February 1, 2007
In Iraq, just north of Baghdad is Camp Anaconda. It is an air base critical to the war in Iraq. Within this heavily defended military base lies Ur, one of the 10,000 archaeological sites scattered throughout the country.
Ur is one of the most important of these sites. This is the place made sacred by the memories of Abraham’s family. Here Abraham was born. Here writing, as we know it, began. From Ur, the capital of the ancient civilization of Sumeria, comes one of the world’s first literary works, "
The Epic of Gilgamesh." In Ur, the first libraries of civilization were built.
Writing is one of the ways we have always passed our accumulated knowledge from one generation to the next. It is a way we enter into dialogue with our own generation. The written word, from the biblical text to the morning newspaper, exerts great influence on us.
In our day, however, a revolution has taken place in the way we communicate with each other. The Internet. Ipods. Instant messaging. We pass on information with an amazing speed. Furthermore, in business, entertainment and education, video now plays a major role. Images without a word, spoken or written. From movies to TV, we receive much of what we know through images.
But movies and pictures flash by. There is little time to reflect and absorb. AnchorDr. Gunther Kress of the University of London has studied the question of postmodern literacy. He is especially concerned with the way children make meaning in a day where they are bombarded by the images of the media. "What's in danger of being lost is the pace that allows for reflection. Without reflection, [there's] no critique, no ability to work out your own position in relation to what's being presented to you" (G. Jeffrey MacDonald,
Can video replace the written word?
The Christian Science Monitor, April 26, 2005).
Reading the written word is valuable. St. Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier in the army of the Duke of Nagara. At the siege of Pamplona in 1521, he was seriously injured. During his convalescence, he read a life of Jesus. He also read about the saints. The written word had its effect. "Since these men were as human as I am," he reasoned, "I could be as saintly as they were." He exchanged his military uniform for a beggar’s garb. He went to Montserrat and there before the famous portrait of the Virgin, he placed his sword.
The written word has power. Sometimes individuals can be changed by it. There can be a conversion to God, a deeper union with him through Christ and a greater incentive to a life of charity. Other times, individuals can be influenced in the opposite way. The printed word can discourage goodness, encourage skepticism and undermine the common good.
Newspapers often uncover the hidden sins of individuals. When done
with objectivity, such journalism can have a positive value. In knowing the crimes committed in its day, a society can deal with problems and move toward wholeness.
Conflict and sin, division and anger appear so often in the headlines of our newspapers. Some newspapers deliberately highlight the bad news again and again. Old stories are even presented as news. (One can only wonder at the motive.) But there is more to life than the dark side of human nature. There are stories of service and self-sacrifice, of courage and commitment. And to present such stories is a duty of the press.
For the past forty years, the Diocese of Paterson has published its own newspaper,
the Beacon. Its competent and industrious staff has made it one of the best local papers in the nation. The paper has received 105 journalism and photography awards in local, state and national competitions. It serves the public well in providing accurate, balanced and clear information in an attractive way.
Even with the arrival of the Internet and video, the diocesan newspaper remains vital. It reports the information about the world and the Church that the secular press cannot report. It serves especially today as a place where Catholic life and thought can be presented in an objective way.
In a very profound way, the diocesan newspaper belongs to the essential mission of the Church. The Church is all about communication. She is the sacrament of the self-communication of God to the world in Christ. And she exists to share that gift with the entire world. Communication is at the core of the Church. And the diocesan newspaper remains a most effective way for the local Church to live her life of evangelization.