The Pope wrote me a letter today.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Today, I received a personal, emotional, instructive and wise missive from my Holy Father. It came in the form of this year’s message for the 47th World Communications Day. His letter had a descriptive title:
Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization.
It came on his favorite brown parchment paper and contained his signature and a prayer just for me. I read the letter out loud to myself, trying to affect Pope Benedict XVI’s soft, melodious accent. Since his letter came to me digitally, I printed it and soon filled it with underlines, highlights and exclamation points. By the time I receive his next letter to me on January 24th of 2014, the papal correspondence I printed today will be coffee stained and will have traveled in my possession to numerous destinations, where I will share his amazing insights with anyone who’ll listen. They’re that good.
And guess what — if you’re reading this post online, you received this same gift from the Holy Father today. I’ll admit that the annual message for World Communications Day is my favorite bit of papal teaching every year. And if you read blogs and follow friends of Facebook and Twitter, perhaps you share my affinity for this annual “pep talk” to those of us who use the tools of social communications to share our faith. In reality, we’re all recipients of this guidance, as the ways in which we communicate with one another become more fully integrated with the fabric of our lives.
Today’s letter is one of my favorites in the past several years. I found myself at several points nodding, fist pumping, and — if I’m being honest — being moved to tears at the degree to which our Pope “gets” what so many of us are trying to do in these spaces. I won’t go into the details here, other than to encourage you to treat yourself to a thorough reading of the document. Once you’ve done that, take five minutes and listen to this amazing interview with Msgr. Paul Tighe, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. If Pope Benedict XVI increasingly “gets it“, it’s thanks in large part to the diligent work of men like Msgr. Tighe as they continue to lead our Church into new and amazing forms of dialogue. As much as I loved reading this Papal document, I also loved what Msgr. Tighe has to say in his interview as he interprets the document.
For those who have accepted the gift of faith with an open heart, the most radical response to mankind’s questions about love, truth and the meaning of life – questions certainly not absent from social networks – are found in the person of Jesus Christ. It is natural for those who have faith to desire to share it, respectfully and tactfully, with those they meet in the digital forum. Ultimately, however, if our efforts to share the Gospel bring forth good fruit, it is always because of the power of the word of God itself to touch hearts, prior to any of our own efforts. Trust in the power of God’s work must always be greater than any confidence we place in human means. In the digital environment, too, where it is easy for heated and divisive voices to be raised and where sensationalism can at times prevail, we are called to attentive discernment. Let us recall in this regard that Elijah recognized the voice of God not in the great and strong wind, not in the earthquake or the fire, but in “a still, small voice” (1 Kg 19:11-12). We need to trust in the fact that the basic human desire to love and to be loved, and to find meaning and truth – a desire which God himself has placed in the heart of every man and woman – keeps our contemporaries ever open to what Blessed Cardinal Newman called the “kindly light” of faith.
I hope that you’ll share my joy in receiving this correspondence… that you’ll print it, highlight it, spill coffee on it, carry it around with you, and make it your own. It is a validation of the very real role each of us play in the work of the New Evangelization. It’s a letter to you, from someone who loves you very much and who deeply desires to lead you and those you interact with closer to Christ. It’s our marching orders for 2013 and beyond.