THE MASS MEDIA IN FORMATION:
OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS OR PASSION FOR THE PROCLAMATION TO THE WORLD TODAY?
Amedeo Cencini, FDCC
The reality of the mass media (MM) is a classic “sign of the times” of our civilization; some even speak of a mass media civilization. The Church is well aware of it and for a long time has been urging all believers to take this sign of the times seriously because it characterizes irreversibly the individuals, groups and society as a whole. This recommendation is also addressed to Consecrated Life (CL), because it is a part of this society and this Church, and also CL in itself is a phenomenon of communication. Of what use would be a CL that does not communicate itself, that cannot speak itself to the world, that cannot dialogue with the Church and surrounding society, even having recourse to the complex variety of the modern instruments of communication?
But all this cannot be improvised. It requires – on the technical level – a certain image of CL or the attribution of certain meaning to the consecration itself and – on the practical level – a specific preparation that enables one to communicate on the one hand, and on the other, renders one attentive to the deceptions of the MM and the culture they engender.
This is precisely the scope of this paper. We would like to see what is the relationship between the MM and formation, or how the formation process of the young consecrated persons today can and must include training in communication. Concretely, we will try to see first of all what is the situation in the matter; then on the basis of this attempt, we will try to make an educative proposal at the level of presupposed ideals (the passion for the proclamation) and of operative practices (the operating instructions).
1. THE SITUATION
“The means of communication are the ticket of every man and woman to the modern market place where thoughts are expressed publicly, ideas exchanged, news given and information of every kind is given. The means of social communication (that is, radio, television, the press, the new technologies) in some way give the new generations this “ticket” to have access to privileged places where men meet, communicate, elaborate a culture, in short, build the city of the future. And the young person who is preparing to consecrate himself to God will have to be given the means to acquire that “pass”; otherwise the risk would be not only remaining a stranger to the time he lives in and isolated from his people, but also of denying himself and the gift received; received to be transmitted, obviously. Is that what really happens?
1.1. Directives from the Magisterium
Overall we can state that, on communications, the Magisterium shows a great interest that has grown with time, offering continuous directives of thought and action of great actuality.  Starting with the Council Decree on the instruments of social communication: “At every level of Catholic schooling, therefore, in seminaries and in groups of the lay apostolate, programs suited to the purpose, especially for the benefit of minors, should be encouraged, multiplied and structured according to principles of Christian behavior”. The same recommendation is made in Communio et progressio” of 1971 (nn. 67, 110, 113) and Aetatis novae that followed in 1992 (n. 28). For the training of seminarians in social communications, the Congregation for Catholic Education published Directives in 1986. The document refers to what was already set by the same Dicastery in the Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis (nn. 67-69, 89) and notes, on the basis of a worldwide survey of seminaries that if “the problem was noted, there was an almost total lack of definite and organic programs, qualified personnel, technical subsidies and economic means”. These Directives proposed to activate a new commitment in seminaries, and not only the diocesan ones, obviously, for the formation in social communication, inviting them to work at the three levels of the formation: the reception, pastoral, and specialization.
Finally, the Post-Synod Exhortation Vita Consecrata which draws some attention on the subject, within an image of CL totally taken by the proclamation and the concern to share the gift received “with every means”, so that it may reach “man of today… in every corner of the world” The attention to the means of social communication stems precisely from this; from the urgency of proclamation that must reach everywhere. That is why the text indicates the means of social communication among the new fields of the mission, recommending that consecrated persons “acquire a serious knowledge of the language of these means”, but also to be “aware of the distorted use made of these means, because of the extraordinary power of persuasion which they wield”, so that they may be “wise receptors and expert communicators” and to promote the “religious formation of the leaders and workers in public or private social communications”. The tone is all the more positive and encouraging in its realism: “every effort in this important and new apostolic field is encouraged so that the Gospel of Christ may resound also through these modern means”. Or in other words, CL today cannot not communicate and communicate itself to the world. It is precisely in this image of CL that young religious are being prepared today.
In short, besides the invitation to consider it as a “sign of the times”, the Magisterium proposes social communication as “privileged place” where the good news is incarnated; it puts before everyone’s eyes the urgency not to be satisfied with possessing the tools to communicate, but it urges them to see these means as part of a “new culture”. Technology needs a new evangelizing mentality, and that is precisely why it must be linked to formation, beginning with the first formation. “We must prepare ourselves to communicate”, recalls Father Silvio Sassi, SSP, and director of SPICS (studio paolino internazionale per le communiccazioni sociali), “inasmuch as this is not spontaneous nor a simple prolongation of interpersonal communication. A specialized formation is necessary in order to assume the communication technology as a form of apostolate.”
It is now time to ask ourselves: have those directives and proposals, or orientations and perspectives, been received in their central message? In our houses of formation, has there really been that quality leap asked for by the conciliar renewal, and by successive ecclesial documents down to the recent Apostolic Exhortation? In our novitiates and study houses, do we find that “cultural revolution” that our entering into that “electronic culture” of the MM would have required? Or has CL been afraid, demonizing the field; or has it been satisfied with being on guard, at best attempting timid experiments often left to the spontaneous initiative of individuals? In formation, what do we do to offer our young consecrated people that “ticket” to the global village?
1.2. Culture or fear of the mass media
To ascertain the “reception” of the Magisterium documents – and not disposing of more explicit data – let us look at two surveys that concern CL only indirectly but which present reliable and significant results for it. In September 1994, the Pontifical Council for Communications sent to all residential Bishops a ten-point questionnaire on the pastoral activities in the field of social communications in their diocese. By May 31, 1995, 622 dioceses had answered. Question 6 of the survey dealt with the activities of formation in social communications set up by the diocese in the Catholic schools as well as in the seminaries. The first collating of the survey revealed that 31% of the Catholic schools (many of them run by religious institutes) were giving courses in “media awareness” and in 32.5% of the seminaries the training of future priests in social communications was on the curriculum; therefore more than two thirds of seminaries did not have any training in that field.
Another survey aiming directly at ascertaining the degree of actualization of the Directives of the Congregation for Catholic Education of 1986 was promoted by the Office of the Italian Episcopal Conference in December 1993 and January 1994. Only 35 seminaries (out of 120) answered the questionnaire, while only 8 graduate schools met to discuss and deepen the problems raised by the proposed grid, and only 5 Rectors answered the questions. These data on the results of the survey (although granting that the time of the year in which it was taken was perhaps not the best for this type of operation) says something on the quality of the reception of the Directives. But let us look at more significant results.
1.2.1. The place of the media in the houses of formation and their study
a) The media in formation
The Catholic daily “Avvenire”, the lay “Corriere della Sera”, and the local dailies are the most read by seminarians. And the weeklies “Famiglia cristiana” and “Settimana” are also well read. However, there are disciplinary norms on this topic that can go so far as “prohibiting the introduction of the secular press of one’s own initiative”.
A large majority of seminarians own a radio; the most popular programs are the news and music (classical as well as rock). Television is not at home in all the houses of formation and its use is allowed according to a schedule that favors the evening hours from 20:00 to 22:30. In the majority of houses the use does not go beyond the hours allowed by the schedule because the seminarians usually prefer community and apostolic activities to the passive reception of TV. But there seems to be a great variation from one setting to another. The programs watched are mostly the news and films (we hope not the soap operas).
With regard to the relationship that the young establish with TV (which is somewhat the symbol of modern MM), I think we can separate them into these categories:
* the tele-consumers: they are the ones who consider TV as a recreational object or good to be consumed; and in fact they spend much of their time watching TV or listening to the radio. They even manage to study theology to background music (perhaps with headsets). We could say that, in their life, there is a high level of radioactivity, or indeed material deposited through the long television evenings that end up polluting or disturbing the mind and heart, the imagination and memory. It is as if TV were their modern tabernacle, before which they remain in perpetual adoration. In a community, when there are several persons who belong to this category television, that big brother or sister, takes the place of interpersonal relationships and fraternity itself.
