Last week, on the feast day of my patron, St. Francis de Sales, Pope Benedict shared some reflections on communication called “Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.” Specifically, he addresses the role of the internet in our words, thoughts and relationships. Benedict celebrates opportunities for the sharing of truth and the nurturing of fellowship provided by the web, while simultaneously acknowledging the potential dangers and deceptions of impersonal communication.
His address touches on some poignant ideas about the use of digital technology that, as a blogger and a teacher of online courses, I found particularly challenging:
“As with every other fruit of human ingenuity, the new communications technologies must be placed at the service of the integral good of the individual and of the whole of humanity. If used wisely, they can contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being.”
How often do I consider my work (or my play, for that matter) as contributing to humanity’s search for meaning, truth and unity? Yet it’s my job to teach Shakespeare and my hobby to clutter the internet with written reflections! The Holy Father’s simple statement about the aspirations of humanity reminds me of how often I fail to own those aspirations and pursue truth with sincere effort.
The examination of conscience continues with a series of questions that I don’t ask often enough:
“Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world “other” than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting?”
I don’t think of Pope Benedict as one who spends a lot of time surfing the internet, but I’m impressed by how well his words pin-point the primary temptations of social networking. I don’t know how many times Zach (the singular most important person in my life!) has had to work to get my attention when I’ve been absorbed by a particularly good Onion article. The most important question, though, is the one concerning time. Time is the most abundant, yet most precious, of our resources and I waste it so casually!
Recently, Zach and I have had to do without internet access at home (though it was serendipitously restored on the eve of two consecutive snow days!). For the past two weeks, I’ve been frustrated by the inconvenience of not being able to look up recipes, work on my online classes, check email, or blog without traveling to a wi-fi friendly coffee shop. But that same inconvenience eliminated a world of distractions that kept me from using time well at home.
Balance, is, of course, the key. We can and should use the internet as a medium for sharing beauty, truth and goodness—so long as we view it as a tool to be used in moderation. And when we engage in the almost-inevitably-hubristic act of blogging, we must be so careful of our words.
So for all you bloggers out there, here’s a closing bit of wisdom from Pope Pius XI’s 1923 encyclical that declared St. Francis de Sales the patron saint of writers. (Big thanks to Amy for sharing this document with me!) He makes a charge to Catholic journalists and authors, encouraging them to imitate St. Francis in the following ways:
“They should pay particular attention to literary style and should try to express their thoughts clearly and in beautiful language so that their readers will the more readily come to love the truth. When it is necessary to enter into controversy, they should be prepared to refute error and to overcome the wiles of the wicked, but always in a way that will demonstrate clearly that they are animated by the highest principles and moved only by Christian charity.”