Wednesday, April 29, 2015

St. Joseph the Communicator?

It’s odd to think of the most silent figure in Scripture as a master of communication—until we remember that Joseph lived in a family. It’s no wonder, then, that the communicative Pauline Family relies so much on him. The Pauline family is not only a religious community, but an organic family where every member and institute has a role to play—the head and hand are both needed for the body to work. As a member of the Holy Family Institute, I live in two families—biological and religious. Both families offer great solace and enormous challenge: At the end of the day, communication is the fundamental source of great joy and often, unfortunately, great sorrow. I know from our family disagreements over the years that human words can so often be a source of injury—nothing is said so “rightly” as to be misunderstood very “badly”! Sadly, the same can be said for those in consecrated life—human weakness isn’t deposited at the door of a convent or monastery on entrance day. 

In his address for the 49th World Communications Day, to be celebrated on May 17, Pope Francis offers great insights on communication in the family—communication which can serve as a “privileged place of encounter with the gift of love.” In the initial part of his message, the Holy Father makes an analogy of how we come into the world in our mother’s womb, and then persist after birth in the womb of the family—a womb made up of various interrelated persons. Quoting his own encyclical on evangelization, he reminds us that the family is “where we learn to live with others despite our differences” (Evangelii gaudium, 66). 

Our Holy Father has in multiple forums warned Christians of the danger and harm of gossip and harsh language.  This kind of speech can particularly violate the good of relationships, fracture lines of communication, and violate integrity.  In our biological family, Church family, and vast human family, this needs to considered at all times.  In a recent papal address in Naples, Francis compared gossip to an act of terrorism—leaving destruction in its path. Paulines are particularly committed to making our words a reflection of the Word. We are keenly aware of the importance of communication in all forms in creating a civilization of love. 

It’s no accident that the Pope, a gifted communicator, would look to Joseph to share the Word with the world. Inaugurated on St. Joseph’s solemnity, he challenged the world that day to embrace Joseph’s tenderness, and later, in tribute to this oft-overlooked cooperator in our redemption, he included his name in the Liturgy’s Eucharistic Prayer. Again in his message for this year’s World Communications Day, our Holy Father states that the greatest challenging facing us today is to “learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information.” It has been said that in the modern age there is a great deal of information exchange and very little true human communication. A quick look at today’s social media would serve as evidence enough to confirm that impression. 

That is what makes the Pauline approach to modern media so appealing. In our Pauline theology and spirituality, we are privileged to learn that, in our efforts to communicate the Gospel message, our personal life, if lived in sanctity, is the greatest gift to all. Personally, I find profound inspiration in praying for those who experience the Pauline media we extend to everyone we serve. Blessed James Alberione was astutely aware that the success of Pauline apostleship is firmly found in piety and prayer, not in machines or marketing. In the Secret of Success he has us acknowledge that we are called to “carry out the apostolate of the media of social communication in a holy manner.” Then, in order to do that, he has us promise Jesus Master only one thing: “to seek only and always your glory and peace to all people.”

An important virtue in our work of communication, whether in families or in public ways, is to acquire a sense of prudence. Blessed Alberione, in his work entitled  Living our Commitment, states that “some concentrate on everyone but themselves, criticizing right and left.  But the prudent look to acquiring as much merit as they can….Prudence takes care to walk the middle road, being neither too fearful or too trusting.” I find his spiritual advice on target. Our words should challenge, but not injure—heal and not divide.

As we approach the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, I suggest we reflect on and pray for virtuous communication through the intercession of this most important silent figure in Scripture. “Behold the faithful and prudent servant whom the Lord God has set over his household” (Antiphon for the first Wednesday of the month, Pauline Prayer Book). For me, Joseph is a model in my professional life, teaching me that speech is only of value if it informs or uplifts. Far too much time is spent on useless talk and egocentric speech. His conversations with Jesus were examples of fruitful human dialogue.  Blessed Alberione had  great devotion to St. Joseph and imitated him in his humility and commitment to labor. Joseph continues to intercede in a special way for all workers, and I pray in a special way for fathers.

May 1 and 17 both give us an opportunity to ask ourselves: How can I take a step forward in my commitment to authentically Christian communication? Paulines have a great heritage and future in the challenges of modern communication. The examples of their holy founders (Blessed, Venerable and unknown sanctified) continue to teach us about the right use of speech. It is a tremendous gift, that will be experienced for generations to come.
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Photo: Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP: Holy Family.
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Greg Burke has been a perpetually professed member of the Holy Family Institute for five years. He and Kimberly, his wife of 23 years, have four daughters. Greg works as a general internist and is Chief Patient Experience Officer in the Geisinger Health System, based in Danville, PA. Kim is a nurse and religious education coordinator. Greg also serves as president of the Harrisburg Guild of the Catholic Medical Assn. and was awarded the Benemerenti Medal for his service, by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.

1 comment:

Association of Pauline Cooperators said...

Thank you for an inspiriting, insightful article on communication. It is a balanced perspective on the challenge to communicate and the value of silence. Living in a human, Christian, and religious family as Paulines we realize God's call to reflect on the gift of words as well as fully relying on God to make our words God's Word incarnate today though prayer, trust, forgiveness, and reconciliation as evangelziation. Sr Margaret Charles Kerry, fsp