Redemptorists of Australia and New Zealand

Australia, New Zealand and Samoa

Province of Oceania

Bringing Good News to the World

The Media and the Mediator

Anthony Kelly CSsR

A dominant sign of the times is the communications revolution.  The development of digital media has wired the world into a vast system of connections.  With this new ability, human beings communicate so as to co-exist in ways beyond the experience and even the imagination of their ancestors.  Our presence to one another has dissolved former limits of time and space. Indeed, the natural range of our senses has been electronically extended. 

Consequently, the immediate environment of our lives has changed: the micro-chip, the satellite, the cloud make our living space pulse with a million potential messages, to vibrate with new possibilities of being in touch.  Our lives are now waves in a vast ocean of new influences. A revolution has occurred; and the world as we have known it is now held in a net of communication.  Either as observers or participants, we are all being drawn into one human history.  Previous expectations and forms of meeting, contacting, learning and entertainment are yielding to other kinds of access to the point where human invention has re-shaped the world, and our embodied co-existence within it.  There is, we might say, a new ecology in our planetary co-existence.

The information revolution in storing, communicating and processing all kinds of data means that we have access to so much more recorded experience.  That can be the source of power—by acquiring new capacities for information in quantity and quality, and by opening new channels of communication in the first place.  There results a new feeling of unity: we are connected.

But new questions stir.  What is this new information?  What is its source? Who controls it? To what purpose? The situation becomes extremely complex when this communication breakthrough is leaving traditional forms of wisdom tongue-tied.  Satellites are propelled into space to circle our world with new bands of communication, internet comes on line, publishers deliberate on the future of the book, librarians wonder what a future library will look like, and educationalists try to imagine what will constitute a school of the future. 

Even for military strategists, gaining control over the enemy's communication system as far more potent than an armoured regiment.  Without communication, the command of planes, tanks, missiles is blind, and the modern army lumbers in ineffectual confusion.  So also in the global economy: billions of dollars change hands in an instant, so that it never clear in any given moment who owns what: not even the taxation office can keep track of that.

When information becomes a commodity, how does that affect the mind and heart?  How is the very nature of human thought, culture, politics and commerce changed? Could the tsunami of information become a massive distraction from the pursuit of truth and cause serious thinking to drown? The social barrage of brilliant images can replace the core reality of personal integrity and creativity.  If the power to communicate falls into the wrong hands, the “global village” is in fact masking the reality of a global slum. The complex ecology of human culture is flattened into drab consumerist uniformity of envy and covetousness.

If the power to communicate falls into the wrong hands, the “global village” is in fact masking the reality of a global slum. The complex ecology of human culture is flattened into drab consumerist uniformity of envy and covetousness.

A new form of education is demanded in those working with the enormous power of modern communications, and if society is to avail themselves itself new possibilities without being lost in an information overload  In a world teeming with images, signals, information, advertising and propaganda, what is real?  Where is wisdom to be found?

At such a critical switch in human culture, the role of the Church is crucial as a blessing, steadying and redemptive influence.  After all, the Church derives from a limitless mystery of communication—the Gospel preached to all nations and cultures.  God’s communication in Truth and Love in is the living source of all communications in the world of creation. 

In its familiarity with such original communication, the consciousnes of the Church is alive to many levels of communication and employs the great metaphors of mediation.  For it lives in a rich world of communion and communication through words, symbols, gestures, icons, sacraments, incarnation, and divine indwelling—realities intimately possessed but never fully comprehended: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard nor the human conceived what God has prepared for those who love him' (1 Cor 2: 9). 

As the oldest institution in Western civilisation, and as one most invested in positive communication, the Church lives with the memory of many cultures.  It is already a global process of communication.  With its vision and concern, it is well positioned, not only to profit from, but also to contribute to this new world of communication in a positive and redemptive manner.

