People aren’t hearing us. People aren’t seeing us.
That’s why it’s nothing short of urgent that as Catholics we hear the message, not only of the Holy Father’s bold, historic and jolting move to renounce the papacy, but also, from a communications point of view, the message of his entire papacy.
The message: Catholics, be who you claim to be — live lives of prayer and faith.
Pope Benedict has witnessed to us how to do this, by opening a window into his own friendship with Christ, with all the world’s eyes looking in.
Every visible thing this man has said and done as pope has pointed us to Jesus, seeking to build up the body of Christ to a radically new level of engagement.
Knowing what we know now, it’s easy to go back and read everything he has written and spoken — during the final months of his papacy, especially — as marching orders. This is particularly the case with his op-ed in the Financial Times, just days before Christmas, in which he wrote: “Christians should not shun the world; they should engage with it.”
Of course, by then, the novelty of the bishop of Rome on the editorial page of a major global paper wasn’t all that foreign a concept. After all, @pontifex had already joined the tweeters of the world, answering questions and giving busy moms advice on sanctifying their days with prayer, as he helped sanctify our social media, going right to the agora of our day — our iPads and other devices — to preach, to issue challenges, essentially to open a door to the transforming gifts of Divine love and mercy.
This moment in history is one where there is so much noise, and part of the challenge of the New Evangelization is to contribute to our media culture without being just another voice, but to lift the conversation, with our eyes always on Jesus and always seeing Jesus in the other.
We can only do this by approaching communication in prayer. We’ve got to do it knowing our stuff, by continuously going to the word of the Gospel, by reading our Catechism and keeping at it.
This is why this Pope has been the master catechist. All too many of us don’t know what it means to be Catholic anymore. And the world needs real Catholics — who live, love and embrace the faith; who are equipped with the knowledge and desire to defend the faith and engage the culture with that love that emanates from a life of Trinitarian prayer, rather than escape to a cultural ghetto, surrounded only by a chorus of fear or despair for the world.
When he spoke to bishops from the United States a little over a year ago, Pope Benedict said plainly: “We see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity, endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”
And when speaking to a group of Catholic leaders from the Americas this December (I was among them), there was an urgency and even a fatherly admonishment in his words: “The Catholic Church is convinced that the light for an adequate solution can only come from an encounter with the living Christ, which gives rise to attitudes and ways of acting based on love and truth. This is the decisive force which will transform the American continent.”
Proclaim the name of the Lord, he said. “There is no greater service that we can provide to our brothers and sisters. They are thirsting for God,” he continued.
Programs and documents, blueprints and strategies are necessary. But no plan is going to ever be successful in bringing drink to a parched culture without that encounter.
One of the final major moments of his pontificate was last October’s Synod for the New Evangelization and the initiation of the Year of Faith. Frankly, the mere fact he felt the need to focus Catholics on faith in such a basic way is a bit of an indictment of us. At its most basic, it proposes: How about we all consider reading the Creed now and again? And not just during our Sunday obligation.
During the opening Mass for the Year of Faith, the Holy Father invited a group of people, representing all the peoples of the world, to receive messages that were identical to messages Pope Paul VI delivered at the end of the Second Vatican Council. They were addressed to artists, scientists, workers and the sick, among others. There, Benedict XVI handed me a message for all the women throughout the world.
The action in itself was a profound one, from a communications point of view. It was as if to say: We didn’t fully communicate this. You didn’t fully receive this. And so we must begin again, renewed in our faith. Because, as Pope Benedict has done nothing less than reintroduce to us the breadth and depth of our faith and the urgency that we ourselves must encounter Christ, so we might invite the world to join Him.
The best media plan in the world will never be successful if we’re not for real about this Catholicism of which we identify ourselves — if we don’t know it and live it and beg God to take the lead, in full surrender — so that those who have ears to hear might hear the Word in everything we communicate with our words and deeds.
Pope Benedict ended his final Lenten retreat as pope pointing to the necessity of anchoring our communications in faith through prayer: “Peter’s successor and his collaborators are called to give the Church and the world a clear testimony of faith, and this is only possible thanks to a deep and abiding immersion in dialogue with God. Many today are asking: ‘Who will show us what is good?’ We can answer, ‘Those who reflect God’s light and face with their lives.’”
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor at large of
National Review Online, a nationally syndicated columnist and a director of
Catholic Voices USA, which seeks to help make the Church’s case in the public square.