Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
When it comes to the media, Catholics have differing opinions. I can recall a Skype call with two of my professors in the early days of graduate school where I earned a master’s in theology. Days prior, I made some comments to a member of the administration, suggesting that the school branch out and make more use of the new media to interact with the younger students (the bulk of the classroom presence). The Skype call was with the Vice President and with the director of online education.
I figured they wanted to hear a few suggestions, but in reality, they were prepared to offer me a job. “We hear your concerns and we agree with the need to make more use of the new media. So... why don’t you be the one to get us started?” I accepted.
My job as the Social Media Director for Holy Apostles College and Seminary was not glitzy and required a lot of work. Frankly, I didn’t know as much as I need to know for the job, but I knew enough to “get started” and had a desire to learn. The position also came with frequent feedback and opining from the faculty. Some agreed that the new media was a useful tool, but others were not so supportive. “I think it does more bad than good,” “I’ve never seen a good example of evangelism online,” “I’ll never let my kids use Facebook”—if there was a reason not to use the new media, I heard it.
But, as my practice with the new media created new skills, I also became read in the Church’s teaching on the media. I didn’t even realize the Church was in touch with these tools. Yes, I knew that Pope Benedict XVI was the first pope to have a Twitter account and I had heard of World Communications Day, but really, I didn’t know much else. Soon I discovered that the Church’s teaching on the media is mature, deep, bold, fresh, and honestly not as arcane and naïve as I thought it would be. Perhaps you’re interested, too, but aren’t sure where to start. Here’s some documents you absolutely have to read, especially if you’re involved in the media.
Sounds like an old Western movie, huh? Well, funny thing is, it came out when Westerns dominated the silver screen. Movies had been out for a couple decades and were becoming sophisticated and overpoweringly influential. In 1936, Pope Pius XI wrote Vigilanti Cura out of a concern for the “lamentable” development of the use of cinema and the portrayal of sin and vice. The concern of the Pope was the observed use of motion pictures to an undesirable end for Christianity and mankind, that it had been used in such a way that its effect was a lowering of the moral standards of its spectators. The central message of Vigilanti Cura is responsibility and is to this day a very engaging and relevant document when we apply it to the media of today. Vigilante Cura says,
It is urgently necessary that all progress made, by God’s favor, in human learning and technology actually contribute to God’s glory, the salvation of souls, and the spread of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, in such wise that we may all, as the Church bids us pray, ‘so pass through the things of time that we may not lose those things that are eternal (28).
Many consider Miranda Prorsus to be the first modern document of the Magisterium to concern the use of media. That’s likely because the document was the first to recognize a broad scope of media arts to include the radio, television, cinema, and opens itself to further innovations. Written in 1957, this was an encyclical of Pius XII and contains his famous reverence for technology as, “gifts from God,” breaking down the perceived distrust that many have grown to have in communication innovations, a perception which many today still share. Pius XII tells us that the media should be used to benefit three main functions: announcing the news, educating, and entertaining. Through these functions, the proper use of media are those actions that promote and perfect human life and morals.
This is the Decree on the Media of Social Communications, and it’s a whopper. Promulgated on the same day, December 4th, 1963, Inter Mirifica with Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on Sacred Liturgy), was first document promulgated by the Second Vatican Council. Inter Mirifica is the mortar of all media-related teachings of the Church because, as an ecumenical decree, it is the document from which other teachings have emanated. It is interesting that these two were released on the same day, as the first documents of Vatican II—one teaches us how to talk to God, and the other teaches us how to talk to mankind. Inter Mirifica challenges Catholics to embrace all forms of media that enhance man’s function as a bearers of salt and light in the world.
Catholic can also keep up, yearly, with the pontifical World Communications Day address (created from the decree in Inter Mirifica). Wherever you start, using the media appropriately requires more than filling in your profile data, posting pictures of your lunch, and gaining followers. Those who wish to use the media for evangelization properly will do well to become thoroughly engrained in the magisterium of the Catholic Church. Which—didn’t you see it coming?—is why I wrote my new book, Social Media Magisterium: A No-Nonsense Guide to the Proper Use of Media. This is a mature look at what the Church says, and how to do it, covering topics on evangelization, ecumenism, the family, and more. Probably useful to all, I share several invaluable stories on how I utterly failed with the new media, and a few experiences that have given me great cheer and confidence. Whether you’ve only just downloaded your first app, have been blogging for years, or aren’t sure what to do with your Instagram account, this book will help you generously. Please considering purchasing Social Media Magisterium today in either Kindle or Paperback.