St. Paul preached the Gospel where people gathered. As he went from city to city around the Mediterranean Sea, he began speaking in the town squares for the whole society to hear, even as he continued to speak in the synagogues for his own community to hear.
We preach the Gospel today in the Churches, for believers to hear; and we also preach in the equivalent of the town square for the whole society to hear: newspapers, films, and TV in recent decades. In the last ten years, the Internet has become a worldwide town square. How can it be used to preach the Gospel?
I am coming late to the blog, and I enter that world as anyone going to a foreign country with a particular task. Can I understand the language, can I use it to get my message across? What is new about e-mail and the blog that grows from it is its interactive nature. People can talk back and forth and therefore become more involved with one another than is possible just by publishing books and articles or even by appearing on TV. Since the Gospel always involves the messenger as much as the message itself, blogging would seem to be a good means to preach.
An immediate problem is: how much of the messenger is really revealed? Contacts are not relationships, and relationships are not automatically loving. And love is at the heart of the Gospel: love of God and love of neighbor. The blog can be anonymous while giving the illusion of forthrightness. How can it be used for evangelical purposes?
A few months ago, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, a group with a daunting title, published a letter from Pope Benedict XVI. He reflects on electronic communication and human relationships.
The Pope points out that we can now almost instantaneously share words and images “across enormous distances and to some of the most isolated corners of the world.” The benefits are many. Families remain in contact; students and researchers share their sources and their results; our deep need to communicate with others is more easily satisfied and new communities spring up.
The dangers are also obvious. The quality of the messages and the content carried can destroy genuine respect, dialogue and the growth of friendship. As Archbishop of Chicago, I sometimes receive messages from people who hate the Church, distort her history and want to use the Internet to wound or destroy her. Pope Benedict says: “If the new technologies are to serve the good of individuals and of society, all users will avoid the sharing of words and images that are degrading of human beings, that promote hatred and intolerance, that debase the goodness and intimacy of human sexuality or that exploit the weak and vulnerable.”
In the Gospel, Jesus invites us to be his friend and to give our life for one another. Friendship presupposes presence, and “on-line” presence can never be the equivalent of personal presence. It is a personal tragedy when the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive and serves to isolate individuals from real social interaction with family and friends and neighbors. Like any addiction, electronic addictions “disrupt the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development.”
Catholics and other followers of Jesus can use the Internet to witness to the world. This Archdiocesan blog will put interested people into contact with me and with others who are responsible for the life and ministries of the Archdiocese. My prayer is that the community of those who know Jesus in his Church will expand and that our mutual understanding will deepen.