Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fr. James Alberione was no "media baron"

Fr. Tom Fogarty, SSP makes some comments in 1982 in his book APOSTLE FOR OUR TIMES that are relevant to the Pauline mission today. He writes of the 1960's when the Church at large caught up with Blessed Alberione's vision of the importance of mass media for communication of the gospel:
An interesting aspect of modern mass-media influence is that... the information presented, not always very interesting, must be made interesting by underlining the darker or more controversial side of the picture. This is understandable. Unless we are stirred to our depths by a certain dramatisation of the urgency, many things that should be done will never get done.

It is not easy for [the media men (sic)] to adopt a friendly tone when they come to treat of God or of religion -- for the simple reason that a friendly approach to anything tends to run into ruts. Like any other subject, religion easily becomes boring so, if it is introduced at all, it is presented as nothing better than pepped-up humanism or, if the truth must be told, as something controversial.

This explains why those who watched the original extensive coverage given in the sixties to Vatican II and who said happily that the Church needed only latch onto this friendly collaboration via a good Press Office were quickly disillusioned. The old saying, "There is no such thing as bad publicity", has scarcely proven truth for the Church.

Much of the confusion we have experienced is the work of media men who in their tireless search for a good "story" huffed and puffed unsound or purely speculative theology out of all proportion to reality. In their turn, the theologians fell under the spell of being darlings of the media and were understandably led to confirm positions which they had not really taken.

The final result has not been development of doctrine, which is legitimate and necessary, but distortion of doctrine for which we shall pay dearly to the end of the [twentieth] century and beyond
When Fr. Fogarty wrote that in the 1980's, our media culture had not yet adopted its current competitive mandate to deliver exciting and controversial news 24/7. We in the Pauline family would do well to keep Fogarty's prescience in mind as we try to make an impact using the means of social communication.

He goes on to talk about material success and spiritual reality in the Pauline mission:
We are dealing with a spiritual reality when we talk about spreading the Word of God. Obviously it has a material dimension but this dimension can be very misleading. Admit it or not, we still have the subconscious persuasion that what we really need to convert the world to Christ are more and better Press, Radio and TV facilities. Thus, if the Church oculd truly make her voice a commanding force in every corner of the world, the world would reform overnight.

Nothing, unfortunately, could be further from the truth.

... The plain fact is that the mere presentation of Church teaching, however well or extensively done, is not enough. It must be supported by spiritual effort. And when we say this we immediately throw light on Father James' entire life and work.

In the mid-sixties when Church use of the media became official, following Vatican II, the Pauline Family had already been fifty years in existence. It had begun with principles which were now finally recognised as having always been valid and, in those years, it had not only expanded materially but, most of all, it had expanded spiritually.... It had expanded to include continuous prayer for God's blessing on the whole undertaking. There was a daily Holy Hour for everyone, Perpetual Adoration where this was physically possible and many other devotional exercises in honour of the Eucharist.

Most of all, it had expanded spiritually in the person of the Founder. Advanced in age but much more advanced in the grace, his daily schedule of prayer and utterly-dedicated life were a constant source of wonder to those who had the privilege of living with him.

[Father Alberione] had no intention of founding anything in the nature of a "Communications' Empire" in the modern sense, though he certainly did all in his power to increase the range of the apostolate.... What are we to think, for example, of his tenacious insistence that the Society's radio work badly needed to be developed - and this when he was over 80 years of age?

But he was no business baron. What he really set out to do... was to give life to a Religious Family whose members would be active in the mass-media field but whose main activity would be spiritual. His concern was that they should put prayer, witness and permanent commitment as the indispensable foundation and source of their work...

Father James was small in stature but he was a spiritual giant... The place and importance of the Religious Family he founded can be judged by the degree to which it is faithful to his spirit.

That is why the permanent and perennial work of the Pauline Family is not, and cannot, be measured in mass-media terms... In his own lifetime, Fr. James was almost unknown - even to his own sons and daughters. This was as it should have been. He was no superstar, blazing briefly in a personal display of religious brilliance. Instead, his mission was to be the first of many brethren, he was to give the Church a new type of work and an intense spirituality to sustain that work.

And so the success or failure of his Family is not measured either by number of members or by number of products. The measure is, and always will be, the degree of closeness to Christ each member cultivates, the degree of perfection with which he or she imitates the life of Christ. It is not all that difficult to communicate the Gospel. But what the world badly needs is people to live it.

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