New Wine, New Wineskins
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.
Mark 2:21, 22
One friend lives on the slopes of the mountain and is content to roam the little hills and valleys around his home and neighbourhood, and is comfortable there; another dares to climb to the highest point and journey beyond what the eye could see – to a whole new world.
Two ways, not mutually exclusive, are continually open to us: one suggests we stay where we are, on the turf we know well; the other beckons us to push forward.
The celebration of World Communications Day 2018 comes at a time when the age of acceleration, as the present has been dubbed, places us in new situations, sometimes giving us solutions to problems we do not have, but at other times promising to open up, in various disciplines, marvellous opportunities that fill us with hope.
This World Communications Day (WCD) gives us the opportunity once more to reflect on communication issues and to bring attention once more to the worthy profession of journalism made so by the “most wonderful” of gifts, communication.
The spawn of fake news, aided to a great extent by the pervasiveness of social media and the dumbing down of the gatekeeper role that has been a feature of traditional media, demands a restating of the high ideals of journalism in our time. Pope Francis dedicates this year’s WCD message to the issue of truth and “rediscovering the dignity of journalism and the personal responsibility of journalists to communicate the truth”. Key to arriving at the truth we seek today must be an appreciation of the sacredness of communication.
Communication in earlier times was synonymous with exploration and opening up of new frontiers. It went hand in hand with transportation and easily came to be associated with the transmission of information. But from the start, communication implied participation and sharing – a more ritualistic model, as communication theorist James W Carey argued.
In a ritual definition, communication is linked to terms such as “sharing,” “participation,” “association.” “fellowship,” and “the possession of common faith.” ... A ritual view of communication is directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs.
Communication is as important for human existence as it is for the life of the Church. We can even say the Church is communication. The Church’s two-fold mission of gathering and sending forth requires communication. The Pastoral Letter, New Ways of Being Church in a Digital Milieu (AEC 2017) begins by stating, “Good News to the poor is the mission and goal of all pastoral communications” (no.1). Indeed, the Church is a ‘communications network’ meant to bring all Christians into union with God and to sustain them on their journey to him. “Communications,” said Cardinal Avery Dulles, “is at the heart of what the Church is all about. The Church exists to bring men into communion with each other.”
Communication happens only in interplay with the symbolic environment, the culture and technology of the time. Church communication cannot hope to be effective without drawing upon the popular culture, learning from it and impacting it.
New Ways of Being Church states, “Through signs, gestures, words, books, moving images, audio and social communications, the Church has sought to proclaim her message so that all people will hear it in their own native language” (no. 1).
It adds, “as Church, we desire to call forth the artistic giftedness of women and men within our faith communities to assist us in our mission in the digital milieu” and recalls the words of Pope John Paul II,
In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art ... Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds, which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen (no. 18).
It is not enough to push against the boundaries, to stretch the limits of our understanding or work. The time comes when it is necessary to start afresh, to begin again. Indeed, the circumstances will urge us to start anew. It will be necessary then to resist settling for the comfortable, to dare, to take the risk.
A too often unacknowledged feature of our human experience is a sacramental dimension – the ability to make visible or create through signs and words, and through art in all its forms what is invisible – making communication possible. In other words, art, in all its forms, and artists can play a sacramental and prophetic role in our societies today. We are all communicators but, in a way, we are mystics too. In his book Painting and Reality, theologian Etienne Gilson, reflecting on the connection between the religious dimension and the creative process, concludes that the source of the exhilarating feeling that some artists experience may arise from their interaction with the “creative power from which all the beauties of art as well as nature ultimately proceed”.
Church communicators need to listen to the other voices in our Caribbean culture that speak with a sense of the Infinite, that reach beyond the limits of our day-to-day existence.
Of course, not all art, or all artists as they proceed in their spiritual odysseys, will aid the mission of the Church today; the packaging of the content may obstruct and detract. This means that as Church the function of educating our people in appreciating the symbolic forms of communication, in interpreting them and making use of them in catechesis will always be an important one.
From one territory to another, throughout our region, music, including calypsos and songs in popular culture, film and fine art, provide a rich resource to open doors to the sacred and move us beyond the limits of our everyday living to imagine our best selves and contemplate the Giver of all good gifts. When truth is pursued as the highest good, little room is left for “fake news”.
A Church that understands participation, fellowship and association as critical to communication will necessarily speak the language of collaboration. Collaboration can only begin when groups or individuals recognise they have something in common. It is built on the foundations of communication and cooperation. There is no collaboration without communication and cooperation.
Collaboration among a people of faith requires that they see one another as gift and be willing to engage in the mission they see as worth staking their lives on. For that reason only those in communion, those sharing a common language of faith, can truly collaborate.
The Integrated Pastoral Communications Plan (IPCP), instituted by the AEC in 2017, demands collaboration. The IPCP calls dioceses to share their communication skills for the development of the region, for proclaiming the kingdom of God and preaching the Good News to the poor (Lk 4:18,19). It invites each diocese “to embrace a bold, prophetic, missionary stance for both understanding the digital milieu for communicating faith and for reimagining how to nurture collaborative ministries” within the AEC and in each member diocese (no. 45). So what takes place at the regional level is mirrored in each diocese, with representatives of various ministries working together to design a plan that draws on the skills and the gifts that lie within each ministry to further the work of these ministries and the mission of the local Church.
The Church is called in this time to a new evangelisation: one that is new in its method, new in creativity and new in its zeal. Although the Church has been instituted once and for all, each generation steeped in its own culture must appropriate it anew. It needs to collaborate with artists inside the Church as part of the IPCP design, but it needs to work with artists on the outside as well. The Church cannot be afraid to look beyond the accustomed, well-travelled paths. The apostle James reminds us, on the one hand, that we are to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls”, but also to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:21, 22).
It is in this age when the moral fabric of our societies have been weakened by a persistent and ever intrusive technological environment that something more is demanded by those who communicate the faith and by those who work in the field of journalism. It is also in challenging times like the present, times also of great paradox and mystery, that the arid landscape can be touched by a sweet grace that causes spectacular flowers to bloom because communication is of God himself.
For this reason we face the present with great hope, sustained by the knowledge that outside and within the Church where communication is of its very purpose, God, who never takes back his word, will be faithful (Is 55:11).
Through the intercession and inspiration of our Blessed Mother may we renew our commitment to proclaim new life and salvation through Jesus Christ. And may the grace of God accompany us in our great enterprise of communicating his tender and loving mercy to the world.
Happy World Communications Day to all!