In the midst of much bad news in the Church and in the world — the war in Ukraine, the manifold political divisions in our country due to attacks on human life and the family, multiple scandals in the Church leading family and friends to give up the practice of the faith, as well as discrimination, persecution and massacres against believers in various countries, etc. — Christians can sometimes feel they’ve lost their breath for proclaiming the Good News. Such situations can leave Christians like the apostles on Holy Saturday, devitalized and even traumatized.
For Catholic journalists and columnists covering the Church, this problem can be more acute. Not only do they have the challenges every communicator today faces — fake news, rampant propaganda, a denial of truth, click-bait tabloids, a merciless cancel culture, various economic challenges affecting newsrooms — but they also face Church leaders and faithful that can sometimes accuse them of hurting the Church they love by bringing scandals to light, or judge their work by political lenses rather than Catholic categories.
That’s why I was edified last week when I was asked by a group of Catholic journalists to speak to them about the spirituality of a Catholic communicators, how to keep their faith focusing on troubling indicators of faith decline or the fallen side of the hierarchy, how, in short, to keep the proper perspective and sanctify their work when they need to write about the sordid.
Insofar as the challenges they face on most days resemble those all Catholics face on some days, I’d like to share an overview of what I told them.
In the first of three sections, I focused on the big picture, that Catholic journalists are Catholics who have a baptismal vocation to holiness in the midst of their duties. They have been given God’s love so that they may love Him with all their mind, heart, soul and strength and love their neighbor on whom they’re reporting. They have been sent out by the Lord to be the salt of the earth, light of the world and leaven. They are summoned to view all things from the lens of the dynamic process of redemption, in which every situation, however broken, can be redeemed as God wills to draw greater good out of evil. As members of Christ’s mystical body, they are called to live the four marks of the Church — one, holy, catholic and apostolic — by, respectively, striving for Church unity rather than division, taking the call to holiness as well as the holiness of holy things in the Church seriously even if individuals in the Church are not holy, focusing on the whole Church rather than narrow concerns, and sharing the faith and truth with others with a sense of history stretching back all the way to Christ’s calling, choosing and commissioning the apostles. These parts of a Catholic’s job description apply to everyone.
I added that any authentic Catholic spirituality must follow the genuine voice of the Holy Spirit. Guided by the Spirit, we will be helped by Him to pray, since we do not know to pray as we ought but the Spirit intercedes for us. We will be passionate for the truth, since Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide us to all truth. We will pursue communion, not to division, so that our bond may resemble the communion among the persons of the Blessed Trinity, for which Jesus prayed on Holy Thursday. We will live by the Spirit, seeking the things above, taking advantage of the gifts of wisdom, prudence, knowledge, understanding, courage, reverence and awe of the Lord, putting to death in us whatever is earthly and cooperating with the Spirit’s fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We will discern what is our “manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” and use those gifts not for our aggrandizement but for God’s glory and the good of all. Finally, we will seek to pass on the faith by witness and words with ardent love, since on Pentecost the Spirit will seek to give us a tongue, a pen, or a keyboard on fire. Every Catholic is called to this spirituality.
In the second part of the talk, I focused on 12 characteristics of Jesus as a communicator. “The model and pattern of all communication,” St. John Paul II said in 2005, “is found in the Word of God Himself.” Jesus, of course, never appeared on radio or television. Other than writing on the ground twice as the Scribes and Pharisees were trying to stone the woman caught in adultery, He never penned an article, book or blog. But God the Father communicated everything in Him and through Him. Examining His communication style is instructive to all of us who seek to pass on the truth to others, whether about current events or salvation history.
Crisscrossing the Gospels, I pondered with the journalists how Jesus told the truth. He used every images — salt, light, leaven, fishing, doctors, shepherds and sheep, wedding processions and banquets, patches on clothes, wine and wineskins, grains of wheat and mustard seeds, friends knocking on your door, construction projects, unemployment lines, lost objects and family members — so that people could more easily understand and identify. He was master storyteller, conveying truths through parables so that people by analogy could less defensively acknowledge and accept them. He used paradoxes — the beatitudes, “whoever will save his life will lose it,” “the last shall be first” — not only to capture attention but to show how the reality of His kingdom transcends and upends worldly logic.
We examined how Jesus regularly refocused His listeners on what was important, bringing them back to first principles (as he did with marriage) and helping them to move from superficial curiosity to bottom-line practicality, telling people who asked how many would be saved, for example, how they might be saved. We looked at how He met His interlocutors where they were and led them gradually toward the light, asking questions to engage them in a dialogue of life, provocatively challenging them because He knew they were capable of rising with faith to the challenge.
We studied how He was humble and modest, repeating what He heard the Father Himself say, fulfilling what was prophesied about Him. He was willing to suffer ridicule, as He did for doing good, and how He would dust the dirt of rejection from His sandals and move on to those who were capable of receiving Him and His words on good soil. He didn’t attempt to say everything, because He said we “cannot handle it now,” but got to the essential. And He spoke even in silence, since silence opens up room for listening and contemplation.
All of these are elements of a spirituality of communication Jesus, the model and pattern of all communication, was beckoning us to follow.
In the final section of the talk, I focused on 15 journalistic virtues highlighted by recent popes in their annual letters since 1967 for the World Day of Social Communications. They are virtues supposed to be found in every authentic communicator.
We’re called to be formed to inform. To be faithful, prayerful, discerning and wise. To be hopeful even in the midst of bad news since we can see the bigger picture. To be charitable, just and fraternal. To have integrity and be truthful, sincere, honest, objective and, especially today, anthropologically forthright. To listen and be understanding. To be responsible and mature, seeking the truth and try to convey it in a way that disarms rather than detonates bombs. To be positive, striving to overcome evil with good. To be free, not excessively influenced by what others will say or think, including advertisers and donors. To be discreet, since not everything — especially calumny and unnecessary detraction — is fit for print. To be courageous and resolute, willing to risk our wellbeing to bring to the light injustices that those harming others would prefer to remain hidden. To be joyful, zealous and professional. These are all virtues every believer can imitate and are part of the spirituality needed to be an apostle, regardless of our profession.
In 1997, St. John Paul II reminded Catholic journalists that Christ is the way, the truth and the life and asked: What “way” do you point out? What “truth” do you propose? What “life” do your offer? To proclaim the Good News in every season and especially in the midst of bad, we must turn to Christ Who continued to preach from Calvary and become the echo not just of His words but of His virtues. This is something that Holy Spirit was sent by Him and the Father to help us to do — and that Gift is as needed now as ever.
Anchor columnist Father Roger Landry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.