Benedict XVI on new technology, reality and communion. Fr. Z opines.

The Holy Father recently spoke to a group meeting for a conference about the tools of Social Communication.   Although during the conference there was some discussion of the blogosphere and new tools of media, the Pope’s speech didn’t attract very much attention.

I think we need to look at some of this speech.


The search for truth must be pursued by Catholic journalists with a passionate mind and heart, but also with the professionalism of competent staff who are equipped with adequate and effective means. This is even more important in the present historical moment, which asks of the figure itself of the journalist, as mediator of the flow of information, to undertake a profound change. Today, for example, the world of the image with the development of ever new technologies has ever greater weight in communication. But if on one hand this entails undoubtedly positive aspects, on the other hand, the image can also become independent of reality; it can give life to a virtual world, with several consequences, the first of which is the risk of indifference to truth.

[This is important…] In fact, the new technologies, together with the progress they entail, can make the true and the false interchangeable; they can induce one to confuse the real with the virtual. Moreover, the recording of an event, joyful or sad, can be consumed as a spectacle and not as an occasion for reflection. The search for the paths of an authentic promotion of man then takes second place, because the event is presented primarily to arouse emotions. [NB:] These aspects sound like an alarm bell: They invite consideration of the danger that the virtual draws away from reality and does not stimulate the search for the true, for the truth.

[I think it goes a bit off the rails here.   The one who wrote this goes off on a different topic… but let’s go on.] In this context, the Catholic press is called, in a new way, to express to the heights its potential and to give a reason day in and day out for its mission that can never be given up. The Church has a facilitating element, since the Christian faith has in common with communication a fundamental structure: the fact that the means and the message coincide; indeed, the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, is at the same time message of salvation and means through which salvation is realized. And this is not a simple concept, but a reality accessible to all, also those who while living as protagonists in the complexity of the world, are capable of preserving the intellectual honesty proper to the “little ones” of the Gospel. Moreover the Church, Mystical Body of Christ, present at the same time everywhere, nourishes the capacity of more fraternal and more human relations, being a place of communion among believers and, at the same time, a sign and instrument of everyone’s vocation to communion. Her strength is Christ, and in his name she “pursues” man on the roads of the world to save him from the “mysterium iniquitatis,” insidiously operating in him.


New technologies and the progress they entail and the amplification of these technologies, can… can… create confusion of virtual and reality.   They don’t need to absolutely, but they tend to.  This leads to false communion and false community. 

The essential value here is communion.  We are created for communion.  We are images of God, Trinity, who is Communion.  Human relations have the capacity for communion. True communion is experienced in the Church, mystical Body.

Communion in Christ is the locus of true relationships.  The Church promotes true communion in the liturgy.

Liturgical worship is the alternative to the fascination of the virtual and spectacle that is offered by the media.

How do we complete with their power?

We don’t do it with our own alternative new technologies, notwithstanding EWTN and this blog.  That is not where we combat the virtual reality that can be generated through the new technologies.

Where we combat the virtual reality Pope Benedict warns us about is principally in the sacred liturgy.

We must be in church for worthy worship.  We must be there to participate in The Real.  We smell the incense, see the movement, the hear the music, we listen to the Word.  We receive Communion.

We resist the danger of virtual reality through participation in worthy worship.

The Pew research suggests that Catholics don’t know what their participation in liturgical worship entails.  45% of Catholics don’t know they are receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Supertradmum says:

    I am thrilled that the Pope has addressed this. In the past five years, I have found that youth in colleges lack common sense and little experience of the physical, except for sport. For example, few of the young people I know and with whom I have daily contact, understand consequences, or cause and effect in their lives. One reason is that they have played games, where the consequence are either unreal, or can be manipulated. A foundation in reality happens at a very young age, between two and seven. This is why it is so important for children not to watch t.v., Cds, and play games at early ages. They will never learn to cope or even understand the world which surrounds them and which they cannot manipulate.

    And, we cannot say enough against the media for distortion…

    As to the ethical dessert, one only has to look at Wof W, D and D, and other games to realize that what is asked of the players is lying, murder, and otherwise dubious moral decision-making. We have banned these games in our house. But, what is even more worrying, as the number of “adults”, who surround themselves with games, both men and women who play games and waste time on Facebook, etc. instead of interacting with reality. I am truly concerned about this generation of youth ability to interact with people and real situations.

  2. That ship sailed a long time before Facebook or World of Warcraft. As soon as Americans stopped sitting on the porch and started sitting on the couch in front of the television — or even the radio — or even the bookshelf — they were exchanging the real for the virtual. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s part of a well-balanced diet of experiences. Right now, we’re a very unbalanced society, so we often do suffer harm from what should be harmless.

    I don’t know anything about World of Warcraft beyond the most general stuff, but generally one is supposed to Fight Evil or clear out dangerous man-eating beasties in an adventure rpg game, not lie and murder. If players are allowed to do so without consequence or encouraged to do so, whoever is running the game is a drip.

  3. The Egyptian says:

    Ah crap there goes Mass online, And I had high hopes for virtual confession :>)))

  4. Stvsmith2009 says:

    People do tend to get the virtual world confused with the real world. Don’t forget the Methodist minister from Great Britain who had planned to hold a “communion service” on twitter a few months back. If that isn’t confused, I don’t know what else is.

    The twitter communion never took place however. Still, this minister showed a great deal of confusion about both community and communion.

  5. catholicmidwest says:

    “We must be in church for worthy worship. We must be there to participate in The Real. We smell the incense, see the movement, the hear the music, we listen to the Word. We receive Communion.”

    Then the church had better get with the program and stop looking and acting like the PTA on pablum. If we want social networking, no need to go to church for that; if we want entertainment, no need to go to church for that; if we want simulations and soothing commentaries to convince us of our superiority, no need to go to Church for that. The Church needs to provide what only it can provide: true Liturgical Worship & the Sacraments. Then it need not fear being supplanted by the baubles of the new technologies.

  6. PostCatholic says:

    You say, “New technologies and the progress they entail and the amplification of these technologies, can… can… create confusion of virtual and reality. They don’t need to absolutely, but they tend to. This leads to false communion and false community. ”

    I’d that the truly revolutionary technologies are the ones which draw people closer together and facilitate communication and exchange–starting with the wheel, passing by the sextant and square rigging, the telegraph, the radio and coming up to real-time video communication over the internet. I think the more common pitfalls in communication are born of viewing what is “virtual”–really, what is distant–as unreal. Just imagine the flame wars St Jerome would have got himself into if he had a blog.

  7. mike cliffson says:

    SuburbanBanshee has a very valid point:
    Internet is a whole lot more , but it started with Cinema, then Radio then TV..
    This very Friday last, I was on a short course for teachers . One point was how for teaching purposes you can assume that people will have internalized as fact the history, most especially of other countries, that they have seen on film.
    The BBC bears a haeavy responsabilty for whitwashing Henry VIII
    Hollywood bears a heavier one.
    I have a feeling it goes even further with video games.

    Somehow the whole thing seems a bit far from the Lord of Truth on his own domains.

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