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Why does the Church continue to engage the secular media and is it worth it? Print
Guest column
Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010 -- 1:00 AM

Guest Column

About two and a half years ago, I posed a very similar question here in the Catholic Herald, and it is time we revisit this question.

Let's get straight to the point. Recent stories throughout the world on the Catholic Church and even local interactions with the secular media make one wonder if it is worth the Church continuing to work at maintaining relationships with the traditional media or whether it would be more effective to direct our time and energies in different and non-traditional avenues.

Current example: Just this past weekend Pope Benedict XVI is attacked by the media in "Catholic" Spain for preaching the truth in his always gentle but convicted way.

Corporal vs. Spiritual Works of Mercy -- favorable reporting for some

The great corporal works of mercy done in and through dioceses (locally, Monsignor Campion's televised Mass for those unable to get to a Church, the work of Catholic Charities and the Catholic Multicultural Center, both funded through your Annual Catholic Appeal dollars, come to mind) get appropriate and favorable attention by the traditional media from time to time -- and rightfully so. This is how it should be, as we as a Church do more good in these ways than any other entity or any country in the world.

The leaders and helpers of these apostolates, helping the physically needy, deserve much praise for their work and commendation that their work is recognized by the community and not attacked by members of the community.

Coverage of Catholic corporal works of mercy are popular with the secular media and the greater community as well. But at the risk of sounding whiney, what about the spiritual works of mercy? They are just as important and often should come first.

Counseling the Doubtful, Instructing the Ignorant, Admonishing the Sinner, Comforting the Sorrowful, Bearing Wrongs Patiently, and Praying for the Living and the Dead can never take back seat to the much-needed corporal works of mercy.

Blessed Mother Teresa herself always put prayer first, even before helping the poor and dying in the slums of Calcutta, because without prayer charity cannot exist. She has been quoted as saying, "Without God we're too poor to help the poor." This "is why so much assistance falls into the void. It doesn't change anything, it doesn't contribute anything because it doesn't bring love and it isn't born of prayer."

With this said, why is it seemingly-universally unpopular in our culture to draw attention to the spiritual works of mercy? Public prayer is all but outlawed, and even our good Catholics no longer know about available indulgences for the souls in purgatory on All Souls Day. However, we all know where to help the materially needy. Again to quote Mother Teresa, "in the West you have another kind of poverty, spiritual poverty. This is far worse. People do not believe in God, do not pray. People do not care for each other."

Unlike with the corporal works of mercy, we as a Church don't send out press releases drawing attention to the fact that "Priests continue to instruct those ignorant of God's love and truth." Nevertheless, when asked by the media why the pope, bishop, or priest chooses to teach the unpopular truth of Jesus Christ in our increasingly-secular culture, we continue to welcome the conversation about having an informed conscience and choosing to follow the truth of Christ and we invite the public to know and share in the love of Christ and His Church.

However, with these spiritual works of mercy they are usually reported on as being controversial, political, outdated, outrageous, or worse. And these "controversial" works of mercy get front page headlines or prime Web placement.  Sadly, to date, we take it on the chin and welcome the same treatment the next time we receive a media inquiry.

Still, our reason, as a Church, for engaging the secular media is never to draw praise or credit for any of our good works, rather it is always to bring the love of Jesus Christ to the public, through the media.  This should have been Michelangelo's motivation 500 years ago through his masterpieces and it should be our only motivation to get media coverage today – for the greater glory of God.

Our relationships with the media are maintained not for any human acclaim, but rather to invite the secular public, if even only one person, to meet the person of Jesus Christ and to be changed by Him.

So, is it worth it?

Scandalously, the way the Church, the bishops, priests, and the absolute truth of Jesus Christ are represented in the media often pushes people away from God and therefore salvation, but if one person is brought to know, love, and serve God though the secular media, then continuing to engage these traditional outlets is well worth it.  We know, for a fact, that it happens.

Example: A number of people came to the Church through the natural law arguments of our bishops on marriage. The Catholic Church was the evident home for other Christians looking for faith and reason in harmony.

We all need to work to change our culture, so that it might better represent the Kingdom of God. Moreover, we can never just accept the fact that the world and often the media is against us. In working to change the world, like the first apostles, our apostles today must and will continue to engage an adversarial culture and be hated and attacked for it.  And like the first apostles they will lose much personally, but the Church will be stronger for it.

So, thank you to the pope, bishops, priests, and all of you, who are not only neglected and undermined by the media and secular community, but often condemned by them, for patiently and lovingly teaching the truth of God and encouraging us to pray without ceasing, so that we might grow in the love of God and neighbor and, in turn, live out both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, for the love of God.

I'll end this article similar to the way I did two-plus years ago: Thank you for all the assistance you offer the diocese through your prayers and actions as we progress to purify and evangelize our culture through social communications.

Every medium has been given to us to evangelize and catechize: "Thus, as was the case with ancient works of art, the name of the Lord may be glorified by these new discoveries in accordance with those words of the Apostle: 'Jesus Christ, yesterday and today, and the same forever'" (Apostolic Decree Inter Mirifica, Pope Paul VI, no. 24).


Brent King is the director of communications for the Diocese of Madison.