea of the depth of our ignorance.
So what hope do we have of keeping our children safe from the evil one? Of course, parents who are young enough to have young children today will have advanced far beyond the Friday comics in their use of social media, but still, don’t be too sure that you know all the tricks. Seek advice; learn the facts; do the courses, master the tec; know how to monitor, regulate and tutor your children’s use of the media. We cannot leave this task to the schools. The responsibility is first and foremost ours. We need to be at least as savvy as our children. There are organizations out there that can help you. Google them!
Even so, that’s only a beginning. For it’s not just a question of averting what is lurid, shocking and obviously harmful: not just a question of protecting our children from abuse, bullying, pornography, violence and all the rest of it. For over and above all that, we have somehow to protect them from the slurry of false values that surrounds and engulfs them. Your glossies and your tabloids, with their cult of the trivial and their glamorization of the inane, can prove just as noxious in the long run as the obviously lethal stuff; and no amount of safeguarding-wisdom or technical know-how will tell you how to defend against that; it won’t even alert you to its dangers.
Only a Christlike nobility in your own souls; only your personal influence; only the day-to-day nurture and the inspiration of your own Christian lives will protect your children from a debased culture, and incline them instead to things that are good and beautiful. You must have beauty in your own souls before you can communicate it to your children.
I think St Paul must have had World Communications Day in mind when he wrote to the Philippians: ‘Set your minds on whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious: if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise: set your minds on those things.’
That is also the message of today’s Gospel. Having asked God to keep his disciples safe from the evil one, Jesus puts the same prayer positively when he begs the Father to ‘consecrate them in the truth’. That prayer must be our own, for ourselves and for our children.
Fr Tom Deidun