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Searching for beauty in the dissonance

Tagged: pope benedict

A network not of wires but of people: David Weinberger on Pope Francis

As an avid reader of both David Weinberger and Pope Francis, it was very interesting to see those two worlds collide in Weinberger’s cross-tradition interpretation of Pope Francis’ message for World Communications Day.

First, Weinberger looks at Pope Francis’ initial characterization of the Internet:

The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.

Weinberger calls this a “remarkable characterization” compared to all of the other ways Pope Francis could have started:

Not: The Internet is a source of temptations to be resisted. Not: The Internet is just the latest over-hyped communication technology, and remember when we thought telegraphs would bring world peace? Not: The Internet is merely a technology and thus just another place for human nature to reassert itself. Not: The Internet is just a way for the same old powers to extend their reach. Not: The Internet is an opportunity to do good, but be wary because we can also do evil with it. It may be many of those. But first: The Internet — its possibilities for encounter and solidarity — is truly good. The Internet is a gift from God.

While I agree with Weinberger, there is also something that is not fundamentally new. Even just looking at past World Communications Day messages over the past quarter century, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II both typically lead with the goodness of the new technology.

“Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 2013):

“I wish to consider the development of digital social networks which are helping to create a new “agora”, an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being. These spaces, when engaged in a wise and balanced way, help to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with concern for privacy, responsibility and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of unity between individuals and effectively promote the harmony of the human family. The exchange of information can become true communication, links ripen into friendships, and connections facilitate communion.”

Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age (Pope Benedict XVI, 2011):

“New horizons are now open that were until recently unimaginable; they stir our wonder at the possibilities offered by these new media and, at the same time, urgently demand a serious reflection on the significance of communication in the digital age. This is particularly evident when we are confronted with the extraordinary potential of the internet and the complexity of its uses.”

New Technologies, New Relationships. Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship. (Pope Benedict XVI, 2009):

“Many benefits flow from this new culture of communication […] While the speed with which the new technologies have evolved in terms of their efficiency and reliability is rightly a source of wonder, their popularity with users should not surprise us, as they respond to a fundamental desire of people to communicate and to relate to each other.”

The Media: A Network for Communication, Communion and Cooperation (Pope Benedict XVI, 2006):

“Technological advances in the media have in certain respects conquered time and space, making communication between people, even when separated by vast distances, both instantaneous and direct. This development presents an enormous potential for service of the common good and “constitutes a patrimony to safeguard and promote” (Rapid Development, 10).”

The Communications Media: At the Service of Understanding Among Peoples (Pope John Paul II, 2005):

“Modern technology places at our disposal unprecedented possibilities for good”

The Media and the Family: A Risk and a Richness (Pope John Paul II, 2004):

“The extraordinary growth of the communications media and their increased availability has brought exceptional opportunities for enriching the lives not only of individuals, but also of families.”

Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel (Pope John Paul II, 2002):

“For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message.”

Mass media: a friendly companion for those in search of the Father (Pope John Paul II, 1999):

“With the recent explosion of information technology, the possibility for communication between individuals and groups in every part of the world has never been greater. Yet, paradoxically, the very forces which can lead to better communication can also lead to increasing self-centredness and alienation. We find ourselves therefore in a time of both threat and promise.”

Even on other technologies… Videocassettes and audiocassettes in the formation of culture and of conscience (Pope John Paul II, 1993):

“Let me say again, and with emphasis, that the audiocassette and the videocassette are gifts of God, gifts, we may say, kept in His treasury through all the ages until our time, kept — for us.”

And even pretty early on in the days of “computer culture” going mainstream… The Christian Message in a Computer Culture (Pope John Paul II, 1990):

“Surely we must be grateful for the new technology which enables us to store information in vast man-made artificial memories, thus providing wide and instant access to the knowledge which is our human heritage, to the Church’s teaching and tradition, the words of Sacred Scripture, the counsels of the great masters of spirituality, the history and traditions of the local Churches, of Religious Orders and lay institutes, and to the ideas and experiences of initiators and innovators whose insights bear constant witness to the faithful presence in our midst of a loving Father who brings out of his treasure new things and old (cf. Mt 13:52).”

Really, what they’re doing here is following the basic pattern of Genesis — first, the goodness of creation, then, the problem of sin.

