Today's topic, along the theme of "We Believe and So We Speak," was on the specific mission of the Daughters of St. Paul. In Church language, it is "the Apostolate of Social Communications." We were calling it that way before "social media" came around. In fact, the language itself comes from Vatican II, but it corresponds to an insight that our Founder had pretty much all along: media are not about the technology, and not even so much about the message. Media are about people. Media are ways people connect with each other.
Here's a bit of what I shared with the sisters today:
In the early years of the Pauline Family, the common expression that was already in use among Catholics was "the Good Press," but our Founder began to replace that language. He preferred to say it was the "Apostolate" of the Editions. And he loved to talk about the apostolate. In a meditation on St Joseph from 1953, he spoke of the apostolate in terms of cooperating in the salvation of mankind the way St. Joseph did. The fact that our apostolate involves material work strengthened that association. "Labor, in the life of St Joseph as in the life of Jesus, was a work that contributed to the salvation of the world. Uplift work: it is not only a means of support, but even more a means of sanctification and a means of apostolate in our hands."
He insisted that our work be apostolic, not commercial, not a mere means of support. That the teachings we communicate be authentic, and that the labor be apostolic: "Otherwise, tear down the buildings! They serve no real purpose; indeed, they only deceive ourselves and others."
"Let us ask the grace to love the apostolate, indeed, let us thank The Lord that he chose us for this. It is not a favor we do for God--carrying out the apostolate; instead, it is a privilege The Lord has granted us. Others are called to other work, we to apostolic work. Let each one ask The Lord, through the intercession of St. Joseph, to be a good cooperator in the christianization of the world, in the evangelization of the world. Each one then should promise to carry out her apostolate faithfully, generously.
Obviously, the apostolate of social communications can be accomplished in activity, but it can also be completely carried out with purely spiritual resources, making it "an apostolate for all seasons." Our Founder's "apostolic prayers" are very enlightening in this...
One of the characteristics of the apostolic prayers in our manual is how much thanksgiving is expressed in them: "We adore you, Lord, Creator of heaven and earth; we thank you for the wonderful gifts you have given us..." Alberione saw communications instruments as marvels; as gifts of God first and foremost.
He praised God for the human genius involved in devising these technologies, and prayed that their use would also be guided by the highest motives. He didn't focus solely on the spiritual benefits or utility of the media, but said, "Their mission is an apostolate for the material and spiritual uplifting of people and society."
In the "apostolic" prayers in our manual, Alberione consistently quotes St. Paul: "Everything is yours, and you are Christ's and Christ is God's." Everything comes from God-as-origin to return to God-as-goal "where Christ will hand over the Kingdom to his God and Father", and God will [truly and finally] be all in all. So even in the way the media are used, he saw creation reaching its pinnacle.
And then there's the aspect of reparation, which we looked at a bit the other day. Reparation is a special, entirely supernatural expression of the apostolate of social communication. There's no "sin" in the media themselves, but there are human beings who produce and consume their content, so there certainly can be more than sweetness, light and grace involved.
Think in terms of social sin: are there "structures of sin" built into certain aspects of how these technologies are run that have as a result, that people's choices, their assumptions, their ways of proceeding go in a downward direction? The Founder assumes that the downward tendency is there, but not that it characterizes media as such. No: Alberione thanks the Lord for having enlightened (keyword!) us to discover the way creation can be used to share a message across the planet in a split second. He thanks God that everything is created with the potential to "sing your glory as Creator and Savior." So when Alberione writes about spiritual dangers with regard to media, he sees it more as a sacrilege; "misusing gifts God gave us with such wisdom and love." And even there, he doesn't blame people so much as "the enemy" who "sows weeds" and turns the media into stagnant wells.
What about us? Do we have a place in the apostolate of social communication if the deepest we ever get into the media is the occasional e-mail? You already know what Alberione said. Everything we do is apostolate; the apostolic part isn't in the work, but in our intention of doing whatever we do for the glory of God and peace to humanity. I tend to focus a lot on the technology, on the activity; but in the Gospel, the call to the apostolate was all about relationship: "He called his disciples to himself and from them he chose 12."