Sunday, 5 June 2011

7th Sunday of Easter Year A

This Sunday, some parts of the Catholic world are celebrating both Ascension and World Communications Sunday. For us, the 7th Sunday does feel like a straggling Sunday searching for a purpose. Perhaps, Communications Sunday is significant enough as it straddles two great events, Ascension and Pentecost, nourished as it were by the fertile soil of the first novena. Take note that 9 days after the Ascension, the Holy Spirit will descend upon the Apostles. Those 9 days marked the ancient Church’s first novena. What has communications to do with Pentecost? In recent weeks, Christ has been speaking of the coming Spirit as the Spirit of Truth. So, the Spirit who testifies to the Truth testifies to Christ. That is the link that makes Communications Sunday relevant: Communication is of the Truth.

That, in a nutshell, defines the essence of communication.

But, as usual, we are a forgetful people. [1] We seem to have forgotten the primary aim of communication.

For some of us, communication is basically a measure of its medium. Let me explain. We have heard it said that the “medium is the message” and in a sense this is true because we are engrossed or captivated by the technologies of our communication. Remember those heady days when a gangster or a nouveau riche would sit in a hawker’s place publicly parading the precursor of the present mobile phones, an act symbolising that he has arrived. Today, our preoccupation is to reduce the size of our communication devices. Have you watched Star Trek? We look forward to the day when a touch of the badge would be enough to let us communicate. As you can see, we have always been fascinated with how we can communicate better. But, we are by no means unique.

Let me tell a little about the Mediæval Ages. Do not be fooled by what historians term as the Dark Ages. Despite its name, it gave birth to the university system. In those “Dark” times, it seemed that theologians were speculating as to how many angels can dance on top of a pinhead. [2]

We are no different. We somehow equate “more” with “better” as evidenced by our preoccupation with the number of terabytes we can compress onto our solid-state drive. We started with kilobytes, to mega, to giga and now terabytes. [I am sure there must be some bytes I know not of]. We continually chase a faster speed for our computer processors. We are obsessed with effective methods of communication and you would be surprised that this obsession with speed and space is fuelled no less by an industry our taboo-ridden culture is too shy to acknowledge. According to an American social critic, “Great art is always flanked by its dark sisters, blasphemy and pornography”. [3] Pornography, in large proportion, has determined the speed of our communicative technologies.

Between the aim of communication and its means, we will always be side-tracked by media’s ability to promise us instant gratification. You are having steam-boat in Cameron Highlands and immediately your circle of Facebook friends can see you savouring the fish-balls or blanching the fresh pickings of vegetables direct from the ambient farms. The immediacy we want of our experiences expresses what the Holy Father in his message says: entering cyberspace can be a sign of authentic search for personal encounters with others. The impetus for immediacy draws attention to our desires to encounter and to be encountered, to know and to be known, to accept and to be accepted and finally to love and to be loved. Sadly, we also know that the effects of immediacy often do not lead to genuine encounter. The many means often do not facilitate the aim.

Communications Sunday reminds us that nothing is more personal than an encounter with Christ Himself. In fact, the Gospel today, a preface to Pentecost next week, speaks of the hour when the Father will glorify the Son and the Son will glorify the Father by giving eternal life to those entrusted to Him. What is eternal life? To know the one, true God and Jesus Christ Whom the Father has sent. All throughout her history, the Church stands as that beacon emitting and transmitting this message of eternal salvation inviting all men and women to this personal encounter with Christ the Saviour of the world. All media of communication must be harnessed for this purpose.

Let me bring in last week’s second reading which comes from the 2nd Letter of St Peter. He provides us with the motivation as to why Christians ought to embrace the technologies available. He says: “Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have”. The different media of communication, apart from merely communicating and bringing us together, serves this one purpose—that we always be ready to give the reason for our hope in Christ.

In conclusion, in our search to connect with one another through the different media of communication, let us not forget that their sole aim is to convey the truth. Truth is not baring it all; it is not naked truth and certainly not the same as “Wikileaks”. Instead, truth is the person of Jesus Christ Who is our very life and He is our mission in the world. These 9 days we pray because we need the strength of the Holy Spirit to continue to emit and to transmit the message of the eternal salvation of Jesus Christ, the Lord.
[1] Now you know why the Mass is also referred to as a memorial; a memorial that is more than merely remembering.
[2] A trite question which effectively dismisses the contributions of the Schoolmen to the advancement of Western civilisation.
[3] Camille Paglia in Sexual Personae.