* the tele-dependents: those are the ones who are easily conditioned or open to the suggestions of the TV and all that it proposes which, according to them, corresponds exactly to truth. Indeed, they drink everything, attached like babies to the breast of mother RAI. This category of great simple minds maintains that TV is “a window open on the world” and taken directly from reality. They are unaware that “the world that the little screen brings into our homes is an electronic image that responds only partially to the inadequate reality of the camera”; they do not know that we see “only a ‘set-up’ reality reconstructed according to the point of view of the one operating the camera”, that the news is chosen according to its “salability”, or according to the ability to draw the attention of the public, and that is why the preference is given to disturbing news in the negative sense (“the black sells more than the white”). They do not yet know that at least 80% of the news broadcast in the world passes through the 5 largest press agencies, as Cardinal C.M.Martini pointed out realistically in his letter: Il lembo del mantello.
* the tele-ignorant: those are the ones who do not see, hear or read; who do not feel the need to verify their point of view, to hear the opinion of others, to be enriched by looking beyond their enclosure. Or if they see and read anything, it will always be something inconsequential. They cannot dialogue. Perhaps they are people who believe they possess the truth of have nothing to learn from others and present history; or they are among those who continue to demonize the media, especially TV, and blame it for all the woes of modernity.
* the intelligent tele-users: finally, they are the young who maintain a free attitude and a critical conscience with regard to the means of social communication. They appreciate its potential, but they also recognize its inevitable partiality. They use it without being used; they can distinguish the heart of the information from the sometimes tendentious interpretation. They can recognize the drugged news and they can also assume a position of dialogue with regard to the means of communication which they do not submit to passively and non critically. It is probably among these young people who are sensitive to this type of service and ready to learn, that we will be able to choose the workers of the social communications of tomorrow.
With regard to the scope of communication, the questionnaire revealed that sacred music is cultivated, but there is also an interest in popular and modern music. In 17 seminaries (of the 35 that answered) they practice some form of theater and 10 even have a theatrical company. Unfortunately, the questionnaire did not ask if there existed instruments of active communication with the outside world, such as newspapers and newsletters of the life of the seminary prepared by the seminarians themselves; those are among the most indicative tests of the ability to communicate of a community of believers. The impression is that these forms of written communication run by the seminarians do exist; perhaps not always brilliant and original, nor sufficiently able to relate the life and confess to the ideals of the young in formation, or to establish an intelligent exchange among the young who are living different experiences. Often these newspapers-newsletters are of poor quality, they only relate the chronicles in a form of expression that supposes a limited and rigidly intra-ecclesial circle of users-readers. They are perhaps addressed to the benefactors or the “friends of the seminary”, or their end could also be noble and legitimate, such as vocational propaganda, but interpreted and transmitted with obsolete and not very striking communication modalities. In short, we have the impression that a communication opportunity is lost.
b) The study of social communication
As it could be expected, a true didactic programming in the various areas and according to the different disciplines of social communication is almost non-existent in the majority of the 35 seminaries who answered the survey. Something is done within the pastoral and catechetical programs with the study of the documents of the Magisterium. One of the rectors interviewed expressed himself: “We know the problem exists, but we do not know what to do nor who can help us”. Thus we go from the courses of philosophy or theology or ethics of communication (in 4 or 5 seminaries), to courses in catechesis with the help of audio-visuals, or in homiletics (in 3 seminaries); while there is an almost total absence of teachers explicitly prepared for this matter.
c) The limitations of some present formation
Three are noted in particular. There is the danger that the young in formation “live in a world too far separated from life, from the ordinary people; the use of an abstract language no longer understood by people today. The lack of feed-back: he rarely seeks or has the opportunity to verify how what he says has been received. The clumsiness of gestures, verbal sloppiness, or the opposite, the more or less servile aping of the world of the mass media”.
1.2.2. A formation to be invented
Given these facts, we cannot hide the impression that whole documents, conciliar and post-conciliar, have been almost totally disregarded or have had little resonance within our formative communities. That was also brought out at the CISM Assembly of 1991 on this topic. The reception of the Church’s directives in the area of social communication and formation in the culture of the MM has been rather disappointing. Not in the sense that there has not been any attention in this regard, with noteworthy fruit at the institutional level (see the creation of two formation centers at the Gregorian and Salesian Universities and the above mentioned international Pauline study center, besides so many other formative structures in the world led by religious Orders and Congregations), but what seems to be still lacking is the formation of a mentality of communication, a spirituality of communication; a mentality and spirituality that should be the focus of attention in the first formation, as well as a normal formative curriculum. Perhaps there is not yet enough sensitivity; there certainly continues to be a wary and fearful attitude toward the media. There is no tradition. In short, a true and real formation in the media and the culture of the media still remains to be invented for the most part. Consequently, we do not have any pedagogical guidelines for this formation in order to set up not only in certain highly specialized structure, but also in every formative environment. And this is precisely what we would like to see, to propose at least some lines of this formation.
But before going to the more explicitly proposing part, let us seek to understand better, at least in the broad lines, the anthropological model that underlies a certain culture of the media and which can condition, even if only indirectly, even the model of the consecrated person and proclaimer of the Gospel that the young are slowly elaborating.
1.3. Culture of the media and human project
First of all it is important to be aware that the present media culture generates and spreads a precious anthropological model that the young have already received and are living – though confusedly or unconsciously. There appeared recently, in the major Italian newspapers, an article “TV on demand” (interactive TV that allows the viewer to choose his own transmission) which showed the creation of the Sistine chapel, with the editor or impresario of the new TV in the guise of the creator who “gives life” to the one using the TV. The message is clear: TV is no longer the work of man, but it is the one that creates, determining the thoughts, tastes, sentiments, emotions and behaviors of modern man. These are the essential traits, as they were presented at the CISM congress of 1991. In presenting these traits we question not so much the means of communication as such, but the use that is made of them, or a certain way of making TV.
* that “which is” and that “which appears”, indeed “a picture is worth a thousand words”. From these principles we see that the communication is the person, and the person is its picture, how he presents himself in his overall attitude, not so much or not only what he says. Consequently, the personal picture is what I can really propose and sell of myself. Hence the importance of everything that can render the picture, the look, more pleasing and attractive (from the face to … the smile, from authority and assurance with which one speaks to the witty remarks).
* the MM make their receivers massive in the sense that they create in them a common mental denominator made up of the habit of changing (or copying) the models seen on TV or the ideas, criteria for choice spread by the MM; it is the phenomenon of the so-called “televised couch potato” for whom TV becomes the life master and those who do not adopt its behavioral models are considered retrograde and…Jurassic.
* those criteria induced by the means of social communication are certainly not identified with the intrinsic value of things, for what they really are, but with the extrinsic values of the things themselves, generating a corresponding culture which favors the exterior side of things to the interior, the functional element to the essential, the immediately understandable data to that which is hard to understand, in short, what one “has” has greater relevance than what one “is”. Everything has a price, and therefore everything is salable and can be bought; it suffices to have.
* those who have information have power and can dominate, and the value of the individual is given according to the amount of information possessed; but the greatest power is held by those who can go back to the source of information and dispose of the means to give (or not give) information.
* The global system of MM generates a mental structure of those who want and think they can overcome space and time: distances are disappearing at a dizzying rate, we live “in direct”, and this gives a certain sense of omnipotence, of “omnipotence of the MM”.
* The “myth of novelty” which generates the desire for change, which proposes risk, adventure and transgression – the ingredients of so many television programs – as a way of living individual liberty, at least in imagination, or sometimes and for many only in imagination.
