The “fourth” temptation of Jesus

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 23 April 2020

Detail of “The Temptation of Jesus According to St. Matthew” on the wall of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Italy. Photo from psephizo.com.

English journalist and satirist Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) said in his book “Christ and the Media” (1978) that if Jesus Christ were still with us in this age, the devil would have surely tested him a fourth time in the wilderness with, “I will put you on TV“.

So true!

Muggeridge has been proven right especially in the last 40 years when television has become the new “altar” not only in homes but everywhere, including in our churches that has made the sacred so ordinary, almost profane with priests speaking and moving more like entertainers with the Mass becoming quite like a variety show, complete even with raffles and prizes!

That is why we priests have to restudy again and review Church teachings on social communication during this long quarantine period. And pray more intensely on our next moves after COVID-19.

Although the corona pandemic has given the much-needed push for our social communication ministry in the church, it is my firm belief that the post-COVID 19 scene can be misleading if not handled properly at this stage.

This early, we can see some abuses in the celebrations of the Holy Mass on TV as well as in other similar platforms like Facebook live.

But the most serious danger now becoming so clear and present are some of us priests totally “lost in media” who have become the center of attractions, pushing Jesus Christ out of the total picture.

Communication is sharing in the power of God

Communication is power. In the story of creation, God created everything by merely saying the words “Let there be…” and everything came into being. Our ability to communicate intelligibly unlike other creatures is a tremendous gift from God which is a sharing in his power to communicate.

This is explains the simple reason that when we love a person, we always talk; any lack of communication is a sign of a breakdown in the relationship like when husband and wife or lovers have “LQ”.

We have seen in recent years with the advent of smartphones how powerful can communication be that it can build or destroy anyone with a single “click”.

Or, how our ego is massaged when we are the first to break a news on Facebook or when our posts get viral or trending!

See how the most influential and highest paid people are always the ones on TV.

The seal of “Good Housekeeping” on every product had been replaced with “As Seen on TV!” as mark of good quality of anything being sold.

To succeed in any war campaign or coup d’etat, military handbooks now give top priority in first neutralizing TV and radio stations to ensure victory.

And, sadly also due to this power of TV, every political career is now launched first on television that is why we have more actors and actresses than solons and statesmen in the corridors of power.

How amazing that it is the fictional character Spider-Man, one of the top grossing film franchise in recent years, is the one who reminds us that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

In the Old Testament, people prided themselves in building the tower of Babel that reaches to heaven that God confused them with different languages causing its collapse. The reverse happened in the New Testament when during the Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit so people could understand each other despite their different languages and the Holy Church was built up.

When communication is seen in the right perspective, it becomes a spirituality because it is always a sharing in the power of God which is love.

“Communication is more than the expression of ideas and the indication of emotion. At its most profound level, it is the giving of self in love. Christ’s communication was, in fact, spirit and life. In the institution of the Holy Eucharist, Christ gave us the most perfect, most intimate form of communion between God and man possible in this life, and out of this, the deepest possible unity between men. further, Christ communicated to us his life-giving Spirit, who brings all men together in unity.

Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communication (Communio et progressio), #11

Communication is spirituality, the sharing of Jesus Christ

Church communication, specifically the communication by every priest is communicating Jesus Christ, the eternal Word who became flesh.

Our mission as priests according to Vatican II as “man of the Word of the living God” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 4) is to primarily share Jesus Christ.

My spiritual director and mentor, truly another father and dad to me, Rev. Fr. Franz-Josef Eilers, svd would always tell me….

“Priesthood is for the service of the Lord and a priest should reflect it. He is not to become a ‘star’ with the public but rather another Jesus figure in humble service of the Lord… The test for a good priest is the depth and power of his spiritual life and being with the Lord. Can you imagine saints like John Vianney and John XXIII as television stars? If the media would report about their life, it is ok; but they themselves should not appear as “star” but rather as servants of the Lord. And this is reflected in their spiritual life and not any ‘show’…”

Personal notes with Fr. Eilers

What a tragedy when we priests are more after the number of followers and likes, forgetting the fact that Jesus himself had only 12 followers with one betrayer among them!

What a tragedy when we priests, starting from the seminary, has always been speaking and working around “Galilee” without any moments of silence and hiddenness of Nazareth and of the desert and wilderness.

All the spiritual masters from the apostolic period down to this modern age of Nouwen and Merton, including the secular Pico Iyer have always emphasized silence and solitude or stillness in prayer before the world and the Lord to truly have impact in this world.

We are priests asked to be the mouth and arms and limbs and legs of Jesus Christ. We are not replacing but merely representing Jesus Christ for it is him who is going to change the world, not us. Our task is to be filled always with Jesus Christ, to be like Jesus Christ, to share always and only Jesus Christ.

Like St. John the Baptist, our attitude toward Jesus and our communication ministry must always be “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn.3:30).

Then why all our pictures in every post, in every announcement?

If we firmly believe in Jesus, we do not need pomp and pageantry and all the gimiks and antics in our celebrations of the Mass or announcements of recollections or bible studies. People would always surely come for Jesus Christ who is more than anybody else.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The primacy of Christ in every Church communication

Long before Canadian philosopher and communication researcher Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) came up with his dictum “the medium is the message”, there has always been the towering figure of St. Augustine in early Church communication process.

In the fourth book of his “Doctrina Cristiana” (Christian Doctrine), he noted that in Christian communication, the process always begins with the Message, Jesus Christ.

Hence, whereas we normally find the process as:

SENDER —> MESSAGE —-> RECEIVER ;

in Church communication, it is always:

MESSAGE (JESUS CHRIST) —> SENDER —> RECEIVER.

When there is a breakdown in this flow of communication, especially by a priest, there is already a problem. When it is the priest who is always in the limelight, always his photo hogging whatever communication platform it may be, or when the homily has become more to delight and tickle the senses, it is a sign of falling into the fourth temptation.

Sooner or later, it will not be surprising that during consecration, instead of experiencing and realizing Jesus saying “This is my Body will be given up for you”, what the priest may be revealing is that This is my body. Be envious.”

Soon, Father will be endorsing products and services, entering into various contracts in the name of the Church, hanging out in the most expensive restaurants, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, leaving Jesus behind among the poor and worst — alone in the Blessed Sacrament because Father is so busy with his “shootings” and media appearances.

And that is when he forgets being a priest, forgets Jesus Christ until it is too late, he had fallen into the trap of the devil as sex and financial scandals unfold, hurting the Church, hurting Jesus Christ, hurting himself and everybody else in the process.

Anybody can always be a good speaker and orator. But not everybody is called to speak for the Lord. Let us not waste it nor abuse it. Most of all, let us not disappoint the Lord who has called us not because we are good but because he is good!

May this quarantine period be another wilderness experience for us priests and communication ministers in the church so we may empty ourselves to be filled with Jesus Christ the Perfect Communicator we must share and proclaim. Amen.

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