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Acts of the International Seminar
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)

by Silvio Sassi ssp


6. Social and ecclesial communication context

Furthermore, from the foundation experience, we have to go back to the social and ecclesial "communication context" wherein the apostolic activity of the Primo Maestro develops and matures.

From the half of 1800 onwards, one sees, also in the field of communication, a bursting out of inventions which, related with the other social changes of the industrial revolution, create a special environment which exalts progress and human capability. Going through the dates of inventions in communication technology and their respective adoption in the field of apostolate by the Primo Maestro, one cannot but notice his openness of mind and his missionary creativity.

Fr. Alberione finds ideas and encouragement in the Magisterium of Popes Leo XIII (1878-1903), Pius X (1903-1914), Benedict XV (1914-1922), Pius XI (1922-1939), Pius XII (1939-1958), John XXIII (1958-1963), Paul VI (1963-1978) in order to bring to reality the "proclamation" with the media of communication. In those years, in fact, the Magisterium evolved, in relation with the communication technology, from a great diffidence to a positive attitude. The means of communication are "gifts of God" which man must learn to use for what is good and not for what is bad. The conviction of using them for a "crusade of goodness" would also pass among the ideas of the Primo Maestro: "Utilize all means: and so we find in the Vatican a printing press, a bookstore, radio, telephone, telegraph, television; and we see the establishment of a commission for educational and religious cinema. Follow the Holy See" (San Paolo, November 1950). After having recalled the inventions in communication (press, newspapers, movies, radio, television, disks, etc.) the Primo Maestro exhorts: "Each is enough to produce immense advantages or immense harm. They work strongly among the masses; they can seriously disturb or greatly strengthen the four hinges of human social life: the family, the social order, the religious order, the human-moral order. It is enough that one reads the pontifical documents of Pius IX to Pius XII in order to be convinced" (San Paolo, November 1950). The indications of popes farsighted in communication are a refuge for Fr. Alberione that consoles him from the many misunderstandings also on the part of exponents from the church hierarchy.

The Primo Maestro, remembering the beginnings of his experience, refers to the indications of the popes as regards the means of communication: "From here comes a sequence of acts on the part of the Holy See which invited Catholics to be up to the new duties. While a number of indolent persons, and inconsiderate spirits were there, Catholics and the clergy were aware and were wisely working according to the papal directives" (AD 55).

The communication which Fr. Alberione places at the service of evangelization is located within a "theological" and "missionary" vision. The contents of the faith in their wholeness, all the actors and the means which are necessary for apostolic communication are lived in view of continuing the work of Christ Master, Way, Truth and Life. (return to summary)

7. Communication as culture

If the "whole Christ" must be understood under the perspective of the contents of Vatican II, the apostolic methodology "way-truth-life" must seep into the communication context of society and of the present Church.

Actual communication is no longer identified with a simple list of all the communication technologies but, above all with computer science, with automatic telecommunication, multimedia technology and virtual reality; it has become "a culture" granted that it penetrates all environments of individual and social life. Communication has become a style of life, a mentality, a manner of doing. Communication is contemporaneously: an environment for the imagination of science fiction, a topic for futurologists, an immense field for inventors and technicians, an object of research for psychologists, sociologists, educators, semiologists, linguists, experts in communication, a source of large incomes for industrialists on the international level, an adequate instrument for politicians and advertisers, an original method of teaching, a large portion of time and an abundance of means for those who want to be taught, entertained, work, communicate, etc. The many-sided identity of communication is seen as a danger by those who want to transform it into a myth, an utopia, an ideology. If communication falls into a myth of the past, a utopia of the future and into an all-embracing ideology, it becomes an uncontrollable phenomenon. In order that it remains the path to understanding and to useful organization for society, it must remain within the confines of a "culture" which relates with all the other aspects of society: politics, economics, education, health, ethics, aesthetics, etc. To say that communication is everything means to negate communication; it becomes a mental and practical imperialism. Communication as "culture" is a totality which is expressed with all the other aspects of individual and social life.

Communication in the universal Magisterium starting from Vatican II with the Inter mirifica integrates and widens the vision of the preceding popes. In short, one sees this passage: from "gifts of God" to be used in the crusade against those who use them for evil to "actual form of communication," an autonomous phenomenon of earthly realities which enter in relationship with faith, to a sphere of pastoral commitment of the Church, to a mentality which must inspire all the spheres of pastoral, to "culture" and "civilization". We need to reflect with wisdom on the indications of John Paul II in the encyclical Redemptoris missio: "The involvement in mass media, nonetheless, does not have only the purpose of multiplying the proclamation: it is a much deeper reality because evangelization itself of the modern culture depends largely on their influence. It is not enough to merely use them to spread the Christian message and the magisterium of the Church, but we need to integrate the message itself into this "new culture" created by modern communication. It is a complicated problem inasmuch as this culture is born even before contents themselves, by the mere fact that there exist new means of communication with new languages, new technologies and new psychological states. My predecessor Paul VI said that "the break between the Gospel and culture is undoubtedly the drama of our times,’ and the field of communication today confirms fully this judgment" (no. 37c).