* “The revenge of emotions and passions”: everything is a show, and what does not excite or is not out of the ordinary is not important. To be so, the news must be striking, even the transgressions must be at the limit, the most sensational picture is the one that captures the attention. What is normal, discreet, non appearing, small in the fidelity (or infidelity) of every day does not make the news, it does not draw any emotion. Thus the threshold of emotions is raised considerably, the excess of emotions and sensations risks rendering the young non emotive, worn out by emotions, but in effect unable to be moved, at times so inured to every spectacle that he no longer lets himself by touched by anything.
* “TV becomes an anesthetic, the opposite of esthetic”, says the philosopher R. Bodei, in the sense that a law of the MM wants everything to be always spectacular and seldom trivial, with the consequence that joy and sorrow are rendered homogeneous , tastes unhappily even and uniform, canceling difference and originality, making us all consumers of a product made by others. Another component of this model: the beautiful, is increasingly presented as ephemeral and decorative, or as that widespread esthetic linked to the stupid cult of corporal beauty.
* The remote control syndrome”: I can watch what I want, and especially I have it in my power to turn it off whenever I want, as I see fit and as I please. It is the selective and unstable man who exerts himself to be faithfully connected.
* The walkman syndrome” that makes one live in isolation, at grips with his “programs” to be enjoyed and consumed by oneself; each one can do without the other, rather, he is no longer close to anyone.
* “The slow motion syndrome”, which renders man protagonist-producer in the construction or reconstruction of reality, perhaps making himself judge of others, detached observer; at any rate who can allow himself to stick his nose in the lives of others.
* “Everything can be known and experienced” and the true man is the one who can do everything, who is not reined and limited, he can “navigate” everywhere and incognito, without any ties of responsibility.
* The characteristic speed and globality (of the news), typical of modern MM, determine an over exposure to space (global) and time (speed) which end up over exposing the communication process to the depth of reflection, the personality of opinion, the expressiveness of the account. In practice, the globality and speed of telecommunication are rendering the communication process increasingly spectacular, but also increasingly homologous, and increasingly less expressive of encounter, exchange and relationship, with the danger, especially for the new generations, of confusing the how of communication with its content.
* In reality these and other pretexts, such as thinking that “TV brings the world into your home”, or that “live TV puts us in contact, in real time, with reality as it is”, of that “the world is a global village where everyone knows everything”, or that “information cannot but be, usually, objective”, etc. are myths to be discredited since the news presented is always submitted to a screening process which leads to dropping some items in favor of others, to underlining some aspects and censuring others, in the interest of the audience or the message that one wants to pass. Now, the danger of passing from the manipulation of the news to that of consciences is very serious; nor will the remote control save us, if we think that we dominate the television by changing channels.
* Often we are unaware of such a manipulation, because in the communication through the technical picture of the MM there are hidden or clandestine communications, subliminal information not controllable by the receiving end, etc.
It is important to be very clear and realistic, it is important above all that the formator knows these risks and renders the young aware of them. It would be a mistake to fall back – with the excuse of avoiding it – into the usual deprecatory obscurantist attitude of those who refuse these means and do not understand the enormous possibility they offer for the proclamation of the Gospel and what a provocation they constitute for the formative process of the young who want to communicate their faith and express the hope that dwells in him.
1.4. The media and the proclamation of the good news
If it is true that the MM tend to transmit a certain anthropological model, such as the one we have just seen, it is all the more true that they also underline aspects just as interesting and perhaps forgotten in reference to the idea of man. For example, the new audio-visual language offers an unforeseen development to one of man’s needs, that of telling stories, expressing himself with myths and parables, creating personages and heroes. P. Ricoeur wonders if life is not in search of its narrator. The audio-visual language involves the emotive participation of the receiver, but even before and more than that of those who put it on the air, create tensions and entertainment, sensationalize and dramatize every event and communication. “To follow the media is to live in drama”, according to Babin. But if this is true then “ll Mysterium fascinosum et tremendum” of religion also finds in this language a new way to communicate to man not so much intellectual information, but more the presentiment of the “totally Other”, the dimensions of the human drama, the invocation that is turned to the Transcendent? This means that the audio visual language has its own particular efficaciousness and expressive power to communicate the faith to the man of today who is used to and particularly sensitive to a certain language. As Helen Alexander, the director of religious programming for the BBC, writes: “When the music and picture harmonize perfectly, they are transformed into an icon. They lead the viewer to a deeper and more reflexive thought. The important thing is to know well the television language and then let God use the imagination and fantasy.”
Paul VI urged the Church to face the challenge of the MM and the audiovisual, to the point of saying that “the Church would feel guilty before her Lord if she did not use these powerful means that the human intelligence renders more perfect every day. Using them, the Church can “preach on the rooftops” the message which it holds; in them she finds a modern and efficacious pulpit. Thanks to them she manages to speak to the multitudes”, to that sort of “parish of the airwaves” invisible and real, more numerous than any other parish. Basically, the MM underline two fundamental aspects of a certain idea of man: the universal bond that unites every human to another rendering possible a common language which in theory reaches everyone and every frequency, so to speak, of the human heart, as the possibility of articulating the communication at various levels. As if to say that the MM allow us to extend the beam of the good news and – at the same time – they also allow us to reach the listeners at a greater depth, through a dual movement in extension and intensity.
But this cannot be considered as a technical operation, nor can the MM be treated as simple instruments, as a technology that any person can work with the guaranteed result. Instead, they express the humanity of the sender and, in our case, also of his faith; even more, they are the language, a new language of faith; new precisely because deep sign of those two dimensions – extension and intensity – and therefore always to be learned anew as expressive modality of one’s own faith, indicative of the culture and spirituality, of God’s gift and human seeking today.
And this is precisely the strategic question of our discussion on the relation between MM and formation. A question that concerns the sensitivity of the formators and their ability to see the educative turn of the ministry of the proclamation in today’s society. If in fact the reception of the Church’s directive in the area of social communication has been somewhat mediocre, as we have seen, a reason – perhaps the most prominent – is no doubt the lack of a strategy, a pedagogical method that leads the young to the ability to communicate also through the MM.
A method which, to return to our title, starts from the presupposition that formation in the media is a matter of passion first of all for the proclamation of the faith, but also for directions for use that necessarily have to be learned. The secret is precisely in knowing how to put the two things together. A genuine passion renders one humble and desirous of learning the norms; but also the correct application strengthened and confirm the passion.
Let us try to say something on both points.
2. “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel…” (1 Cor. 9, 16)
First of all, it is a question of the heart. Formation in the proclamation begins with the formation of the heart of the young because only a heart impassioned with God and in love with the Gospel can feel the urgency to bring the good news to everyone and with every means.
On many sides we hear it said that the young today are deprived of determination, poor in passions, difficult to get enthusiastic (also because of the influence of the MM, a certain TV, as we have seen before). Perhaps we are really living in mediocre times, but if this is true, it is one more reason to combat this tendency during the initial formation, even through the specific formation in the use of the media.
How can we help the young regain enthusiasm and passion? Without making an in-depth analysis, we could say this: the young can be enthusiastic about something only if he is free to do so, first of all free from what prevents him being intensely involved, to commit himself to something surpasses him. Indeed, passion is a converted freedom. Secondly, if he is given a great ideal which he himself feels is beautiful and rich in possibilities, within his reach and also demanding, which asks the maximum of him, even seemingly beyond his ability: passion in this sense is the freedom to go beyond himself because he is fascinated by something beautiful. Thirdly, that it correspond to a project that does not concerns only him personally and does not stop with him, but that it extend to the others, opens his life and his being to the relationship, to making him feel responsible not only for himself but also for others. From this point of view, passion is a freedom which cares for others, a responsible freedom. Fourthly, it represents something new and mysterious, it makes him be himself, but at the same time it unveils the unexplored part of his personality, of the gift received, of life itself, and that is precisely why it attracts him all the more. In the final analysis, passion is freedom enlightened by truth.
