When Pope Francis met Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, at The Vatican, on the day his message for the World Day of Social Communications was released, he noted that the internet, text messages and social networks are “a gift from God.” Indeed, these digital chats can be “fully human forms of communication” yet “it is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal” said the Pope. He later goes on to warn of the pitfalls of the many unfair attacks that take place online and our need to take responsibility for our neighbour.
Pope Francis’ message, entitled ‘A Fruitful Encounter’, prompted me to think of all those emails and texts that I have often sent too hastily. Perhaps they were written with angry or irritated thoughts or perhaps they lacked any thought at all. Fruitful encounters indeed they were not. It is very convenient to be able to text someone instantly to say that I will be late but that opportunity for a speedy response can sometimes come at a cost.
I wonder if my problem is similar to that of the scribes and Pharisees who stood in judgement of a woman caught committing adultery as highlighted in John’s Gospel (8:1-11) which we will hear this forthcoming 5th Sunday of Lent? As they waited with their stones of various shapes and sizes, they felt they were fully furnished with all the justification they could possibly need to carry out their sentence. Jesus did not actually need to say anything, he just doodled, but those few moments of distraction was enough to prompt the executioners to actually look into the face of the woman and recognise that she was a person who stood before them as somebody’s daughter, with a particular character and experiences that make her a unique person born in the image and likeness of God and of course a sinner like themselves.
This living message is most definitely for me. It is an opportunity to reflect on the email I send to complain about the urgent parcel that never turned up. I am not emailing a computer but a real person sat behind a computer. Whatever my gripe, they are a person who probably had nothing to do with my parcel ending up in the depths of my garden pond but indeed could be the person to solve my problem.
Being Media Merciful is not only about public communication but also relates to our day to day digital chats where we are called by Christ to really see the person on the receiving end in the same way that God sees them. We do not need a face to visualise but rather the divine insight to see that whether we are in the right or wrong, whether digitally or in the flesh, our communication, to paraphrase Blessed John Henry Newman, is only authentically human when we open ourselves to the possibility that through the keyboard is one heart speaking to another.
-Fr David Cain, Chaplain to The Briars Youth Retreat Centre & Diocesan Schools Chaplaincy Co-ordinator