In the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Africa (14 September 1995), John Paul II affirms, "Effectively, in our times, the mass media constitute not only a world, but a culture and a civilization. It is also in this world that the Church is sent to bring the Good News of salvation. The proclaimers of the Gospel must then enter into it in order that it may be permeated by such new civilization and culture, with the goal, however, of knowing how to properly serve" (no. 71).

These two texts are the most advanced point of the Magisterium in communication because they take in its nature the phenomenon of communication: a culture and a civilization. (return to summary)

8. To inculturate faith in communication

The legacy of the Primo Maestro to always adopt "the fastest and the most efficacious means," his profound sensitivity for evolving history, his attention to the indications of the popes and his decision to do something positive without limiting one’s self to denouncing and weeping over evil, all these must be seriously taken by the whole of the Pauline Family. The attempts to understand and relaunch the spirituality of "Jesus Master, Way-Truth-Life" in relation with the apostolate of communication need to assimilate in its wholeness the actual phenomenon of communication. In fact, the "whole Christ" of Vatican II, communication as "culture" in society and the papal indication to incarnate the Gospel in communication are the three wellsprings which can assist a new synthesis of the Christological title. A new theological sensitivity, a new reality of communication, and a new evangelization in the Church are the current context which must allow the re-expression of the Pauline spirituality for the Pauline mission. A similar project of inculturation of faith in communication needs specific capabilities, group elaboration, confrontation with experience. The Pauline Family ought to be a "laboratory" which thinks and experiments on a new synthesis of "Jesus Master, Way-Truth-Life" understood as project of inculturation in communication. It shall be necessary to appreciate what, on the international level, has been drawn or developed on the Church as "communion" (from within) and as "dialogue" (with the world), on communication as "culture" and on evangelization as "inculturation." Also the studies that develop the binomial "theology and communication" can prove useful for as long as they get out of an exemplarism which, often, is reduced to a substitution of vocabulary: the Trinity as communication; Christ, perfect communicator; Mary icon of communication; evangelization as communication, etc. The risk of such reflections is to project into the realms of faith a communication ideal which could be applied to human communication only by similitude. It is perhaps proper to favor a reflection which knows how to push the opening of communication to the possibility of a revelation as "gift." A serious epistemological and hermeneutical premise must characterize every attempt for "theology and communication."

The qualification of Jesus as "Master," assumed in the identity furnished by current biblical studies, shall also be taken into consideration in the pedagogical relationship favored by the new evangelization and by current communication. The teaching "task" of the Church goes hand in hand with the "kenosis" lived by Christ in the incarnation and with a style of "service," and not of "power." The act of teaching is lived in the post-conciliar Church as "witnessing": "Contemporary man listens more willingly the witnesses than the teachers, or, if the teachers are listened to it is because they are witnesses" (Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 41). The biblical category of "witness" can be a current interpretation of the apostle as "teacher." The Pauline "master" becomes "witness."

In the sphere of teaching disciplines, the relationship which restores the binomial "master-disciple" can be founded on a communication pattern different according to what is accentuated: to give weight on teacher and its function, to give precedence to contents taught, to begin with him who must learn. The whole experience acquired by catechesis has to be attentively observed in order to transform education for faith into a philosophical initiation. Also the possibilities offered by the present communication question the classic figure of the "master" as the person who possesses knowledge that the students do not have and who transmits such knowledge in a one-way pedagogical model. The centrality of the user in communication with "data banks" and in network connection elaborates a learning process which approaches more to self-teaching than to a pouring of knowledge in a linear communication. One of the principal characteristics of communication is the interactivity which allows an "active" presence of him who joins the communication process. The evolution of the identity of the recipient from a passive "decodifier" of someone else’s project to "builder" of an original message, thanks to creative interventions, puts into question the traditional figure of the "master" in social life and in ecclesial transmission. Christ, the Church, the Pauline as "masters" must confront themselves, in current communication, with "witnessing", with the "centrality of the user of communication" and with "interactivity." The content of the term "master" understood in the static and already defined form is a breakaway from a society and a communication which are experiencing a dynamic, participative and creative idea. A Christology that is "static" and of pure "transfusion of contents" must be rethought as "dynamism" and "creation" under the influx of the Holy Spirit. The "teaching" Christology drawn from the figure of the "classic education" has to be integrated by a pneumatology which tends to the "completely whole truth."