Coming back to our topic, we can make an interesting observation immediately: and if it were perhaps the provocation to enter into the mysterious world of the media, or at least to perceive in a different and more stringent and actual way the commitment of the proclamation, a servant of the great ideal that succeeds in demobilize the passions of youth? It is only a hypothesis, a working hypothesis but totally plausible if it is confronted with the 4 criteria mentioned above. Since, obviously, there is a personal accompaniment which operates with those 4 conditions and shows concretely how the culture of the media can in fact become a path along which to articulate the formative proposal of CL today. Let us consider briefly.
2.1. To educate the receptor
It is a kind of preliminary action in which the young is helped to free himself from what could prevent him from vibrating interiorly to a message. A complex action that we do not intend to analyze here, but only to consider from the point of view of the up-dating that we are dealing with here. Firstly, it is a matter of educating the young to assume an intelligent and not dependent attitude with regard to the means of communication. First of all because dependence creates passivity; that passivity which on the one hand can be the consequence of a personal problem, but on the other hand it can be promoted by the means of communication, through certain of its characteristics, as we have already seen, which tend to impose the means itself and its product on the user who is simply a consumer. Indeed, the experience of recent years tells us that our young people are often passive, tele-dependent or tele-consumers, or readers deprived of a critical judgment with regard to the written printed page. First of all it will be important to render the young aware of this passivity, of the messages received without any personal interpretative filter; of the hypnotic state in which they often submit to the means of communication, of the risk of losing their emotive capacity in front of that TV that sometimes has an anesthetic effect…; and that would already be a big step. And then to stimulate them “in the direction of action, of practice, which becomes capacity not only to speak of or about the media, but with the media…”, establishing an active and justly critical contact with them. It may be very stimulating for the young to read certain lead articles in secular newspapers, and to attempt a response, to pick from the components of a certain culture and to perceive a line of contact or certain points in common. How many of our young people do not know how to read, or cannot assume a critical attitude, or cannot enter into a dialectical relationship!
Ideally, this education should begin in the first years of secondary school. “The media education suggests an inter-disciplinary approach, theoretical and practical, and includes the whole gamut of the media (photography, audio-visual, radio, television, cinema…), that throughout the formative years gradually dispose of objects, contents, methods…”. Obviously, this supposes that the educators “see and study the television programs, films and publication which interest the young the most.” That is the only way that they will be able to maintain the dialogue with them, give necessary information, enlighten and encourage them, but especially maintain and solicit the capacity and relative sensitivity of the young, so that passion can later rise.
2.2. The scribe and beauty
The second condition to form the passion for the proclamation is the proposal of a great ideal; great because beautiful and attractive in itself, and great because it asks of the young for the best of themselves. Now the ideal to propose to the young, in relation with the world of the media, is truly exciting and inviting: it is the invitation to tell and re-tell their faith to the world of today, so that the world may recognize their hope. A grandiose task which goes way beyond a certain interpretation of CL as an itinerary of personal perfection in view one’s own paradise, and commits the young to live a spirituality that bears to be said and told. A spirituality which fills life with meaning precisely because it is based on the truth of the gift that comes from above, and is also resplendent with beauty. It is very important that our young be educated to perceive the beauty of their vocation, charism, prayer, common life, service to God, study, the temple, the liturgy; of being poor, chaste, obedient…, that they fall in love with that beauty. Is beauty not perhaps the interpretative key of CL in the recent post-synod Exhortation? Now, it seems obvious that what is beautiful deserves to be said and given to others, to all; it cannot be kept for oneself if it is beautiful and could give beauty to the life of other people. This is precisely why the Exhortation recalls that “the first duty of the consecrated life is to make visible the marvels wrought by God (…).Thus consecrated life becomes one of the tangible seals which the Trinity impresses upon history, so that people can sense with longing the attraction of divine beauty.”
All this, said with much realism, presents its dose of risk and difficulty. Today’s culture seems to have excluded beauty; today we assist at a fearful crisis of beauty and the esthetic sense. If “the beautiful and splendor of the true”, a thought considered weak and unable to reach truth – as certain modern philosophies stress – cannot offer the necessary basis on which a thing can be said and discovered to be beautiful, then the criterion of beauty is also weakened. More particularly, the risk is that of not finding the right words, or not knowing with what means and instruments to communicate beauty, or how and where to find an interested interlocutor or draw interest, with what arguments and with what logic. And yet, it is precisely here that passion may be born, where obstacles are met and where there is some risk. It is even precisely for this that the young is provoked to give the best of himself, to wrest from his youthful sensitivity the best of his potential and creativity to confess his faith to an unbelieving world.
If CL decides to run that risk, to risk saying that “God is beautiful and it is sweet to praise Him”, this risks immediately and naturally calls the young into question, he who for many reasons is more in harmony with the culture of which he is in some way the son. Of him we can and must ask the courage to communicate beauty to a world and a culture that seem to have turn their back on that reality, but that, in any case, they will never be able to completely extinguish in man the fascination and longing for beauty, and divine beauty. Think how changed and provoking could be a formation that always has before it and proposes this objective: to form consecrated persons in beauty and communicators of beauty. A young person in love with the beauty of his consecration is indeed a young person formed in the culture of the media, because he who has discovered beauty cannot keep it hidden, or keep it for himself, as we said before. What is beautiful is said and shouted on the rooftops, however difficult it is today to find the right words and pictures to tell beauty and the beauty of God. There is an inevitable connection between contemplation-taste for beauty and demand-urgency to proclaim in every way, to as many people as possible and having recourse to all the means that can express the beauty, particularly those that can be more striking to man’s global sensitivity. Besides, if “it is the duty of the consecrated life to show that the Incarnate Son of God is the eschatological goal toward which all things tend, the splendor before which alone can fully satisfy the human heart,” all this must become education, culture, word, encounter, picture, message transmitted ideally to all men, good seed strewn everywhere and in every way, using the means that favor the efficaciousness of the communication; because the religious cannot consider the spirituality as his private property, but he must be able to transmit it and render it enjoyable to others, because the consecrated person “not only has a glorious history to remember and relate, but a great history still to be accomplished,” or to write: a history which recounts the beauty of God and of belonging totally to Him. Hence the young consecrated person is prepared to be like the scribe who writes and describes the beauty that has won his heart, so that others may also be seduced by it.
2.3. The forum of wisdom
There is a modern term that is always repeated when we speak of formation, a demanding and objective formation, of the quality of formation; and that term is “experience”, almost overblown today and scorned for its uncertain semantics. Instead, there is another term that seems to be left aside in spite of its roots in the word of God, and that term is “wisdom”. And yet that term is very close to the concept of passion. In fact, wisdom refers to a knowledge totally different from the theoretical. It is a penetration into the mystery of life and in its connections, not always visible, in its memory and newness, or in its opening to the future. Wisdom is the taste for things, for that in which we believe and to which we have dedicate life itself. For the believer it is the taste for God and his word, for the divine project and the divine action in one’s life; taste that flows from the effort not simply to say and repeat what is received from him, but to repeat it and revive it in one’s personal experience. To express it better: the experience becomes wisdom precisely in this synthesis between what each one receives from others (from God and so many human mediations) and what one offers to others (to men his brothers); or between the depositum fidei and the charismatic riches and the attempt to translate all this in terms accessible to others also. This is a very important aspect in the formation in an apostolic sensitivity.
