Archbishop George J. Lucas: Communication is at the heart of the church
In this week’s interview, communications manager David Hazen asks Archbishop George J. Lucas about the importance of communications in the church, the challenges that our media-saturated environment pose for evangelization, and the opportunities and risks of the internet. Download the podcast at archomaha.fireside.fm.
Q: In January each year, the pope issues a letter for World Communications Day. What is the church’s role in communications? Why should this topic be of interest to Catholics?
The issues the pope addresses on World Communications Day are issues all year long, because communication is right at the heart of the mission of the Catholic Church. Jesus himself is the word made flesh, and the personal communication of our Heavenly Father’s saving plan to us as his sons and daughters.
We want to communicate Jesus to the world, to announce his living presence in the church, so people have an opportunity to meet him and to know him.
Q: Most of us live in a media-saturated environment. What particular challenges does this pose to the church today?
Communication has obviously evolved in recent years; there is a lot more coming at us, and it’s noisy and immediate. So the challenge for a preacher of the Gospel and for the church herself is competing with all of the communication that people are trying to digest.
It is also the challenge of communicating an entirely unique event, the unique person of Jesus himself, and the unique mission that the church fulfills in the lives of her members.
Q: In the aforementioned letter, Pope Francis described the internet as a “source of knowledge and relationships that were once unthinkable.” But he also points out the serious risk that “it can also increase our self-isolation, like a web that can entrap us.” How can we hold these two facts in tension?
It has been widely commented on, but I think it’s worth highlighting in this context. God creates us for community – that’s a need, a desire that we all have. Sometimes we are very conscious of it, and sometimes we’re not, but it’s always there. Since the original sin there are no unmixed blessings in this world. Social communications seem to connect us very easily with people that we already know and love and care about, and with others far and wide. At first glance, it seems like a very powerful expression of this need for community and participation.
But media can quickly become a kind of a medication or a drug that temporarily salves our deep need for community. We know that the devil is always at work in whatever circumstance to isolate us and to twist good things toward evil.
I think many of us have had the experience of being in meetings where people made an effort to be there and we were trying to discuss something of some significance, but one or other of the people at the table is either very openly or perhaps under the table checking email or reading or texting on their phone. They’re clearly not engaged with the rest of us. They’re physically present but not really there, so community is not enhanced or deepened but actually weakened.
Now, I’m older than some to be sure, and it’s easy to get cranky about new-fangled things. But I really do appreciate my phone and my iPad. They make it much easier to stay connected to others in an archdiocese of more than 240,000 people.
So, communications technology can help us towards real human society, real human communion, or it can keep us from that. We have to be intentional about how we use it because it absorbs us so much by its nature. We have to step back every so often like I’m doing with you now, and ask, “What is this tool and how do I use it as a member of the body of Christ to deepen the bonds of communion?”
Q: Toward that end, as we’ve been preparing for ArchOmaha Unite, we have been putting out messages through digital channels. One service that we have offered to parishes is called Flocknote, a text-messaging and email tool designed specifically for churches to help them build up their communities, and to connect people to the life of the parish.
Right. In anticipation of the ArchOmaha Unite event in June, we are trying to take advantage of as many means of communication as are available. And as with Flocknote, we hope to introduce some tools that we’ll be able to continue using after the event is over.
I appreciate that we have to live in the times that we are living in, and if we are going to communicate the Gospel, the saving message of Jesus, we have to be in the place where people are communicating and listening.
We can imagine that in the first century when the word went out in town that a letter came from St. Paul, everybody was really excited because they certainly were not getting letters from him every day. But we are flooded with communications. So the church needs to be there where the communication is taking place and continue to look for the ways to make that communication unique. It’s important for those of us who work in the archdiocese, for example, to understand the best ways to communicate with people.
I also want to encourage everyone to remember that communication has two parts: The first is the message, and the second part is receiving it. Those of us who want to continue to grow in faith and want to remain connected to the community of believers have to be looking for the communication that is being offered.
We need to be intentional in terms of how we find and use the best tools for communication. But we all also have to be intentional in looking to receive things that are really going to lead us into a deeper communion with the Lord and with his people.