Remarks Delivered at VBM11

All packed to come home and once again too excited to sleep! The Vatican/Blogger Meet-up was exceedingly well put-together, both panels were interesting– the second gave great information on i-developments coming out of the Vatican, and I believe most bloggers in attendance came away with a strong conviction that Rome is very serious about building a cohesive, co-operative relationship with the purveyors of Catholic social media.

It was a real treat to meet so many bloggers and writers whose work I have admired for so long — how adorable and smart is the UK Herald’s Anna Arco, anyone? In a word, incredibly! How smooth were Rocco Palmo and Thomas Peters? They only got applause almost any time they opened their mouths! How cool to meet Dame Catherine, or to get to know the youthful bloggers of France, who cooked up the pub crawl I was, alas, too tired to take part in, thanks to the worst insomnia, ever? It was all TOO cool, and I will be talking about and linking to everyone in attendance in the course of the next few days. I suspect I will be unpacking this trip, blogwise, for a little while, and if you are reading this on Tuesday, the 3rd, as I am flying home, you can read my take on the beatification at First Things 

Below are the remarks I delivered at what I hope will be only the first such gathering:

Archbishop Celli, good fathers, religious and gathered colleagues;

What immense joy! Today we are in thanksgiving for the beatification of Bl. John Paul II, a pope who had an actor’s savvy understanding of media, messaging and the power of an image. 

And his holiness was proclaimed by our dear Papa Benedict XVI, who — to the surprise of some — has been very quick to appreciate the transformative effect of social media upon how the world receives and processes information, both for better and worse.  

Even as more-mainstream media outlets attempt to downplay blogs and blogging as being a force for nothing much beyond self-promotion, the pope has been ahead of the curve, urging priests, religious and lay folk to embrace social media as a powerful means of evangelization, and a source of Catholic clarity in a very noisy, confused and divided world.

Catholic clarity, of course, cannot be disseminated without a measure of charity, and charity can sometimes be the biggest challenge we face in new media.  

The Internet is a place without genuine boundaries. Unlike a magazine, its ideas are not contained between two covers with defined limits; unlike a television or radio broadcast, it is not subject to the constraints of time, or, for that matter, reliant upon sponsorship and underwriters.

Such expansive freedom is both a gift and a terrible temptation to our egos, a force for disorientation and therefore a true battleground for souls. 

If I may use an illustrative example, take the scourge of pornography. 

This is a temptation of human objectification and imagination that has always existed, but previously a personal indulgence in this area has been necessarily constrained. 

Someone who has been lured into the pages of a pornographic magazine may find their imagination ignited in a particular way but only, so to speak, cover-to-cover.

 The internet, however, has no endpage; it accesses the infinity of the human mind and then assists in ego-driven distortions, and so a user of pornography, for example, is able to indulge deeper and more perverse imaginings, without ends. 

He can even find fellow travelers with whom to chat and establish forums of discussion, where the ego can begin to believe that what is disordered  has become normalized.

In a frequently visited echo chamber, the voice of the same 8 people can begin to sound first like 80 people, then like 800 people, until one falls for the illusion that “everybody” thinks as you do, that you are “mainstream” …  when in fact you have travelled to the farthest margins of your humanity.

You are excused for wondering what the vagaries of Internet porn have to do with Catholic clarity or charity, but I use this extreme example in order to demonstrate something very common to the internet, which is the unintentional (and paradoxical) walling-in of our hearts and minds in a medium so vast, and how quickly the constricting of our views can diminish charity.

If you can convince yourself that the world is full of all the best sorts of people (the ones who read your blog) and that these best people all think the way you think, then you have created an illusion that there is an “us” and a “them,” — the people like you are the GOOD Catholics, who accept every teaching unquestioningly and therefore feel entitled to cry “shame” at the rest of us, or they are the SMART Catholics who wouldn’t dream of accepting anything out of Rome without first deconstructing it through the prism of the era; or they are the TOLERANT catholics who will put up with any idea, as long as it is theirs, or they are the TRUE Catholics, who think they can right every wrong if they can just smack the bishops back into line with a sword of rightiousness.

“They” are all of us. Catholicism contains fractious multitudes, and always has.

In a sense the church is as wide and deep as the Internet, but wisely constrained by the boundaries of 2000 years of well-wrought reason, and the Truth of Christ, which overcomes all of our illusions and pretenses. 