Wisdom is not a privilege of the mystic or the intellectual who scrutinize the depth of the mystery for their own purposes or their spiritual economy. On the contrary, wisdom is a gift that can be tasted only by those who accept the labor of translating his spirituality into local languages and dialects, so that men may understand and enjoy it. And this is precisely what our young must understand; that spirituality, that immense patrimony of CL and every Institute, is not a private good, but it has been given to us for others, for the Church, for the world, and therefore it is translated, given to all; it is repeated in the languages spoken today, it is repeated in secular terms, with a vocabulary and syntax of the man of today, so that each one may hear as a gift, as something important and beautifying for himself, that which the consecrated person professes.
The authentic apostle is bilingual. He knows his language, that inherited from his fathers, and that spoken by his brothers, the men of today, his contemporaries. What is the purpose of a well administered spirituality, interpreted, understood, repeated, spoken in a language that is incomprehensible to our contemporaries? It is the proverbial salt that has lost its savor, it is spirituality without wisdom. Because wisdom can only be the fruit of the labor to re-express the gift received so that it may be a gift for all, synthesis and blessed encounter between memory and prophecy, between past and present.
And it is precisely here that the MM take on their importance as means and instruments that oblige one to make this synthesis, to speak in a language accessible to our contemporaries, to have the courage to say and repeat one’s own spirituality in situations of secularity, with the language spoken today so that it may prove significant for the daily life of every man. From this point of view, social communication is one of the most salutary and timely formative provocations to awaken passion in the heart of our young people. Think what a formative provocation it would be to impel our young to relate his virginity, its reasons, objective, beauty; not only in the usual soporific “testimony” in the parish, “playing to the house”, but in and through the means of social communication that force him to be clear, simple, understood by many, willing to dialogue, to answer doubts and criticism; in short, called to give reasons for his hope so that this hope may become that of others. From the newsletter to radio and TV, everything can become a pedagogical instrument and opportunity to learn to speak the Church to the world and the world to the Church, and not be satisfied to continue to speak the Church to the Church, in a boring and repetitive communication that cannot give birth to any passion.
Basically, is that not what Paul tried to do in Athens. The picture of Paul’s discourse in the public place in Athens is one of the icons of the Apostolic Exhortation, taken as the hermeneutic key of the missionary dimension of every option of consecration in every time, and perhaps especially today. What is this “public place”? In Athens it was the seat of the tribunal of the city, situated on the hill to the west of the Acropolis. This is where the encounter between the Christian kerigma and the Greek pagan culture takes place; here is the first apostolic attempt of acculturation of the Christian message, and the gift from above is said-translated in human words, so that it can meet the desire of the man who seeks God “as if groping” (Acts. 17: 27). In short, the public place is a symbol, a symbol of the meaning of the mission, intent on seeking man and the human community in the most significant places, where culture is produced and truth sought; but also in the most difficult and dangerous environments, where the Christian message has never reached and the resistance to it is strongly anticipated. And is this not perhaps what CL has done throughout history, often bringing the first proclamation of the faith? Or is this not what CL is called to continue to be in the Church, placing itself between the divine desire to manifest itself to man and man’s desire to see the face of the Father? Has CL not always been the master of spirituality, and not only because it is the bearer, down the centuries, of that wisdom that comes from the Spirit and is expressed in the variety of gifts and charisms, but also because it is called to share this wealth with everyone, and therefore increasingly expert in the art of accompanying, enlightening, educating and teaching? As the monks-copyists with their “”Carthusian patience” managed to save the precious heritage of culture, so too today our young people are called to do the same work of “salvation” and preserve the typical culture of the consecrated person, which is exactly his spirituality, with the difference that where it once sufficed to copy and rewrite, now they have to translate it in the local languages and dialects, throughout the world and with every means. How can they not be enthused by such an objective?
2.4. Mystery and feed-back (acculturation and inculturation)
When the proclaimer of the good news accomplishes the labor of which we have spoken (and it is a true and proper labor) the message is acculturated; indeed it s submitted to a salutary process of cultural adaptation that not only rejuvenates it, so to speak, but also extracts from it the hidden meaning that have not yet emerged. In fact, the religious charism is a mysterious gift of the Spirit. If it is true that no culture can grasp its whole meaning, it is all the more true that every culture can reveal some unedited aspects of it. All the more so when the situation in which this acculturation occurs is stimulating. From this point of view, I think that the media like very few others, with their provocation, are exactly one of those stimulating situations, perhaps awkwardly and inopportunely at times, but they force us to find ever newer forms of expression to decipher the mystery of the gift from above. But not only that. When the process of acculturation is achieved correctly and the other, the receiver, can understand the message, there springs from the latter, like an interesting feed-back, as the communication sciences tell us, that re-proposes the same content but this time in the second culture, the experience of life, the existential situations, etc. of the receiver himself. It is the phenomenon of inculturation, the other side of the coin of acculturation; the response of the evangelized to the message of the evangelizer, but an original and personal response; not any kind of passive or repetitive response, but an attempt to re-express the content of the faith, the spirituality that another has transmitted, in the light of his own lived experience. This is where the positions are overturned, and the evangelizer becomes the evangelized. And if the proclamation was taken also to the little ones and the simple, or to the poor and the marginalized, then we experience the meaning of “evangelizari a pauperibus”.
Now, we are saying that this happens every time that there is an acculturated transmission of the faith or of the spiritual gift, but only when it is truly acculturating and acculturated, spoken in the local dialect, able to reach the heart and seen as not only interesting but indispensable and even enjoyable for the life of the one who hears it. In every case, these possibilities increase, or these conditions become all the more attainable when one accepts the risk, or the challenge, to address his message to many people who live in different circumstances and situations, seeking to be clear and simple in order not only to be understood by everyone, but also to draw out in everyone, ideally, or in as many people as possible, the ability to react creatively and enrichingly to his message. Now, it is clear that the MM offer this opportunity or place before us the challenge which, on the one hand demands this labor of translating into the modern language a certain ancient wisdom, and on the hand it may also determine or facilitate the process of renewal of our charisms.
This is not a dream! The young are prepared to enter into this mentality, to see the means of social communication exactly as this challenge and opportunity offered by today’s culture, thanks to which he himself, consecrated according to a charism, can regain and re-discover new and unedited aspects of his own charism. This is anything but demonizing the MM! Nor is it a simple law of the psychology of communication to regulate this dialogic dynamism between sender and receiver (the law of feed-back), but the theological principle of the charismatic circularity which says that if our charisms are born in the Church and in the world, for the Church and for the world, then it is to this root that they are continuously led back if we want them to be alive and express ever new aspects of the mystery;
Once again, this type of presentation of the culture of the media and the relative provocation to enter into them, to attempt to dialogue with them and through them with the world, with the man still unknown, not only to evangelize the world, but to discover even better one’s own vocation of consecrated person and the wealth of one’s spiritual gift, then all this becomes also an intelligent means to awaken the passion in the young himself. In short, they can change the ways of carrying out the proclamation and drawing interest for evangelization, but the passion for the proclamation remains the same.
3 – “Many times and in various ways…” (Heb. 1: 1)
“Just as in the past consecrated persons successfully used all kinds of means at the service of evangelization and skillfully met difficulties, today too they are challenged anew by the need to bear witness to the Gospel through the communications media.” Thus the Apostolic Exhortation recommends for this that religious “learn the language of the media” to become “discerning listeners and expert communicators (…). All efforts in this important new field of the apostolate should be encouraged, so that the Gospel of Christ may be proclaimed also through these modern means.” As we can see, the tone is very positive and encouraging, but especially realistic in urging a careful formation for this new and strategic ministry.
We have already given various practical indication in this regard; we will now simply give a few simple method objectives, without pretending to be complete.
3.1. To all and with all
I think that the fundamental principle on which to plan an education in culture and the use of the media can be brought back to the universal tension of the Gospel and the means of social communication, in the dual sense mentioned above, as message addressed to everyone and which reaches the heart, man’s deep interior. A movement in extension and intensity.
