Ascension Sunday and WCD2015

The title of this post is a bit naughty. How many of you instantly recognized that WCD2015 stands for World Communications Day 2015? Probably only my Catholic readers, and not even all of them, I suspect. It seems that the more we speak or write about communications, the less good we are at actually conveying anything. We lapse into acronyms or jargon which keeps the outsider firmly outside (unless one appeals on Twitter for someone to explain the trending hashtag of the day). Yet today’s great solemnity of the Ascension is what we might call perfect communication. The Risen Christ ascends to his Father, taking with him our grubby humanity, so that God and humanity are for ever one; and because he has returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the one who can articulate the prayer we could never put into words, can come upon us, overshadow us and make us new.

This is a day for silence, wonder and awe, for allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us and quietening anything that might hinder our hearing what he has to say. If we need to focus our prayer, then surely we should pray not only for media professionals but also for ourselves, that we may be good communicators, communicating good — which is ultimately to allow God to communicate himself through us.

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Ascension Day: Word and Silence

Today Catholics in England and Wales (and many other countries, too) celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension. It is also World Communications Day, the theme of which this year is Word and Silence. There are lots of connections between the two we might explore, but let me suggest just one.

When the Word of God was lifted up from the earth on the Cross of Calvary, He desired to draw all to himself; but he still had more words to speak after his Resurrection from the dead. Today the Word of God is lifted up into the heavens and we shall hear his voice no more. The Word has passed into the silence of union with the Father. In that silence, in that union, he is closer to us than ever — dare I say, more effective than ever, because he is no longer limited by earthly presence. Now, truly, he draws all to himself.

But what about us, left gazing up into the skies? Are we left high and dry, so to say? We have the Lord’s promise, that he will be with us always, to the end of time; but how are we to understand that if we no longer hear his voice? Perhaps our trouble is that we have not grasped this new mode of being that the Ascension marks. We have a new lesson to learn. If we would understand God’s Word, we must enter into his silence and await his coming. In the meantime, we must ask the Holy Spirit to illumine our understanding. Our prayer now is veni, illumina, confirma (come, enlighten, strengthen), for we too must communicate the Word of God to others, must take on ourselves the mission of the Church.

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St Paul and Silence

Yesterday Pope Benedict issued a message for World Communications Day which has been deservedly well received (text here). Inevitably, everyone has taken from the message what they most want to hear. Those of us who have embraced social media as a way of exploring and sharing Faith were heartened to find the pope acknowledging the importance of contemporary means of communication and endorsing their use. The deeper message, about the relationship between word and silence, was one which contemplatives were particularly glad to hear because in the rush and tumble of words and images that fills every waking hour, our cultivation of silence and (apparent) emptiness is not only contradictory, it is incomprehensible. It was good to find the pope reminding us all of this essential silence and humility before the Word of God.

How does this link with St Paul? I think there has never been a more eloquent preacher of the gospel than St Paul. His words whip and weave through all the intricacies of Christian life: the theological heights and depths, the moral dilemmas, the complications of the missionary journeys. One minute he is meditating on the meaning of the Cross, the next fussing about a cloak he has left behind, writing with warmth and tenderness to some, excoriating others. Words are his stock in trade as once the needles of the tent-maker had been. And yet. And yet. One does not have to read very much of St Paul to realise that beneath all those words was a profound silence, a profound humility. What happened to Paul on the road to Damascus changed him for ever. His eloquence and zeal remained but were transformed by an experience of God we can only guess at. His words henceforth were to proceed from a union of prayer and obedience that could only be attained through silence and listening.

In the presence of God all human eloquence falls dumb. Only silence can embrace the absolute holiness of our Creator and Redeemer. That is something to bear in mind as we read St Paul today.

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Ascension Sunday and World Communications Day

With luck, I’ll not have to write the words ‘Ascension Sunday’ next year as we live in hope that the feast will be restored to its proper day, but World Communications Day is likely to be with us for some time to come. Is there any link between the two? Does celebration of the Ascension enrich our understanding of world communications?

The theme for this year’s World Communications Day is Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age. It isn’t difficult to make a case for a link between the two with truth and proclamation. When the Lord Jesus ascended, the disciples were scarcely allowed to gaze into heaven before they were sent on their way to proclaim the Good News of salvation. Similarly, we are urged to use every means open to us to proclaim Christ and champion truth in our everyday lives. So far so good, but what are we to do about ‘authenticity of life in the digital age’? Is that just another empty phrase that falls from the lips of clergy trying very hard to sound ‘relevant’ in a world that has largely given up listening to them?

I have to admit that I have difficulty with the word ‘authentic’. Generally, I use it to mean ‘genuine’ but ‘genuineness of life in the digital age’ doesn’t convey very much to me. ‘Authentic’ can mean ‘faithfully resembling an original’ but with the original in question not spelled out, that doesn’t really help, either. A third meaning of ‘authentic’ is ‘based on facts, reliable’ which is certainly helpful as regards how one would wish to communicate, but I’m not sure it really fits the idea of living as such. Could it be that this phrase, so often used in religious documents, is reflecting the Existentialists’ ’emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life’? Well, that’s all right as far as it goes, but doesn’t it leave out something rather important? One of the gifts with which God graces human beings is humour, fun, a delight in the world he has created.

There are many places in the gospels where we see the Lord Jesus teasing people or playfully responding to the quips of others. Worried disciples had to be reassured that every hair on their head had been numbered or that taxes would be paid even if their purse was empty (surely there was a chuckle as Peter went off to fish in the lake for his half-shekel); the Syro-Phoenician woman won Jesus over with her repartee; the Samaritan Woman almost bantered her way into salvation. Even the excess of that first miracle at Cana has more than a hint of joyful exuberance about it. Shouldn’t our lives have something of the same?

To me ‘authenticity of life in the digital age’ shouldn’t be all grim purposefulness but should include an element of light-heartedness. So, whether we tweet or blog or FB, let it be as whole people, able to laugh as well as mourn, to joke as well as preach. I can’t help feeling that the Ascension had some divine humour in it. As the Lord Jesus ascended, the disciples were left gazing skywards and had to be prodded into action by a vision of angels. Even now, they did not fully understand. Surely, a huge smile spread over heaven.

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