A huge theological and pastoral question stirs: how is the Church to realise itself in the modern world of communication?  In traditional terms, it exists to mediate the grace which can heal and elevate human nature.  Grace is God's gift; human nature is the unfinished, groping, searching way we are.  Beyond this, of course, there are many ways of describing grace and nature and how they interact concretely in our lives.  But now, in our experience of the world of communication, might we explore nature and grace, not simply as distinct realms of reality, but as inter-related systems of communication?

We can understand grace as divine self-communication as it enters into the process of our nature's communication.  Through the mediation of the Word and the indwelling Spirit, human communication has a new focus and new resources. The Father’s utterance the Word affects all human efforts to word the meaning of life in this world.  The gift the Spirit brings a new depth, breadth and direction into human experience—in anticipation of God becoming everything to everyone (1 Cor 15: 28).  Through the gift of God’s communication, human communication healed, elevated and fulfilled to divine dimensions. 

The Church exists in the world to be the interface between divine and human communication. Consequently, it affects the content, dynamics and aim of all communication – in bringing a global humanity into being.  To affirm that God is love is to say that God is the communication in all our communications. Consequently, faith in the Trinity finds it as the expression of ultimate reality as communication. God not only that infinitely IS, but also God IS by communicating.  In uttering forth the Word, the Father communicates his whole being to the Son.  The Father and Son, joined in mutual loving, communicate all that they are to the Spirit. 

In the mystery of creation and grace, the Trinity initiates, sustains and fulfils the great communication process into which the world is being drawn. Despite its fragmentation and violent antagonisms, our world is offered its most hopeful coherence in the divine-human meaning of the Word made flesh.  Likewise, our capacities for communication and outreach are set in the ultimate unifying field of the Spirit, as all our searchings and intimations unfold in the horizon of limitless mystery.

In its basic reality, the Church is the sacrament of communication.  It mediates the mystery of God as the healing, support and fulfilment of this world of communication. In effect, it witnesses to divine communication at work in all local and global situations. Such witness is most telling when it inspires and enacts the deepest meanings and the highest values in the human communication process—truth, justice, beauty, peace, wisdom, forgiveness and healing, love. As sacrament, the Church is an internet of divine and human communication, a visible sign of invisible grace.  Grace is made visible in the reconciling activity of bringing the peoples of the world together; yet it remains invisible as it points to the divine communication in the beginning, at the heart and at the end of all our communicating.  The mission of the Church is to serve that holy communion when God will be ‘all in all’.

The Church exists in the world to be the interface between divine and human communication. Consequently, it affects the content, dynamics and aim of all communication – in bringing a global humanity into being.

The sacramental and redemptive form of communication derives from Jesus Christ himself.  In his earthly career he broke down the structures of non-communication to proclaim the universal communicating reality of the Reign of God.  He made contact with those who were hearing no word of life and love –the poor, the nameless, the diseased and dispossessed.  In his parables, Jesus appealed to a grace of communication hidden in the ordinary realities of the world.  His gestures of blessing and healing reached into the depths of human suffering and isolation.  In his resurrection and ascension, he becomes present as the source of life to all peoples in all times and places.  Through the Eucharist, believers are drawn out of isolation into his communicative existence and empowered to communicate in life to the full.

The divine origin and field of communication demands an asceticism and regulation in wielding the world-forming capacities of today’s media. To the Spirit of loving service, a graceless exercise of manipulation or self-aggrandisement is self-contradictory. The self-abasing condescension of the Lord finds its practical outcome in a dispassionate concern for the truth, and in a passionate concern to be the voice of the voiceless.  As agents of dialogue among those who do have a voice, the People of God are beholden to the interests of no one and no group.  In openness to the complexity of human searching, dialogue and demands of justice, Christians must adore the Father in whose house there are many rooms.

Destructive aspects of the media are often lamented.  Familiar demons of pride, self-indulgence, love of money and power, all wreak their havoc.  But this is not the time for Christians to be mean-spirited in evaluating the new world of communications.  The mystery of divine communication is original; the divine-human mediator of Christ binds God and all creation; the Spirit renews the face of the earth with the gifts of unity and love. For the first time in human history, the all-communicating love of God for the world is beginning to have a technology worthy of it.