Understanding that, bloggers and social media entrepreneurs have a duty to avoid the sort of narrowness of thought that is endemic to the echo chamber; we are fortunate to have a pope who has proved himself, in his book-length interviews with Peter Seewald and elsewhere, to be willing to put any idea throughout the wringer of Catholic analysis, because he is confident that a thorough discussion, rooted on the truth of Christ, will always lead us to the ends of Catholic orthodoxy, and so Pope Benedict is fearless and open, and in Christ’s truth, we can afford to be, too!  

We do nothing to speed glory to the Body of Christ if we are selective toward whom we will and will not reach out. 

We have no business fostering factions and enemies among ourselves, and I say this while admitting fully to my own failings, there 

Let’s face it, when the ego is ignited and the passions are galloping, we all too easily ignore our own better angels, and sacrifice charity for the satisfaction of a what we consider to be a well-deserved jab at some poor misguided other.

Need I say, I go to confession a lot more frequently since I have been blogging. Bless me father, for I have sinned…it’s that damned editor at Commonweal, again…

And so it is a true gift, and a very wise thing for our hosts today to act on the urgings of the Holy Father in developing a relationship with bloggers. 

The church needs us, to assist in evangelization; she needs us to disseminate information and especially to correct information which can often become distorted in the press, as when Pope Benedict discussed a very specific instance of condom use and the headlines blared, “Pope says condoms okay!”

The church needs us to be where the sheep are grazing, so that we may help them find the better pastures. 

But you here in Rome, we need you, too — to keep reminding us that there is a wideness in God’s mercy; that conformity, if and when it comes, must always begin first from a place of freedom, because Christ freely died for us, and that faith wrought without freedom is worthless in the face of his gift, freely given.  We need you to remind us that we are called, ultimately, to oneness, as Christ prayed that all may be one.

Yesterday at the beatification, Catholics from all  around the world raised their voices and praised God in one joyful voice and language, “Gloria in excelcis deo, et in terra pax hominibus…” One need not be an advocate of the Latin mass to appreciate the power of that moment of demonstrated oneness and unity of purpose, despite out different backgrounds, our different economics, educations and perspectives. 

Let us pray that as Catholic social media develops, that same unity, that same oneness may become its defining characteristic.

  
PANEL I 
MODERATOR: Rocco Palmo 
François Jeanne-Beylot
Andrés Beltramo
Elizabeth Scalia
P. Roderick Vonhögen
Matia Marasco
17.30 Pause 
 
MODERATOR: P. Antonio Spadaro S.J.
P. Federico Lombardi S.J.
P. Lucio Ruiz
Thaddeus Jones
Eva Janosikova 
Marco Sanavio

 

 

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Annie

    Elizabeth,
    I knew that you would be awesome…but what an extraordinarily thoughtful and necessary presentation!

    This line pretty much sums it up…
    “The church needs us to be where the sheep are grazing, so that we may help them find the better pastures.”

    Well done, friend.
    ps. you looked great too!

  • Gordon

    What a wonderful experience for you! Not only as a blogger, but as a pilgrim. As primarily a viewer of social media, and a rare contributor, I can see the societal importance of it in today’s culture, both for the good and the bad. I hope that the Holy Spirit will foment positive discernment for you and your colleagues.

    Peace and God Bless, and may Christ always be the center of your life.

  • http://prieststuff.blogspot.com/ Fr. Luigi

    Had a great time too. Thanks for a good article.

  • http://www.techreligious.com Frank

    Grateful for your thoughtful comments. Is it not the great paradox of the web that in the face of such vast and seemingly limitless access to the diversity of human thought and experience, we gravitate toward narrow niches of those who we believe think like ourselves. This is why I agree that “bloggers and social media entrepreneurs have a duty to avoid the sort of narrowness of thought that is endemic to the echo chamber”. Another reaction/question: I agree bloggers can help disseminate information. They can help clarify, catechize, comment, etc. That is all very “Web 1.0″. Info going one way: out. It’s a broadcast model via the new medium of the internet. What about the unique capacity of taking information *in* that web 2.0 offers? How the Church takes full advantage of the two-way conversation that social media make possible is the key to how successful we will be in harnessing its potential. What do you think? Did anything come up at the VBM about this second point?

    In any event, thanks for sharing your remarks and for representing the U.S. blogosphere so well.