In practice, this will mean a series of educative-formative attentions. How, for example, to educate in diversity, and the ability to enter in contact with those who have a culture, a sensitivity, a life experience different from mine. We must prevent our young people from learning to dialogue only within ecclesial groups. They must learn to face different listeners and cultures, and to discover the wealth of the provocation that comes from diversity, letting them touch and challenge if necessary, and discover that the “I”, as Buber teaches, is in some way defined by the “you”, or that the “other” is determining in revealing my identity, like Adam who recognized himself by contemplating the woman (Gn. 2: 23). His own convictions and ideals are better defined in their underlying reasons when they are spoken, discussed, confronted dialectically – even put in crisis – offered as a good and a gift for others, enriched by the experience of others. “Those who do not know more than one language do not know their own language; those who do not know more than one religion do not know their own religion.”
All this can be promoted only by a mentality and maturity in a flexible cultural formation in constant updating, the encounter that renews and enriches, more than pretends to be complete, definitive, self-sufficient. To communicate then become the ability to place oneself before the other, and not above the other, to find one’s own identity. It is the contrast of two identities who each maintain their own identity, but communication that often puts one in a frontier situation, makes one come out of the house to meet another subject, discover common values, in the respect of every contribution that is born of good will and an honest search for truth.
Another educative attention closely linked to this is formation to universality, which has always been a basic characteristic of CL, by nature untied to the particularistic, diocesan, territorial, parochial objectives. In a culture such as that of today, it is necessary that our young people breathe an open atmosphere of cordial opening to the different cultures, that they be empowered to think of themselves and their gifts, of their faith and their problems on the background of that humanity of which they are a part and to which they are called to bring the “good news”. Consecrated life is missionary by nature; no institute is linked to any country in a privileged way. This thinking of oneself as “citizen of the Church and the world” can only favor the formation in the media and those instrument that have the power to reach every corner of the world and every man.
In its turn, the movement in intensity requires that the transmission of the message reach the heart of the recipient. Hence the first absolutely indispensable condition is that it start from the heart. The young must understand that what does not start from the heart cannot reach the heart. Strictly speaking, he can proclaim only what has become deeply personal, only what he is in love with. Learning to use the MM is not a question of technique or of acquire competence, but it means giving free play to an internal demand-urgency or to that passion of which we spoke. One speaks, writes, proclaims, responds, discusses, faces certain listeners… ex abundantia cordis, because he could not do otherwise, because something impels him from within. It is a spiritual law with which corresponds singularly a law of communication, especially of television. According to the experts, “communication happens in excesses. Something becomes news and enters in the media circuit only if it is ‘above the lines’ and breaks with normality; while it seems that institutional communications (including those of the Church) strengthen normality. Therefore it is because of this first of all that the communication of the Church suffers obstacles and difficulties.” Communication “breaks”, “pierces the video” or reaches the heart of the listener or viewer only if the message is able to break, to astound, as is the nature of the Christian message. It is strange that today, in the era of television in which communication is linked to the person, the Church, as Babin says, does not have “television persons”, or persons who can surprise and shake in the name of the Gospel, to proclaim with passion and creativity and originality. The young cannot be prepared simply to repeat and declaim, but to confess their faith courageously, to full and vigorous testimony to their joy of belonging to Christ. This is the true sense of martyrdom of today.
From this interior spiritual attitude there flows another relevant educative attention, always in reference to the quality of approach in communication. The message that is transmitted has much more possibility of reaching the receiver effectively the more it is expressed as a multi-sense message, and strikes the individual at the various levels of his sensitivity (auditory, visual, mental, imaginative, affective, etc.). Therefore, the young must learn to communicate with the “whole” man, not only with a part of his humanity, as is the bad habit of certain men of the Church who seem to reduce man to the sole intellectual dimension. In that sense and to that end, it is necessary to care for the image, not to capture the audience but to express with one’s whole person a convincing message of peace and hope. We repeat, a picture is worth a thousand words. On the other hand, true communication is the mirror of the soul and a testimony to the life. The head of John the Baptist, says Don Mazzolari, speaks more on the plate than on the shoulders.
3.2. Mysticism and asceticism of communicating
Perhaps it is not a traditional theme, or at least not in the same measure as others (such as its opposite: silence); in reality, the labor of communicating entails a notable mystical and ascetic exercise. In fact, if to communicate means sharing the faith and one’s own spiritual gift, as we recalled above in “local language and dialect”, in easy and simple terms so that all may understand, then this operation, beyond appearances, supposes a consuming experience of God and what one wants to transmit. It is a kind of law of communication. Strictly speaking, one can offer to others only what has become deeply personal, and the more a reality must be given in words accessible and comprehensible by all, the more it must be known from the interior, be contemplated, tasted, scrutinized. It must be loved with a mystical love, that is, a love that has reached a boiling point, which provokes a taste and a desire to make others taste it. Only the contemplative can speak simply; only the mystic manages to translate the mystery using every-day words, daily images, examples that all understand…, like Jesus who told the mysteries of the Kingdom in parables. Communication, like sharing, is not a technical matter, but spiritual, and the one who communicates does so authentically (that is, makes himself understood) only if he speaks “ex abundantia cordis”. Now, if the consecrated is a spiritual man, to the point that spirituality is his culture, he must find a way to communicate his spirituality; a spirituality should be said and transmitted, otherwise it is not a true spirituality. Communication of the spirituality is not an option, but a sacrosanct duty of CL today.
And this is precisely where the asceticism of communication is born. It consists in finding the most efficacious means (“many times and by various means…”), however laborious and at times complex, to be adapted intelligently to the content of the message, to proclaim the truth and that passion that presses inside. It is asceticism in the true sense of the word. It implies humility, patience, creativity, need to learn and effort to understand, time and energy spent, awareness of having to learn continuously, acceptance of failures, constancy in trying again, imagination in seeking new ways, new mediations, new symbols, listening to the other and his reasons, his expectations and preconceptions, willingness to adapt to the comprehension ability of others, adaptability and empathy that allow one to enter the world of the listener, etc. The asceticism of the spoken, written, proclaimed word, because it communicates a “good news”, is perhaps among the least practiced asceticism, but no doubt it is among the most salutary. It should be the discipline of the young concerted person today.
3.3 The pedagogy of the last ones
There is a law of the psychology of communication according to which the ability to communicate of a group is given by the communication ability of the weakest member of the group, or the one who has the lowest level of that ability. That says: if I want to adapt my communication with a group I must adapt my communication to the understanding ability of the poor in the group, to the illiterate, the child, the old lady, the housewife, the one who comes from an entirely different life experience. If I keep in mind the “last” in the group and seek to be understood by the one who has the most difficulty understanding, I communicate with all. Otherwise the communication is partial and does not circulate freely. It has become the rule of life in the history of so many consecrated persons to speak in the language of the last ones and to enter in harmony with those far away, and it could and should be the guiding principle in the formation of the young in the use of the means of communication. What does this principle signify?
First of all it means that in the use of the means of social communication which, by their nature, reach everywhere, the young must put it into his head that he cannot use only or mostly the language with which he is most familiar, the “religious”, since that language is understood only in restricted circles. There are even some experts who say that this language is becoming a “dead language”, not understood or badly interpreted by many hearers and potential recipients of the proclamation. On the other hand, it is not said that we must always have to say the name of God in order to proclaim the good news. We can very well not name him, as happened with the Hebrews who become mute before that name. The true proclaimer is the one who knows the many names of God and discovers, in the different instances, how his listener calls him. Certainly, to learn this sensitivity, it does not suffice to have a few “operating instructions”.