The Christological trinomial "way-truth-life" conceived as dogma-morals-worship for man, mind-will-heart, must be rethought with the ecclesiastical and "lay" disciplines and with the current communication context. From the point of communication, the "truth" is not to be connected with a metaphysical certainty, but more as plurality, a possible point of view, collaboration, public confrontation, an ever open-ended search, integration of reality, likewise, an artificial, imaginary reconstruction, a simulation of possible worlds. The possibilities offered by the information highway, the wealth of communication, computer graphics, virtual reality do not engage the "truth", but they attribute to it a different identity furnished by ontologism and by realism. The truth in communication is a "witness" not a postulate closed for discussion. The truth of Christian faith, in this context, is security of one’s own point of view but it could never be limiting evidence or imposed certainty.

The "way" understood as "model" to imitate has a vast arc of applications in communication. The representation of "values" in communication places before the eyes of all a need for "models" understood as a coherent "outline" which leads somewhere. The habit of "hypertext" communication substitutes little by little the linear and monomedia reading. The journey undertaken by the network connection through interactivity allows the drawing of ever new paths and, within certain limitations, unforeseeable. Faith which offers "Christ, the only way to the Father" meets with a "creativity" of the communication process. The otherness of God as regards man reveals that it is possible to think of the going to the Father also in a mental outline which integrates deeply human freedom. Other than two parallel rails or two superimposing slices, the "way" of Christ and human freedom can become a continuous search in stead of an obsessive repetition of a single path.

"Life" in the culture of communication is the choice of a project which makes plurality of truth and freedom of path to bear fruit. Availing with many points of view of being free to adopt a path to follow involves the need of a goal to reach. Life in multimedia communication finds the totality of senses, the totality of interests and of goals. The composite of media languages permits at the same time "reception" and "expression". Immersion in the whole of communication can lead towards "something more of life" which goes beyond physical reality thanks to the "mediation" for every kind of relationship. The non-material opens up as a possible experience of life in communication. Christ "life", water that quenches thirst and bread that satisfies, is not an outsider of the communication universe of life which pushes towards a totality of "experiences" that includes also dematerialization.

These drafts do not have any pretensions. They are intuitions which want to encourage better research. If they seem to be ardent thinking, let us not forget that the Primo Maestro stimulated our search also with similar proposals. It is enough that we meditate upon the homily made by the Primo Maestro on 26 February 1961 before the Pious Disciples on the transfiguration of Jesus. Even among the three disciples, he saw his favorite trinomial: Peter=truth, James=way and John=life; the peak is when he underlines that the Father saying, "Listen to him" referring to Jesus Christ: "gave him the doctorate of Master, of universal Master"! (return to summary)

9. Conclusion

The inculturation project of "Jesus Christ, way-truth-life" is the project of evangelization of the Pauline Family for the years 2000. The assimilation and the proclamation of the whole Christ of Vatican II is centered above all on the Word of God, on catechesis, on liturgy and on pastoral. The Pauline Family reaches thus the whole Church which promotes an "integral" Christian "spirituality." Our personal and community life as well as our mission shall also be source of vocation according to the degree wherein we shall let the experience of the total Christ experienced while abandoning whatever fragmentation, even if pleasant.

The mentality which inspires our "teaching" activity is the witnessing that rejects every form of power. Such witnessing is drawn from "media and multimedia" products which, in order to be chosen from the pluralism of truth, in freedom of paths, in projects of life in communication, need "quality." The intensity of Christification should find adequate expression in the quality of contents and of languages used. In the "culture" of communication the indispensable bond between our personal and community faith and apostolic activity is again bonded and strengthened.

It is precisely because the spirituality of "Jesus Master, way-truth-life" understood according to the indications of Vatican II coincides with that of a renewed Christianity so that it may proclaim Christ in communication, it must become also a mentality and apostolic methodology for all those who in the Church intend to be "missionaries in communication". The lay persons within the Pauline Family and the lay persons who want to evangelize in the culture of communication should find in the contents of the whole Christ as way-truth-life thus re-expressed, an adequate apostolic methodology. Not only can a renewed understanding of the Christological title allows the Pauline Family to enter with an adequate spirituality in the communication of the years 2000, but also the mission of "new evangelization" in the culture of communication can find the truth, the way, and the life which agree with pluralism, freedom and the lived planning in multimedia and in interactivity. The Christological title of Primo Maestro could thus become a pilot project of an ecclessiology which assumes fully Vatican II and is filled with the culture of communication. (return to summary)

return to summary


           Jesus Master yesterday, today and for ever

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