Call of the COVID-19 quarantine: a return to our contemplative spirit

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 29 April 2020

Photo by author, 2010.

This is again for my brother priests and fellow workers in Church communication: our extended “enhanced community quarantine” is a call for us to rediscover the contemplative spirit so essential in our communication apostolate. It is best that before we go in front of the camera, before we post anything at all, or even before we go out doing our social action, let us first have Jesus Christ in us.

After all, it is always Jesus and only Jesus we bring as priests in everything we say and do. Jesus is our life as priests and without him, our works mean nothing. Worst, it may be happening that it is not Jesus whom we are following when we fail to spend time with him in serious prayers that unknown to us, we are already replacing him by creating our own ministry apart from him.

Incidentally, we are celebrating today the Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena who is considered as one of the patron saints for those working in telecommunications and TV stations.

In one of her numerous “ecstatic” visions, it is said that when she was so sick in her room, she begged the Lord to give her a glimpse of the celebration of the Mass in their chapel. The Lord heard her prayer and thus, she became the first person in history to have celebrated Mass by “remote telecast”!

From Google.

Faith and technology

We have mentioned in our previous reflection that we now live our faith in a mass-mediated culture. Media is all around us. And there is always that intense temptation by the devil to put us on TV and the internet to be popular.

So, how do we interact with technology on a daily basis?

What are we posting on Facebook? Are we like the rest who are also hooked into TikTok with all the inanities that go with it?

How much time do we spend for social media and Netflix these days?

And how many hours do we spend before the Blessed Sacrament, excluding our Liturgy of the Hours and praying of the Holy Rosary?

From Google.

We are familiar with Marshall McLuhan’s dictum “the medium is the message”.

This we have seen in the past very evident in our ministry when some priests have transformed the South American telenovelas and later Koreanovelas into a gospel too that people felt like listening to reviews during the homily. And it had given some people the idea that every homily of the priest must say something about television shows! In fact, about three years ago, some priests have to be reminded by the CBCP during the Simbang Gabi to focus only on the Word of God and not on TV shows and jokes to get the attention of their congregation during Mass.

But let us not forget that later in his life, McLuhan added to his dictum that “the medium is the massage” to warn us that sooner or later, we can be eaten up by media that everything is reduced into a show – or a palabas in Filipino that means outward.

That is what a show is, a palabas which is empty or walang laman.

And shallow, mababaw.

That is the sorry state of our many social communication efforts in the Church when we have Masses that have become like entertainment shows, priests becoming entertainers, church buildings and decors that look like videoke bars evoking none of the sacred, and tarps and posters that are all hype without any evangelical meaning.

Observe also how our presentations and shows in our Catholic schools and parish halls have become mere repetitions of what are on television that have left many of us now stuck in Emmaus who could no longer find the way back to Jerusalem, even to Jesus because all we see are the fun and excitement, the glitz and the glamor of media.

And of our massaged ego.

Road to Emmaus from clarusonline.it

Keeping technology in its place in the Church

We are not saying modern communications is evil; the Church has always been clear that these modern means of communications are in fact a gift from God. Vatican II asserts that it is Church’s “birthright” to use and own these modern means of communication for evangelization (Inter Mirifica, 3)

Our challenge in the Church is to keep these modern technologies in its proper place.

A technological culture is not the most hospitable environment for religious belief, but neither is it necessarily hostile. If we are to find a way of expressing our faith in this technological culture and of speaking to and with the people formed by this culture we need to take time to consider how we, as individuals and as a faith community, interact with technology on a daily basis.

James Mcdonnell, Communicating the Gospel in a Technological Age: Rediscovering the Contemplative Spirit (1989)

In a story posted by the CBCP News two days ago, it reported the experience of Filipino priest Fr. Jun Villanueva who contracted the dreaded COVID-19 disease in New York City last March shortly after he had arrived to study there.

Assigned in a parish in the heart of the Big Apple, Fr. Villanueva tells how he spent his days of being “alone literally and emotionally” as “moments with God”. But, his turning point came after recovering from the corona virus when he began celebrating Mass alone:

“I really cried when I first celebrated Mass without churchgoers. There’s no one in the Church except Jesus,” he recalled. “Then I realized that the Mass is not a show but our union with Jesus, whether there are people or none,” he said. “I started to look at the situation from that perspective”.

Fr. Jun Villanueva, CBCP News, 27 April 2020

That is the first step needed to put technology in its proper place in the Church: that we bring back Jesus Christ whom we have banished in the name of our ministry and vocation. The more we think of putting so much “art” and other things to “enhance” our liturgies, then we banish Jesus Christ.

This is the other pandemic we have refused to stop in the Church: triumphalism, the overdoing of things for God that in the process we actually put more of ourselves in the ministry and liturgy than of the Holy.

Is there anyone or anything greater than the Lord?

Remember St. Theresa of Avila: Solo dios basta!

And, like our saints who guide us closer to God, the only way to have Jesus and bring him back in our lives and ministry, in the church as institution and building is through the contemplative spirit of the priests.

It is a good thing that the catch call these days is that the “return to normal” is actually a “return to basics” like washing of hands, covering of mouths when sneezing, and most of all, a return to God.

From Google.

The spirits of modernity characterized by constant changes and technological efficiency do not jibe so well with the demands of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who have always reminded us of guarding against the temptations of the material world.

Jesus tells us to practice poverty but the world tells us to be wealthy.

Jesus asks us to forget ourselves and follow him but the world tells us to be popular and follow the limelight.

Jesus tells us to go down and be humble but the world tells us to rise up and go higher!

The other day, Jesus reminded us in the gospel:

“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”

John 6:27

Most of the time in the Church and in our lives as priests, we have to be “inefficient” like “waste time” doing nothing in front of the Blessed Sacrament; have less of everything like food, money and clothing; be silent to listen more than to speak and talk more.

The contemplative spirit is about poverty and going down while the world tells us to be wealthy and to rise and go upwards.

The contemplative spirit is to be silent and trusting always in the Lord rather than relying on our own powers and abilities.

Here is James McDonnell again on the need to rediscover the contemplative spirit in communicating the gospel in this modern time.

“The contemplative spirit is an attitude of mind and heart that enables us to focus on the essential, important things. It refuses to be hurried or rushed into premature rejection or acceptance of technology. If we Christians allow it to inform our use of communication technologies we shall learn to be realistic, but always hopeful, able to love and reverence our culture even as we strive, with God’s help, to transform it.”

Communicating the Gospel in a Technological Age: Rediscovering the Contemplative Spirit (1989)

Take heart, my dear brother priests: we are representatives of Jesus Christ, our Eternal Priest. We are not entertainers and pleasers of anyone but of God alone. We do not need followers and likers. And we have so many other things to do than TikTok and Facebook or Instagram.

Let us go back to Nazareth to be silent and hidden so we can return to Jerusalem to await for further instructions from the Lord. Amen.

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio. From Google.

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