I recently cited Bishop Burbidge’s pastoral, ‘In Tongues All Can Hear’ as among the finest episcopal documents on proclaiming the Gospel in a digital age. Today I invite you to evaluate his ten suggestions for sharing the joy of the gospel.
- Communication is key
Communication is central to our vocation as Catholics, whether clergy, religious, or laity. To evangelize effectively, one must communicate effectively. We should be educated in the faith so we can communicate effectively.
2. The message must fit the medium
Who is our audience, and how can we communicate most effectively with them? Do we wish to inspire? Do we wish to inform? Do we wish to mobilize? There is no longer one audience, nor does one message fit all media. The Church needs an array of media to communicate effectively with the world today.
3. The medium must be worthy of the message
The Good News of the Gospel will set us free, but it is not to be marketed like a consumer product or adapted without thought to the razzle-dazzle of new technologies. It is not propaganda. It is not spin. While the Church embraces new means of communication, she must not be enslaved by trends nor edit her message to be more popular or fashionable.
4. Invite, don’t push
Increasingly, people are overwhelmed by digital communications. Their inboxes are full. They do not have time for websites. Finding effective ways to get the Church’s message in front of people without being aggressive is a constant challenge. Our challenge is always to invite: “Come and see.” Or as we might put the invitation now: “opt in.”
4. Bring together, don’t tear apart
Whether it is a newspaper, a podcast, a Facebook post, or a tweet, remember it has the power to bind us together or drive us apart. Communication tools enable us to encounter one another if used gently and thoughtfully.
6. The personal is public
In today’s media, be mindful of appropriate boundaries and realize that what we might think is a personal opinion can be misconstrued as the opinion of the Church, creating possible scandal or confusion.
7. Prudence is always a virtue
When communicating via the immediacy of social media, ask yourself if you would use these words or this tone if speaking face to face with someone. Social media enables the rapid response, but not necessarily the Christian one. It never hurts to pause, even to say a prayer, before responding.
8. It’s a two-way street
Communication is not just talk. It demands listening. Both new and old forms of communication allow us to hear from others—letters to the editor, email addresses, texts. The power of all media is that they allow us to hear from our audience directly. The power of digital media is that they allow us to hear from our audience rapidly. It is incumbent upon communicators to commit themselves to listen if they want to be heard. This is what dialogue looks like.
9. Virtual is not the same as in-person
Pope Francis often warns that virtual community is not the same as flesh-and-blood community. A live-streamed Mass is not the same spiritual encounter as attending Mass in the presence of Christ and the community of believers. Likewise, digital communication is not a substitute for face-to-face encounters. Our communication should always be an opportunity for encountering and accompanying another.
10. Above all else, see Christ first, and strive to see Christ in one another
In this way, we live up to that most blessed title, “brothers and sisters in the Lord.”
Which of the above issues challenges you the most?
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