In every case, to “lower oneself” to the level of the weakest listener, the young himself need not in reality make any act of humility or indulgent understanding, but he must live more intensely the mystical dimension of his own spirituality, refine increasingly his intuition of the Word to understand it more in depth, personalize it, translate it into lived words dispersed in the daily routine of life, so that it may become, on the face and lips and in the serenity of the consecrated person who communicates, the living and simple word that all – even the poor – may understand, fresh and tasty bread which all – even the last one far away – may hear as addressed to them and eat and savor it. Then it is true that this formation in the use of the MM becomes an integral part of the formation in the classic values of CL.
But in the end, this pedagogy of the last ones means for the young consecrated person, to be simply himself at the moment that he begins, especially if he uses the modern means of communication to communicate. There is a certain discomfort among the men of the Church in the use and interpretation of the modern MM. Today, as the experts say, the communication, especially the one that passes through one’s own image, is the person, and what is required of the one who has found in Christ the way, the truth and the life and wishes and must proclaim what he has found, is that he be himself, without any rigidity nor fear of showing his own hope to others, without hiding himself (perhaps by copying others to appear more pleasing and increase his audience), but especially without yielding to the temptation to proclaim himself with little complacent coyness and that frivolous personality cult that would disqualify him immediately. The concern to make oneself understood by the little ones and the simple could be the best antidote against those silly temptations and to restore openness and convincing force to their own testimony. The Gospel is a great example of communication. Who, other than the person consecrated to the proclamation of the Gospel and who has been seduced by it, can better express its explosive force?
When the young learn to respect the pedagogy of the last ones, once again the positions are inverted and it is the evangelizer who lets himself be evangelized by the evangelized, or by the effort exerted to make himself understood and render the proclamation of the Gospel decipherable and enjoyable for the little ones and the poor.
3.4. A narrative theology
Finally, to speak so that all may understand, even the simple and the last ones, or those who are far away and opposed, means to adopt a non didactic, not too conceptual style of a doctor of the law, but that more appropriate style to transmit experiences, which is the narrative style. The best way to speak the super eminent beauty of Christ is to relate how this transcendent beauty gives beauty to ones own story, it is to confess the labor of a faith which is always personal. It is to tell how despair has become hope, tears turned to joy… Moreover, this is precisely the typical style, language or rhetoric developed by the MM which privilege narration to draw out emotions, they have recourse to phrases that sound good and are easily memorized.
On the concrete formative level, this will mean above all a fundamental golden rule for our young people: a message, a hope to pass from the one who proclaims it to the one who receives it, must adjust to three verbs: simplify, personalize, dramatize.
First of all, to simplify means to be clear, very clear about what one wants to say, then identify the core and aim directly at it, eliminating the frills, preambles, digressions, and possibly reducing to one – and only one – the idea, news, provocation, exhortation that one wants to communicate this time. Therefore the young will be instructed to avoid the clerical vice of remaining vague, of using difficult words, having recourse to rare abstractions…, especially when he is called to confess his own experience of God, his own spirituality and the reflection of all this on his own life and happiness. Nor must he let himself be fooled by the apparently positive reaction of the listener to a certain conceptual-mysterious discourse: “obscurity, nebulous circumlocution, the nice words enjoy such verbal prestige with many people that, when the one who uses them also assumes the air of someone saying something important, the listeners feel gratified, even if they do not manage to understand very much.” Be concrete and clear, and not too spiritual. At times the excessively spiritual tone only hides the poverty of the experience of the faith; it is like a cover behind which is emptiness. “He whose speaking is difficult – says Milani – is the enemy of the people”, “he whose writing is difficult – according to H. KŸng – is outside the Gospel”. It seems that it is Galileo who made this observation: “anyone can speak obscurely, but very few can do so clearly”, while Popper gives this stern warning: “he who is not able to express himself simply and clearly must keep quiet and continue to work until he can say it clearly.”
It is good for the young to learn to “write on the ground” (and not in the clouds) like Jesus of Nazareth and every mortal being, and to remember this truth: there does not exist any reality or concept (however “elevated”) that cannot be expressed in words understandable by the majority. Even the mystery, with all its unfathomable depth, can be said in accessible terms that capture at least some aspect and touch upon the wealth of meaning; and so much the better if the means of expression is not only the written or spoken word, but that channel of communication which uses all the resources of sensorial perception and transmission (symbols, images, emotions, music…), such as are precisely the MM. The young religious should be formed explicitly to recognize first of all the audio-visual means as particularly adapted to express especially a few aspects of the mystery of his faith, and then to say or attempt to say that mystery through it.
The second attention with which to establish the communicative contact is that of personalizing the discourse. The rule is this: man is interested in man. If we want to transmit ideas, we have to make them pass, not through an abstract reasoning, but through concrete persons with a name, surname, age and possibly a photo. People are not interested in speeches but in experiences, not in theories but in stories. Therefore, the young are taught to communicate by always highlighting the human side, and to understand – especially some of our “intellectual” young people – that erudition kills, while spontaneity which relates the lived experience vivifies. Then, it is good to help them to discover the pedagogical wisdom of anecdotes, of “fables” with a moral, in the manner of Aesop, La Fontaine, Basil and De Mello; of the apparently simple yet fascinating tales yet fascinate that relate and amuse while transmitting a meaning and truth, as Rodari managed to do so splendidly. The things that one never forgets are those that we heard from our mother or grandmother and which begin by “Once upon a time….”. To personalize means also – and perhaps above all – to be involved personally in the proclamation, to include oneself in what we say and recommend to others, allowing those who listen to us to account not for the theory we explain, but for the coherence with which the proclaimer lives it. As we said before, one can proclaim only what has become part of his life, that in which he recognizes himself, what he tells himself enlightened by the meaning of his experience, his drama, his hopes. The preacher must earn his “conditions of credibility”. The one who is not touched, charged, involved in the message he proclaims, will not be heard by his listeners, he is not worthy of trust. Today people prefer a simple tone, the colloquial character that is best adapted to the narration of the experience. The secret of Christian communication should be to join intelligence to feeling, rejoicing, suffering, because the heart has reasons that reason does not know. The young should discover that culture and intelligence are sometimes divided, but before the great choices in life, the great joys and sorrows, humanity, experience, and feelings unite us even with those who seem very far away.
Finally, the third rule of a good communicator is dramatization. To dramatize means to infuse in the communication the drama of action thus giving a character of urgency, almost of emergency, to the proposal put on the air or at any rate transmitted to a listener-interlocutor, so that the latter may feel called personally, in his full liberty and responsibility. What is at stake here is not an intellectual option or a choice without consequence, but his happiness and future, the meaning of life and death, the ultimate questions that every man has to face. Jesus’ speaking in parables is an example of this because it unites simplicity of language to provocation which inevitably strikes the person (“go and do likewise…”).
Then the young should be prepared as much as possible to build his testimony on the kerigma of the Passover of Jesus, because no element, news, communication is more provoking than his cross. There, before this mystery, the call to decide for oneself and for one’s life resounds clearly and inescapably; here no one can say he has not felt anything and does not have anything to say and decide. The icon of the cross gives a way to simplify-personalize-dramatize the proclamation like no other image or discourse could ever do.
3.5. Forming for the homily
The attention to the use of the MM cannot overlook what has been and continues to be a classic instrument of Church communication: the homily, in the broader sense of proclamation of the Word and on the Word to a community of believers. Obviously, many things suggested in the preceding paragraphs can be applied also to the homily which, in itself however represents a particularly situation and deserves particular attention.
Given that “no one is born a preacher and the road to becoming one is generally hard” (J. Bianchi), it seems strange that in the survey reported above, only three (of the 35) Italian seminaries admitted having a regular course in homiletics. It has been said that preaching is “the great sick one”. J. Green had already said that the preaching in church is useful because it tests the faith of those who listen, while Voltaire maintained that a homily is like the sword of Charlemagne: both are long and dull.
