Thursday 27 July 2023

Towards a Full Presence - Dicastery for Communication - CTS Books

Towards a Full Presence: 
A Pastoral Reflection on Engagement with Social Media
Dicastery for Communication
ISBN 9781784697679
CTS Booklet DO966

This book is a fascinating read. And yes, I know, you can read Vatican documents on the website. But the booklet version with a table of contents and formatting are worth the small price. This is a powerful little volume. There are 82 points for reflection in this work.  

The description of this volume is:

“"Towards a Full Presence" is a thought-provoking guide that explores the impact of social media on our relationships with others. The Vatican's Dicastery for Communication offers practical strategies for cultivating neighbourliness on social media and building community in a fragmented world.

With an emphasis on self-reflection and pastoral care, Catholics are encouraged to examine their social media habits and consider the effects on those they encounter. From fostering meaningful connections to pausing to tend to the wounds of others like the Good Samaritan, this document provides valuable insights and actionable steps for finding harmony in the digital age.

For priests, for those working in ministry, and for all who use social media, this reflection offers a refreshing and much-needed perspective on social media engagement.

"The following pages are the result of a reflection involving experts, teachers, young professionals and leaders, lay persons, clergy, and religious. The aim is to address some of the main questions involving how Christians should engage social media. They are not meant to be precise “guidelines” for pastoral ministry in this area. The hope, instead, is to promote a common reflection about our digital experiences… How much of our digital relationships is the fruit of deep and truthful communication, and how much is merely shaped by unquestioned opinions and passionate reactions? How much of our faith finds living and refreshing digital expressions? And who is my “neighbour” on social media?””

The chapters and sections in this work are:

I. Watching Out For Pitfalls On The Digital 
     A promised land to rediscover? 
     Pitfalls to avoid
     Weaving relationships
II. From Awareness To True Encounter 
     Intentional listeners 
     Stealing our attention 
     With the ear of the heart 
     Discerning our social media presence 
III. From Encounter To Community 
     Face to face 
     On the road to Jericho 
     "Go and do likewise" 
     Sharing a meal 
IV A Distinctive Style 
     The what and the how: the creativity of love 
     Tell it with a story 
     Building community in a fragmented world 
     The mark of witness

This is a little volume packed with a lot of wisdom for our day and age. It is to be honest a work any Christian would benefit from reading, but especially Catholics, and Catholics that are active on social media and the internet. I once heard a speak at a conference say “All of our lives witness to something, but what are they witnessing to?” And this volume speaks to that:

“14) Increasing emphasis on the distribution and trade of knowledge, data, and information has generated a paradox: in a society where information plays such an essential role, it is increasingly difficult to verify sources and the accuracy of the information that circulates digitally. Content overload is solved by artificial intelligence algorithms that constantly determine what to show us based on factors that we hardly perceive or realize: not only our previous choices, likes, reactions or preferences, but also our absences and distractions, pauses, and attention spans. The digital environment that each person sees – and even the results of an online search – is never the same as that of someone else. By searching for information on browsers, or receiving it in our feed for different platforms and applications, we are usually not aware of the filters that condition the results. The consequence of this increasingly sophisticated personalization of results is a forced exposure to partial information, which corroborates our own ideas, reinforces our beliefs, and thus leads us into an isolation of “filter bubbles”.”

“77) Our social media presence usually focuses on spreading information. Along these lines, presenting ideas, teachings, thoughts, spiritual reflections, and the like on social media needs to be faithful to the Christian tradition. But that is not enough. In addition to our ability to reach others with interesting religious content, we Christians should be known for our availability to listen, to discern before acting, to treat all people with respect, to respond with a question rather than a judgment, to remain silent rather than trigger a controversy and to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Jas 1:19). In other words, all that we do, in word and deed, should bear the mark of witness. We are not present in social media to “sell a product.” We are not advertising, but communicating life, the life that was given to us in Christ. Therefore, every Christian must be careful not to proselytize, but give witness.”

“65) First of all, we should remember that whatever we share in our posts, comments, and likes, in spoken or written words, in film or animated images, should align with the style that we learn from Christ who transmitted his message not only in speech but in the whole manner of his life, revealing that communication, at its most profound level, is the giving of self in love.

Therefore, how we say something is just as important as what we say. All creativity lies in ensuring that the how corresponds to the what. In other words, we can only communicate well if we “love well”.”

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

“1) Great strides have been made in the digital age, but one of the pressing issues yet to be addressed is how we, as individuals and as an ecclesial community, are to live in the digital world as “loving neighbours” who are genuinely present and attentive to each other on our common journey along the “digital highways”.”

“3) The universal Church has also addressed the digital reality. Since 1967, for example, the yearly World Communications Day messages have offered an ongoing reflection on the topic. Beginning in the 1990s, these messages addressed the use of the computer and since the early 2000s, they have consistently reflected on aspects of digital culture and social communication. Raising fundamental questions for digital culture, Pope Benedict XVI, in 2009, addressed the shifts in patterns of communication, saying that media should not only foster connections between people but also encourage them to commit themselves to relationships that promote “a culture of respect, dialogue and friendship.””

“7) Social media is only one branch of the much broader and more complex phenomenon of digitization, which is the process of transferring many tasks and dimensions of human life to digital platforms. Digital technologies can increase our efficiency, boost our economy, and help us solve previously insurmountable problems. The digital revolution extended our access to information and our ability to connect with one another beyond the limitations of physical space. A process that was already taking place over the past three decades was accelerated by the pandemic. Activities, such as education and work, that were normally carried out in person can now be done at a distance. Countries also made significant changes in their legal and legislative systems, adopting online sessions and voting as an alternative to meeting in person. The rapid pace with which information spreads is also changing how politics operate.”

“19) In a time when we are increasingly divided, when each person retreats into his or her own filtered bubble, social media is becoming a path leading many towards indifference, polarization, and extremism. When individuals do not treat each other as human beings but as mere expressions of a certain point of view that they do not share, we witness another expression of the “throw-away culture” that proliferates the “globalization” – and normalization – “of indifference.” Retreating into the isolation of one’s own interests cannot be the way to restore hope. Rather, the way forward is the cultivation of a “culture of encounter”, which promotes friendship and peace among different people.”

“24) Everyone can participate in bringing about this change by engaging with others, and by challenging themselves in their encounters with others. As believers, we are called to be communicators who move intentionally towards encounter. In this way, we can seek encounters that are meaningful and lasting, rather than superficial and ephemeral. Indeed, by orienting digital connections towards encountering real persons, forming real relationships and building real community, we are actually nourishing our relationship with God. That said, our relationship with God must also be nourished through prayer and the sacramental life of the Church, which because of their essence can never be reduced simply to the “digital” realm.”

I hope those few quotes that really hit me will give you a feel for this volume. It is an excellent read. And to be honest one I know I not to return to again. It is one of those pieces that with each reading I hope to try and grasp more, and live it out more. This is a booklet I believe we should all read, and would benefit from reading. Another excellent volume from the CTS, I highly recommend it. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

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