  • http://procaritateveritatis.blogspot.com/ Casey Truelove

    Amen! Now if only I could devote more time to blogging. Well, at least God has me helping sheep find the good grass in what ways I can now.

  • Young Canadian RC Male

    “If you can convince yourself that the world is full of all the best sorts of people (the ones who read your blog) and that these best people all think the way you think, then you have created an illusion that there is an “us” and a “them,” — the people like you are the GOOD Catholics, who accept every teaching unquestioningly and therefore feel entitled to cry “shame” at the rest of us, or they are the SMART Catholics who wouldn’t dream of accepting anything out of Rome without first deconstructing it through the prism of the era; or they are the TOLERANT catholics who will put up with any idea, as long as it is theirs, or they are the TRUE Catholics, who think they can right every wrong if they can just smack the bishops back into line with a sword of rightiousness.

    “They” are all of us. Catholicism contains fractious multitudes, and always has.”

    Elizabeth, this was profound, true and to the point. This is exactly what both the lefties and the more extreme righties (cough Voris cough) need to hear. “sword of righteousness” loL! I laugh at the image that comes to mind. Thank you Anchorness, for saying what needed to be said.

  • Young Canadian RC Male

    Sorry to post again shortly, but is there anywhere on the internet we can get transcrpits, sppeches, official vatican documents, etc. on the official blogmeet?

    Also, don’t suppose we can get the same about the Other Blognic hosted by Hilary White?

  • http://www.patheos.com/About-Patheos/Pat-Gohn.html Pat Gohn

    Elizabeth,

    Thanks for your insights regarding the virtue of charity within the digital world. I am immediately reminded of St. Paul’s counsel in Colossians 3: 14: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

    I also echo @Frank‘s question regarding the Web 2.0 potential, which levels of the playing field and provides a forum and meeting place for seekers and experts and observers alike to enter into conversation on a various topics especially as they relate to the Christian life. Sites like Patheos are a good start, certainly, but I’m curious to know if other thoughts came up at the Vatican meeting as the Church continues to enter the vast digital mission field.

  • Welcome Home, Tired One!!!

    Well! Nicely said, Anchoress Elizabeth!

    I appreciate how well thought out your comments were and how very honest as well.

    I even heard it in your speaking voice! Must be all those liturgy of the hours broadcasts. Sweet!

    I so appreciated the echo chamber comment!! I was in Rome with 2 who stepped out of the echo chamber of the latin mass crowd and it got cachophonous and gave even my soul a headache. (Funny thing, when I went to check the spelling of that very word it said, having a harsh or discordant sound. Dis-chordant? That would mean not in unison or harmony. Humm…) When I mentioned the Luminous Mysteries on Holy Thursday with great joy, I was cut off with a haughty, “WE! do not PRAY the Luminous mysteries. We do not even know what they are!!! The rosary was perfect before.” I was stunned to silent prayer because nothing else could tame my frustration and mounting anger. It sounded like so many blogs I had tasted and left uneaten. Wow, what happened to just being Catholic? To all of us being together? I felt cut off from these two people and we were at the same table having a meal. What about when we’re at the Table of the Lord??? Ut unum sint? No? Yes? I’ve been mulling this ever since and along come your comments that seem to express what I was so disturbed by. What a relief. My gratitude is yours.

    THANK YOU for saying what you said.

    I like what comment #4 said about two way communication. I hope the Vatican will also hear us, not on faith and morals, but, to keep their finger better on the pulse.

    God keep you as you recover and debrief.

  • Julian Barkin

    Hello Elizabeth,

    Sorry to bear the bad news, but your words have fallen upon dead ears:

    http://www.socon.ca/or_bust/?p=14936

    [Oh, well...all sorts of opinions on the interwebz...that's why it is useful. -admin]

  • James Martin, SJ

    Congratulations! :) And welcome back!

  • Nancy D.

    With all due respect, if it is not an illusion that catholicism is a “fractitious multitude”, then catholicism that reflects a “fractitious multitude”, would not be The Catholicism of oneness and purpose. That being said, I can personally relate to your bit about Commonweal and forgive me for suggesting that in this noisy, confusing, and divided world, we could use the leadership of some Good Bishops to help separate the wheat from the chaff. Best wishes on your journey.

  • http://www.ironiccatholic.com IC

    Thought it was the best presentation there and I’m thrilled you posted it. Good to meet you and safe travels!