So, the affirmation of goodness can be traced back to the Church’s earliest proclamations on the Internet and computer culture, in World Communications Day messages as well as in other documents. But, there is something that seems to have shifted about the Papal characterizations of what the Internet is. As Weinberger writes:

The Catholic Church put the “higher” in “hierarchy,” so it’d be understandable if it viewed the Internet as a threat to its power. Or as a source of sinful temptation. Because it’s both of those things. The Pope might even have seen the Internet quite positively as a powerful communication medium for getting out the Church’s message.

While the first two characterizations are more caricatures, the third is not. Certainly in some messages from Pope John Paul II, you can see more of an emphasis on the Internet as a tool for evangelization (though, keeping in mind that evangelization requires dialogue or personal communication and encounter — it’s still not a broadcast approach). It might be said that Pope Benedict XVI picked up on this, but further developed some thinking on relationships, and here Pope Francis picks up and focuses on the Internet as a way of encountering our neighbours. A more thorough analysis of other writings might be required to support that conclusion, but there does seem to be something new in Pope Francis’ emphasis.

As Pope Francis writes (emphasis added):

It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness. Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness. The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people. The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others. Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator. Christian witness, thanks to the internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.

As Weinberger puts it (emphasis added):

For the Pope, the Internet is an opportunity to understand one another by hearing one another directly. This understanding of others, he says, will lead us to understand ourselves in the context of a world of differences […]

If we frame the Internet as being about people being human to one another, people being neighbors, the differences in belief are less essential and more tolerable. Neighbors manifest love and mercy. Neighbors find value in theirs differences. Neighbors first, communicators on occasion and preferably with some beer or a nice bottle of wine.

Neighbors first. I take that as the Pope’s message, and I think it captures the gift the Internet gives us. It is also makes clear the challenge. The Net of course poses challenges to our souls or consciences, to our norms and our expectations, to our willingness to accept others into our hearts, but also a challenge to our understanding: Stop thinking about the Net as being about communication. Start thinking about it as a place where we can choose to be more human to one another.

That I can say Amen to.

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Haise Wedding Speech: We Rejoice That You Exist!

It’s been over seven months, but I’ve been meaning to post a few things from my wedding last summer. I’ll start by sharing my more formal remarks from the reception. This part of the speech begins just after the toast to the bridesmaids and ends just before Heather joined me for the thank yous.

In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the main character, Marlow, spends the majority of the novel sharing a story with his fellow passengers on the deck of a ship on the river Thames. He relates this story in such a vivid and compelling way… but at one point, he trails off, overwhelmed at the impossibility of truly sharing the inner depths of his experience with another person outside of himself.

“It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream — making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that… absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that motion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams. . . .”

He was silent for a while.

“. . . No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence, — that which makes its truth, its meaning — its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream — alone. . . .”

“We live as we dream — alone.” Since I first encountered that line, it has never left me. Marlow said what I would have said, had it been possible for me to set my scattered thoughts in order. In those five words — we live as we dream — Marlow encapsulates that which is most profoundly agonizing about this life: our inability to share it totally with another.

Don’t we all long for unity in the depths of our hearts? Marlow was left to despair, because he thought it was impossible. And it may not be fully possible in this life… but there are some things in which we can find glimmers of that original unity which we all long to reclaim.

“The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake,” Pope Benedict said this past Christmas Eve, “is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His ‘self’ is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one’s own and to enter the common reality.” It is “the truth that alone can unite all people.”

What is truth?

I strongly believe it is this: that “man… cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.” (Gaudium Et Spes 24) It is in giving ourselves that we can find ourselves, that we can tear down those walls and bridge the gap between us. It is through gift that we find unity, find common union, find communion.

And what is love, but the ultimate gift of self?

“Love is not merely a feeling,” says JPII. “It is an act of the will that consists of preferring [constantly] the good of others to the good of oneself.”

And while I’m quoting popes, Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote:

If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: ‘It is good that you exist’ – must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love.

* * *

You are all here tonight because Heather and I love you, and because you have loved us. You have celebrated with us, you have comforted us. You have shared in our burdens and our joy, in our great triumphs and in our epic fails. You’ve put up with us, and you’ve stood up for us. You’ve given us life. You’ve showed us patience and kindness, and forgiven us when we may have been impatient or unkind in return. You’ve been there to laugh with us. Some of you have grown up with us, some of you have been grown-ups to us, and you’ve all grown on us a great deal. You’ve helped to shape Heather and I into the people we are today. You are our friends, our family — our community. You have given us so much: You have taught us how to love.

