Thursday, May 2, 2013

Rector's Conference VI: Online


It’s almost over.  The year is almost through.  And I don’t know a single person who is not ready.

Maybe your mind keeps wandering to your ordination, only DAYS away!  Or your first parish, and worse, your first pastor.  Or maybe you’re thinking of your summer assignment, wondering where it will be and what he’ll be like.  Or maybe you’re off to the Camino to walk in the footsteps of Sinisia, or to Rome or to Mexico or just to Sea Gull beach for a few days of doing nothing!

Anywhere but here!  Anything but that paper, that exam, that Rector’s Conference.

You join your voice with Moses: “Let my people go!”

And in a couple weeks, I will.  You will be free of this place, for at least a couple months.  These halls will grow empty...and for those of us you leave behind, at first it will seem peaceful, and in not too many weeks I’ll long for the sound of your life and your striving and your good example to me.  And before you know it, most of you will be back...

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  For tonight I promise to be mercifully brief, hopefully about as long as my average size homily.  I will offer a mere few minutes of reflection on a topic I promise you will find interesting, because it is current and important and very, very real.  

My iPhone.  And my iMac.  And my iPad, both full size and mini.

You know me.  You know I’m addicted to Apple.  A full fledged MAC addict with no interest in a twelve step Microsoft recovery.

I see the Cloud and social media as the equivalent of an emerging language which can help us to proclaim the Gospel in new and exciting ways, to understand the world around us as we never have before, and to communicate without consideration of time and space or so many of the other limitations which have separated us in the past.

In addressing the potential of cyberspace in his last message for the World Day of Communications, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on “the development of digital social networks which are helping to create a new...public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being.”

Such realities, he suggested, can “help to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with concern for privacy, responsibility and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of unity between individuals and effectively promote the harmony of the human family.”  Such “links [can] ripen into friendships, and connections [can] facilitate communion.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for World Day of Communications, 24 January 2013)
The Holy Father warned that “unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important...The ability to employ the new languages is required, not just to keep up with the times, but precisely in order to enable the infinite richness of the Gospel to find forms of expression capable of reaching the minds and hearts of all.”
Just think about it!  A hundred years ago it used to take weeks before the words of a Pope reached Boston.  Now, you watch Pope Francis live on the phone in your pocket.

A few years ago, it would have taken hours before anyone heard what happened the day of the marathon bombing.  But within an hour we knew that Callan and Michael were fine and within a day they had pictures of the suspects.  

A couple years ago I would have communicated with friends of Saint John’s Seminary and each of you by Newsletters a week after an event took place.  Today you get an email, or read it on the blog, or get a text.

All kinds of good stuff.

But there’s a dark side too.  

Like the 27 year old teacher who downloaded child porn twice and now sits in state prison for five years with a life sentence as a sex offender.

The 18 year old whose ex-boyfriend posts nude photos of her to Craigs List.

The 12 year old whose first exposure to sexual intimacy is an S and M porn site.

The College student who can’t stop masturbating to videos of people paid to have sex in front of a camera. And most of those people are addicts and homeless teenagers.

And there are other dark sides too.

The College student who posts lurid details of his wildest fantasies to Facebook (sometimes illustrated), or the seminarian who publishes his infallible screeds against a Bishop, or the parish music director who joins a gay chat room, or.... I could go on and on...

There are dark sides too.  For those pictures and those comments and those screeds will be out there forever.  Long after the author has grown up, acquired wisdom, and known real maturity in Christ, their name will be forever associated with everything they ever wrote or posted or VLOGed.

A case in point.  Recently, we have been revising our admissions procedures, including a careful rewrite of SJS Applications, a reconsideration of the kinds of Psychological Testing we administer, and the inclusion of internet searches to learn more about the candidate for admission to Seminary.  We’re just trying to answer the question, “What’s out there?  What don’t we know?”

There’s a dark side, too.  For just as Jesus told us we must be innocent as doves and wise as foxes, we must be aware that the speech we post with our smart phone is as impactful as the speech we speak with our lips.  Except it lasts longer.

God loves me a lot, because he made me young before the internet.

I wonder, if my infallible views on the Church or politics or a myriad of other subjects when I was in College had been illustrated, posted and VLOGed, how it would impact my ministry today.  When you Googled James P. Moroney, what would have come up?  And what would that mean?

So, be careful out there my brothers.  Cyberspace is an unforgiving environment.  It has great potential for the new Evangelization, but it has gaping black holes that can eat you and your reputation alive.

If you’re posting to a site and you’re a priest, you are representing the Church, just as clearly as you would if you were wearing a collar and speaking to a crowd out in front of CVS.  Except it lasts longer and the crowd’s a lot bigger.

If you say you’re a seminarian in a big Northeast seminary, someone’s gonna guess, and you will represent Saint John’s and the guys who are sitting to your left and to your right.  And you will represent the faculty and the Cardinal and me too.

If you post anonymously some snarky comment, entirely lacking in charity for the poor victim of your wrath, Jesus still knows your IP address, and he will hold you to account.

Now, I am not suggesting that my next confession begin with “Bless me father for I have blogged.”  Even the Pope Tweets.  And not all aspects of this vast new world are evil (even Microsoft products can sometimes be used for good).

But, as Eve and her husband discovered the hard way, even an Apple can lead you to sin.  So be careful.  You know what I mean.

By the way, this talk has already been posted to my blog.