    [Thanks, you're very kind. I want to link to your latest, which has some great stuff...-admin]

  • http://yorkshireshepherd.blogspot.com Fr. John Abberton

    I started blogging in 2009. Since then I have been called a heretic, a modernist and have been criticised on others’ blogs. A theological point I was making against women priests was called “absolute rubbish” without any counter argument. I have appealed for charity and respect through my own blog and have removed myself from some blogs (although not as many as I should have) because of the apalling language and behaviour of Catholics. I have even seen a highly respected priest blogger arguing that a certain kind of behaviour is acceptable on blogs as though this is a new kind of unviverse. I think the Vatican meeting was necessary and I thank you for your contribution.k

  • Together in Christ

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I appreciated your take on this event. I didn’t hear anything about how you could see it on the web so I’ve been trying to follow all that was discussed via blogs, news etc., but I’ve not got a full enough understanding yet. There seemed to be a very strong emphasis on “charity” and you’ve written about that extensively also. While in Christian essence it would be wonderful to live in Christian unity in general I have to say it is dramatically disingenuous and I’d say even patronizing for the Vatican to raise this as the some sort of criteria for Catholic bloggers to live by. An ideal – absolutely – but a criteria? That’s stretching onto grounds of hypocrisy. Even the hierarchy of the Church cannot claim this pinnacle of human behaviour – are we saying there are no divisions, battles, egos, ambitions, positionings within the Church, amongst our Bishops, priests, nuns – the faithful? Really? Unity – yes beautiful – but unity comes through Truth and Christ is the Truth that the Church (and that means all of us) is called to uphold in ourselves and in each other. That’s what this conversation is about.

    Blogging is a form of journalism and journalism, in its purest sense, is after unbiased truth. I keep hearing about this lack of charity but I’m trying to understand what they’re talking about. It’s very vague. Did you address specific examples of a ‘lack of charity’. I’ve seen and read of some pretty heated battles between some pro-life bloggers and some members of the hierachy in the Church – particularly in Canada – but in a country that shamefully has absolutely no abortion law at all because the major media has essentially censored discussion in totality I don’t peg this as a cause of concern or even a lack of Christian charity. I’d say it’s the fruits of a horrendously important battle for truth about abortion.

    I’ve read a few comments from people like Hilary White and others present that spoke of the real crux of the matter – the potential for ‘regulation’ of the blogosphere and while I’ve heard a few comments that people felt the Vatican wasn’t pushing in that direction there was no official comment from the Vatican that stated clearly their position. No doubt this was an amazing relationship building opportunity (if not delayed by at least 4 years) but can you shed any light on this central question about regulation from a factual rather than a feely standpoint?

    [Hi Ben, a little under the weather, here, but this issue is not clear immediately and I will try to get some clarity today. My take on that question of regulation is different than Hilary's. I am not entirely sure that the vatican officials were talking about regulation/monitoring in the way we would normally consider, but instead means to explore how to create some sort of entity within the vastness of bloggerdom/blogosphere which will allow for consistency in terms of contact, information dispersal, etc. When you're dealing with millions of bloggers, expediency might simply require that somewhere along the line, some sort of "guild" or something might be useful. I think that's really all it is about, but will try to find out more. -admin]

  • Gail F

    What an excellent presentation! As a Catholic blogger I appreciate all your points and always try to remember the “fractious multitude” that is our Church. If it is good enough for Christ it is good enough for me. That is not to say that some people aren’t wrong — they are. But so often, people wrong about one thing are right about many others, and vice versa. To dismiss everyone who does not agree with you on everything is arrogance of the highest sort. Some of the best people I know disagree with me on almost everything to do with liturgy and many theological points — but they love Christ and try to live that love. Blogging is a balancing act that many of us (myself included) have not mastered yet, but I think you come pretty close! Except for that one post last year when… :-)

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    Dear Anchoress,

    I have not finished reading most of the comments yet because I must take the time to tell you that this post, well as far as I see it anyway, has got to go down as “ONE” of your greatest spiritual moving moment of reading for me.

    I hear ya! You’re probably saying that because “IT” touched your ego in someway! Right Victor? :)

    Maybe so but why do I keep getting the urge to go out and blog in the 3th and 4th + persons again to go tell all my so called imaginary friends at The Hotel of Fools then? Can you answer that for me? :)

    After reading this, I think that I’m going to go and pray first.

    God Bless Peace


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