I’ve been told that this is our “special day.” I suppose it is… but this isn’t a celebration of couplehood; it’s a celebration of family. Whether through blood or other bonds, thank you for being our family. Thank you for showing us love, for showing us how to love, for giving of yourselves and for sharing your lives with us.

It is good that you exist.

* * *

So… we live as we dream, longing for unity… but the truth, that is love, can set us free. What does any of this have to do with marriage?

To get back to quoting popes… John Paul II wrote that “in this entire world, there is not a more perfect, more complete image of God, unity and community, than marriage. There is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to that divine mystery…” to that ultimate unity of three persons in one.

Marriage, I firmly believe, is a tiiiiny foreshadowing of that ultimate unity, a tiny glimpse of what it could mean to not live as we dream, but to be united; a tiny taste of Heaven… I know Heather and I will have hard times ahead. I hear the four stages of marriage are honeymoon, disillusionment, misery, and then — if you’re lucky — joy. (Heather’s asked if we could skip the middle two.) A mentor of mine always says of marriage that we shouldn’t hang our hat on a hook that can’t bear the weight. Heather, I know that I will disappoint you at times, that I will fail to love you perfectly, as you deserve, but I pray that you will remain united with me in this thought: it is your love, Heather, that shows me ultimately what it is to be loved; it is your love that leads me to the love that satisfies, as we journey together towards ultimate communion.

In the words suggested by St. John Chrysostom for such a moment: Heather, I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you, Heather, to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us. . . . I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.

* * *

This day has been a long time coming, but it’s always felt like another big event. I don’t have any understanding yet how big it actually is. Preparing the apartment, it was a bit unreal to think that it would be home in a matter of weeks. It felt more like going to Australia in 2008 — new and exciting, but ultimately a short-term adventure. Or, preparing for this day felt kind of like preparing for a big concert at Hart House, even for the proposal — in the aftermath of these big events, things return mostly to normal… but this, this is a new normal. Weddings itself are pretty new to us. Lisa summed it up as she was planning Heather’s bachelorette, and said, “I’m fully planning this party based on Google searches.”

So, we wouldn’t be here today without your love and support to bring us here. We rejoice that you exist!

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Pope Benedict XVI Defends World Youth Day

Pope Benedict XVI defends World Youth Day, head on:

Benedict laid out the traditional critique of World Youth Day – one that he knows well a few of his own lieutenants are, at times, inclined to share.

“What, therefore, is the nature of what happens at World Youth Day?” the pope asked rhetorically. “What are the forces which run through it? Fashionable analyses tend to consider these days as a variant of modern youth culture, as a kind of rock festival with the pope as the star. With or without faith, these festivals would be more or less the same thing, and in this way the question of God can be taken off the table. There are also Catholic voices that cut in this direction, seeing the whole thing as a big show, perhaps attractive, but ultimately of little significance for the question of faith and the presence of the Gospel in our time. By that account, these would be moments of joyful ecstasy, but at the end of the day they leave everything as it was before, without influencing one’s life in a deep way.”

Benedict then proceeded to take the critique apart.

He also defends the Christian concern for the environment. [original article]

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The New York Times: A Papal Discussion

The New York Times used to be an example of what not to do online, but they really cleaned up their act last year. Aside from dropping the pay-wall and diving head first into the open source community, they launched a ton of great blogs.

With Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States around the corner, Thomas Peters (the American Papist) recommended an excellent blog called “A Papal Discussion,” which “examines the role of Pope Benedict XVI in modern Catholicism.” It boasts a variety of qualified contributors from different backgrounds and faiths.

Today, Alejandro Bermudez wrote a great post in anticipation of the Pope’s message, outlining three key aspects to watch for:

  1. The Pope will restate Church teaching (i.e. Pope still Catholic!) on “controversial” issues.
  2. The Pope is not caught up in political correctness; he “is a creative, independent thinker, and he is more used to intellectual honesty than to crowd-pleasing.”
  3. The most important parts of his message will likely not be sound bites which are easily quotable on the news. The are two proposed keys to interpretation:
    1. “Pope Benedict is convinced that Catholic theology needs to engage in an honest discussion with modernity”.
    2. Benedict believes that faith and reason are not opposed, but in fact important allies against the “postmodern belief that truths worthy of being transmitted down the generations don’t exist.”

Alejandro’s point that the most important part of the message won’t be “cotton candy” is a credit to the blog itself; while the New York Times would have trouble covering the message in depth through traditional mass media means (i.e. a newspaper), the blog allows the New Times to facilitate exactly this sort of coverage by leveraging the power of digital technology and the Internet.

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