02 June 2011

'Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations' Ascension Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Ascension, Tintoretto, painted 1579-81

Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and USA)

Gospel, Matthew 28:16-20 (NAB)

The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

Soiscéal, Matha 28:16-20 (Gaeilge, Irish)
D’imigh an t-aon deisceabal déag leo go dtí an Ghailíl, go dtí an sliabh a cheap Íosa mar ionad coinne dóibh, agus ar a fheiceáil dóibh d’umhlaigh siad dó, ach go raibh
amhras ar chuid acu. Tháinig Íosa chucu agus labhair sé leo: “Tá gach údarás tugtha
domsa ar neamh agus ar talamh. Imígí dá bhrí sin, déanaigí deisceabail de na náisiúin
uile, á mbaisteadh in ainm an Athar agus an Mhic agus an Spioraid Naoimh, ag
múineadh dóibh gach ní atá ordaithe agam a choinneáil. Agus féach, táim in éineacht libh
i gcónaí go dtí deireadh an tsaoil.”

Today is World Communications Sunday. Pope Benedict's theme for his message this year is Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.


Today's gospel is a profoundly missionary one. As he leaves us in visible form Jesus commands us to 'make disciples of all nations'. From the beginning it has been at the heart of the nature of the Church to share the Good News of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus to the end of the known world. The apostles went around the Mediterranean world and all but John were martyred. St Thomas reputedly went to India where he is venerated by Catholics of the Syro-Malabar rite and of the Syro-Malankara rite, which is particularly strong in Kerala.

It is not by accident that the Church chose the Solemnity of the Ascension, or the Sunday after the Ascension where the feast is celebrated on its proper day, Ascension Thursday, as World Communications Sunday. The internet became a reality for most of us only in the latter days of the papacy of Blessed John Paul II. Pope Benedict is very much aware of the opportunity the web offers for proclaiming the gospel. he has written and spoken about this many times, challenging young people especially to use it well in what he has called the 'Digital Continent'.

Some years ago I found myself by accident, or rather providentially, 'chatting' online with a friend on the other side of the world. I could sense immediately that my friend was going through a deep crisis and might do something drastic. I was able to get the person through the immediate crisis and to agree to meet with a priest in the area where my friend lived. I emailed a priest whom I didn't know but whose contact details I got from another person whom I knew only by email correspondence. The subsequent meeting of my friend and the priest proved to be life-saving.

This experience gave me a profound sense of the possibilities the internet offers. Pope Benedict writes in his message for this year's World Communications Sunday, the 45th: The new technologies are not only changing the way we communicate, but communication itself, so much so that it could be said that we are living through a period of vast cultural transformation. This means of spreading information and knowledge is giving birth to a new way of learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship. [All emphases mine].

He further writes: As with every other fruit of human ingenuity, the new communications technologies must be placed at the service of the integral good of the individual and of the whole of humanity. If used wisely, they can contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being.

Pope Benedict is well aware both of the possibilities the internet offers and of its limitations: The new technologies allow people to meet each other beyond the confines of space and of their own culture, creating in this way an entirely new world of potential friendships. This is a great opportunity, but it also requires greater attention to and awareness of possible risks. Who is my 'neighbour' in this new world? Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world 'other' than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting? It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.

The internet enabled me to reach out to a friend in deep crisis because I had already established a personal relationship with that individual. Had I not known my friend through personal contact it is unlikely that the interaction we had would have been so fruitful.

Yet when we try to communicate with people through any medium we can profoundly affect their lives if we are conveying the truth, or an aspect of the truth. The Gospels themselves were written 2,000 years ago. Unlike other ancient writings they are the living word of God because they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit continues to speak to our hearts through the living word that is the Bible and through the teaching of the Church. (The Holy Spirit is invisible but so is cyberspace and maybe this reality can give us some sense of how the Holy Spirit speaks to us).

But God speaks to us not only through the Scriptures, not only through the teaching of the Church but through many other forms of communication. I have been deeply affected by novels I have read, by TV programmes I have watched, by movies I have seen, by music, by radio. I remember one occasion here in the Philippines when a social telegram I sent - telegrams used to be the main means of long-distance communication here - lifted a friend over a deep crisis. This was followed up by meeting the person.

The Holy Father continues: When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals. It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others. To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically. Furthermore, it is also true in the digital world that a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it. In these new circumstances and with these new forms of expression, Christian are once again called to offer a response to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

We don't have to be 'talking about Jesus' all the time. If we did, no one would listen to us. (On the other hand, when people expect us to speak about Jesus, eg, in a homily, and we don't, they'll soon stop listening to us). But the Pope is saying that everything in our lives and everything we try to communicate should spring from that living relationship with Jesus the Risen Lord who commanded us to tell the whole world about him and who also said as his parting words, 'behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age'.

Even when it is proclaimed in the virtual space of the web, the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share our daily lives. Direct human relations always remain fundamental for the transmission of the faith!

Not all of us are 'into' the web. But we cannot ignore it as a reality. Pope Benedict says, I would like then to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible. This is not simply to satisfy the desire to be present, but because this network is an integral part of human life.

Before printing very few could have imagined that revolutionary change that would come about in terms of communication. Even twenty years ago I could not have imagined the internet as part of my daily life. When I was parish priest in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, in eastern Mindanao, in 1993-94, the mayor was promising that by the following year the town would have a telephone! Now everyone has a cellphone and some are using the internet.

One priest who blogs wrote that when he began to do so he saw it as something of a hobby. He soon realised that he should pray each time he posts.

Pope Benedict concludes with these words: I invite young people above all to make good use of their presence in the digital world. I repeat my invitation to them for the next World Youth Day in Madrid, where the new technologies are contributing greatly to the preparations. Through the intercession of their patron Saint Francis de Sales, [patron saint of journalists on whose feast, 24 January, the message was issued] I pray that God may grant communications workers the capacity always to carry out their work conscientiously and professionally. To all, I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

You can find the full text of the Pope's message here.

A medium that has always spoken to our hearts and minds is music. Here are the text and two settings of the Introit, or Opening Verse of today's Mass.
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking in the sky? The Lord will return, just as you have seen him ascend, alleluia.

Viri Galilaei, quid admirámini aspiciéntes in cælum? Alleluia. Quæmádmodum vidistis eum ascendentem in caelum, ita veniet, Alleluia. (Latin)

Gregorian chant:

Here is a setting of the same text by Palestrina:

When I was preparing this in Manila I wasn't able to listen to the music, due to lack of speakers. I thought that the above was a polyphonic setting by Palestrina. It's not. But here is such a setting by this great composer:

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