I think we can all agree that Father John, who is celebrating his 20 years of priesthood this weekend, is an excellent communicator. From his stirring Homilies and blessings in front of the packed church, to his personal meetings with individuals and families, he understands how to reach the heart and soul in a moment of encounter. That is his gift, and we have been blessed to have access to it for over 8 years.
That is not always the case in the Catholic environment. Communication, a core skill and function of any person, much less organization, must be nurtured and honed. It is never complete, and it will never be perfect. Communication is a two-way street, those that are communicating something and those that listening and shaping their perspective on that communication. And, with the tremendous amount of ways to communicate, from traditional written and verbal, to images and video, to now social and interactive. Sometimes it can feel like we are all on pulled in so many directions and with so many viewpoints. It can pull us into a negative mindset, or worse, turn us apathetic to poverty and suffering in the world.
Pope Francis met this situation head on in his World Communication Day Message in January:
I wish to address this message to all those who, whether in their professional work or personal relationships, are like that mill, daily “grinding out” information with the aim of providing rich fare for those with whom they communicate. I would like to encourage everyone to engage in constructive forms of communication that reject prejudice towards others and foster a culture of encounter, helping all of us to view the world around us with realism and trust.
I am convinced that we have to break the vicious circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear resulting from a constant focus on “bad news” (wars, terrorism, scandals and all sorts of human failure). This has nothing to do with spreading misinformation that would ignore the tragedy of human suffering, nor is it about a naive optimism blind to the scandal of evil. Rather, I propose that all of us work at overcoming that feeling of growing discontent and resignation that can at times generate apathy, fear or the idea that evil has no limits. Moreover, in a communications industry which thinks that good news does not sell, and where the tragedy of human suffering and the mystery of evil easily turn into entertainment, there is always the temptation that our consciences can be dulled or slip into pessimism.
I would like, then, to contribute to the search for an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glamourize evil but instead to concentrate on solutions and to inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipients. I ask everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart “good news”.
Next weekend is a special collection for the Catholic Communication Campaign, which raises funds for all the various communications initiatives of the US Catholic Church. It also provides grants to Parishes and Dioceses for their own communications efforts, so it is an important and valuable opportunity for our Parish Family to impact the national dialogue on faith in a positive and engaging way, as our Holy Father asks of all of us.