But let us see a few positive indications on the level of formation. More attention should be paid to the tone of voice (the voice should be educated and learn to be modulate in order to give expression to the content. The monotone puts people to sleep), to gestures and facial expressions. And the young must also learn to read the reaction of the audience (do they follow him, are they bored, are they tired…). Referring to J. Bianchi’s experience in the seminary of Lyons, Giannatelli attaches great importance to the use of the “symbolic logics. Before writing his homily, the preacher is invited to a preliminary phase that puts his creativity in action. It consists in making the Scripture text vibrate in him, of letting the symbolic force develop from the images and suggestions of the narration, of finding the connection between what the people live today and the Christian message. From this preliminary phase, the preacher usually gains a “precious stone” of an enlightening metaphor, an original approach, a persuasive exemplification. The discovery of new “metaphors of the faith” is one of the most significant results of the exercise in homiletics.” Finally, “the demands developed by the mass media oblige the preacher to be brief, clear, concrete, a professional of the word; to know how to attract, argue, be remembered. The preacher is called to develop his talent. He does not have the right to be an orator more mediocre than those who make themselves heard in the media. Since the Catholic press is not read if it is not as good as the lay press, the preacher will not be heard if he puts himself above the linguistic standards of society today.”
3.6. A few communicative qualities of the apostle today
The religious as the priest, even if with different shades of meaning, is a man of the social communications by virtue of his vocation, or of his spirituality, as we have seen. That is why he must possess “the capacity of silence so that the authentic communication may be born of contemplation”, and also “a great capacity of listening”, he must be “one who lets himself be touched by the pastoral problems and makes them prayer”. Besides these qualities underlined by the formators in the survey already quoted, the young in formation “must be trained in the use of non verbal communication, especially in the liturgy”, which gives such ample space and expressive possibility to symbols; they must also be educated in “clearness, precision, depth, and elegance of exposition”, and introduced to the “use of the arts: music, song, painting and sculpture, furnishings and clothing, photography.”
And also, the one who must proclaim the good news to the world today must “acquire a good general culture if he wants to be taken seriously by the faithful. This means: interest in the cultural expressions in general; competence and appreciation of the fine arts; knowledge – even if limited – of modern music to understand the mentality of the young; daily reading of a few pages of modern literature”. But not any kind of knowledge. The real problem is “assimilating the art, literature, music in a communicative optic. The bearing of the languages of the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation is strongly underlined”, and more attention is given “to the popular religiosity in which are highlighted the languages of the senses and heart, and man’s naturally religious instinct.”
But for this to happen systematically and as educative provocation that reaches every one, the social communication must become course – or better still – general dimension of a certain way of doing theology. A very interesting proposal coming especially from the meetings of professors is that “the perspective of social communication may become the new “connective tissue” of the curriculum of study and life of formation, “a connecting thread that links together the various aspects of theological teaching. The basis comes on one side from philosophy which now furnishes appropriate analyses of the nature and depth of the communicative phenomenon, and on the other side, from the fundamental theology in which everything rotates around the nucleus of God’s self-communication and whose task it is to bring out the communicability of the word of God. We agree also that the dimension of communicability must be present in all the theological disciplines.
Then it will be necessary that the whole atmosphere of the house of formation be in some way communicative. The communicative style of the future proclaimer of the Gospel is assimilated in the daily life of the formative surroundings. “Communication is the supreme architectural principle on which to model our interpersonal relationships. We see how it forces us to come out of ourselves, how it puts us on the path and renders us capable of lightening the burden or our personal failings to share those of others at the table of fraternal living.” And concerning the explicit and implicit messages reached by the MM, “we need to educate in a patient pedagogical and cultural discernment”; a discernment that can be more easily conducted in a reality in which the world of social communications becomes the surrounding atmosphere in which we move and with which we must interact.
So we conclude by maintaining forcefully that this world of the MM can and must be integrated into the very spirituality of the young consecrated person. The media, as we have said, are not neutral; they are bearers of values and counter values, but they can also reveal the “Mysterium fascinosum et tremendum”, opening and opening spaces where the depth of man is revealed and where appeal is born. They can also speak and have others speak of God not only correctly and convincingly, but also in a rich and penetrating manner, as other means cannot do.
Here is opened a search that cannot be the work of only a few chosen ones, but which must be the apostolic and spiritual concern of every Christian, of every consecrated persons, of all the formators; “a search which is awaiting the new saints of communication. Because only in the saint is liberated the capacity to integrate the faith and life in a convincing, exemplary and lasting way”, passion for the proclamation and the ability to use the new means creatively.
Will CL be able to face this new challenge courageously?
. S. Sassi, in the conference to the XXXI CISM Assembly on the relationship between new evangelization and social communication, November 1991, cit in O. Cattani, I religiosi per una “cultura dei media”, in “Testimoni”, 20 (1991), 6.
. With regard to data banks, the richest and most efficient is that of The New York Times: “It is superfluous to stress that it stores only material in the English language. Which means that if no English daily newspaper or periodical speaks of a given event, it is as if that event never occurred for those who draw from that data bank. That is an example of what is called “cultural colonization” which is achieved through televised programs – we think especially of such programs as Dallas, Dynasty, Beautiful, etc. – which are sold or distributed free of charge to the poor countries.” (Martini, Il lembo del mantello, 29), and he asks why this spirit of generous and sudden gratuitousness.
. The term “audio-visual” refers to everything in the communication between persons that can be seen and heard. From this point of view, the electronics give an unheard of integration of images, colors, sounds, movement, written texts. As Babin says: “A marriage of word and image has been consummated in the presence of electronics” (P. Babin, cit. in Giannatelli, La formazione, 764)
. Ibid. “Every era”, continues Grasso, “has leading medium, and there have been moments when the Church, understanding and being sensitive to them (ex. the word manipulated admirable by the great preachers) had an efficacious communication. But now it has maintains too great a distance and is too diffident of the leading medium which is TV”. (Ibid).
. What the critic Aldo Grasso says about “the priests on TV” is interesting: “The papacy of Wojtyla has impressed such a clamorous turning point on the MM as to give us for the first time in modern history the meaning of the word “ecumenism” (…). We can understand that the figure of the Pope does not admit comparison, his charismatic method is disturbingly modern, but the priests on TV, as they appear in their triviality, have a rather low profile. We strive to accept the diversity of their ministry but we are surprised instead by the coyness, the personality cult, the complacency over their role as guests. Perhaps they are intimidated by other preachers; lay but rarely Ptolamaic.” (A. Grasso, Videopreti col vizetto da star, in “Il Corriere della sera”, 18/X/1995). The same critic in the interview quoted: “The communication on TV is the person. Which means that on TV one speaks with the body, dress, the hair style. Do you see what it means if the viewer notices that the priest who is speaking to him has dyed his hair? That priest may say something, but he has lost everything (…). It is pathetic when the religious on TV cultivate their TV role. I shudder when I see priests present their book on talk shows. It is the parody of what everyone does. Instead, they should invent a new role for themselves.. But I will not tolerate that Catholics take out advertisements only when they fear that a titillating film, or something else of the kind, will be shown on TV. It is clamorously erroneous in terms of communication to appear only in the dress of the censor. Instead, they would have to have the courage to stun and take on positive roles” (A. Grasso, interviewed by R. Beretta, Chiesa in TV).
. That is why the most efficacious Christian proclaimers are those who have sought not to be “authors” but men, witnesses of an experience told in the first person: ex. Augustine (The Confessions), Pascal (The thoughts), or Kierkegaard (The Diary), Therese of Lisieux (Story of a Soul).
Courtesy of Vidimus Dominum – The Portal for Religious Life
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