Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Year of Living Courteously



Welcome to 2017. 



Happy New Year!

2016 was a year of extraordinary happenings, including the most divisive presidential election any of us can remember. What can we expect from 2017? I make three easy predictions:

· more divisiveness

· more terrorism

· more media wars 

I hate that the first three things that came to my head were all negatives. Yet this negativity has been much on my mind. We cannot end terrorism, but the other two are within our power to affect. We Paulines have a particular vocation for using social media in the service of the Gospel. It is beyond time for us to take that vocation seriously. We are not just consumers of information, but distributors as well. The social phenomenon that Blessed Alberione called "the bad press" is proliferating online. The "good press" needs to lead!

But first, an inquiry. Why do we use social media? What are we looking for? There is a quote,
incorrectly attributed to Chesterton, that goes, "... the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.[1] " In a similar vein, a William Butler Yeats poem contains the lines:
"But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;[2]" 

Both sayings point to an odd truth: our longing for love—for God—is ubiquitous. Even the rawest pockets of our experience conceal a secret desire to connect to the beauty and goodness of the Most Blessed Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are a fallen race, yes. But our Redeemer has already come. Every moment of every day, He is entering and transforming the pockets of disorder in our wounded world. And while there is nothing innately disordered about social networking, it doesn't take long to see that virtual reality contains enough cesspools, brothels, and conversational war zones to keep an army of poets busy around the clock. (And that's not just the secular sites—Catholic spaces are rife with nastiness too.)

So much of social media is seductive. We relish the positive reinforcement we get when somebody praises our thoughts or "Likes" our postings. We love it when we can demolish our interlocutors with the perfect zinger. We are addicted to snark. We enjoy seeing the things we hate ridiculed—and how easily that turns into enjoyment of ridicule of persons who espouse the things we hate! 

Or perhaps I only speak to my own social media sins. Conscious of Blessed Alberione's exhortations, I do try to approach social media with the thought of receiving from—or contributing to—the goodness in the world. And often I do. But other times, my mind craves relaxation and mischief. I scroll impatiently past profitable posts in order to roll around in the mud and snark. I'm not proud of it. And I know I'm not the only one. What's a Pauline to do?

When I read Alberione on a regular basis, what strikes me is his unswerving passion to offer Jesus Master to the world. For that, he had to have called upon a bedrock of personal holiness and prayer. How seriously do we take the responsibility to acquire personal holiness ourselves? Do we think it is beyond our reach? From our Founder we know that the Tabernacle is the academy of holiness, and that we are to approach the Presence without fear while holding to a penitential heart. Beyond this, a treasury of helps exist to aid us in our efforts.

I suggest that COURTESY be our watchword for social networking in 2017.

Courtesy
noun, plural courtesies.
1. excellence of manners or social conduct; polite behavior.
2. a courteous, respectful, or considerate act or expression[3].

Let's practice courtesy when we communicate, but even more let's give others the courtesy of attending to the good that they are trying to express. Let's stop wallowing in snark. There is beauty untold on the Internet, and goodness. There are pockets of words and images that captivate us, challenge us and draw us into the heart of reality, which is God's Creation with all His beloved creatures.

I suspect that courtesy in social networking involves more sacrifice than we usually give it. "Mortification of the senses" is a spiritual exercise that has fallen out of favor. Used in social media, it can promote courtesy by focusing us away from the Siren's call to instant gratification. An indulged mind can get sloppy about courtesy. I recommend we practice sacrifice a bit. Ignore the pressing urge to connect to social media when we're craving excitement. Wait awhile. Turn to another item on the to-do list. I think it will help us live mindfully, and so courteously.

I'd like to end with some words of encouragement from Blessed Alberione:

"This will be a wonderful year for us if we spend it at the school of the Divine Master. The greatest knowledge in the world is the knowledge of God and the knowledge of Christ... We have progress to make. Just as school time comes around every year, and we have to attend classes—but not to learn the same things—so every year we go ahead, we progress in our knowledge of truth, of doctrine and of science until we reach the 'perfect age,' which means until we reach the fullness of our union with Jesus Christ in heaven. Life is our preparation for that blessed eternity, for that perfect life, which awaits us after this one.[4]" 

[1] Although almost universally attributed to Chesterton, this quotation originated in the 1945 novel, The World, the Flesh and Father Smith by Bruce Marshall. In the book Miss Dana Agdala, the attractive young author of the book Naked and Unashamed, asks Father Smith how he can bear celibacy. Fr. Smith replies that the beauty and pleasure of women's bodies cannot compare with "walking with God in His House as a friend . ”She replies that this is just as she always thought:“that religion is only a substitute for sex.” To which Father Smith responds, " “I still prefer to believe that sex is a substitute for religion and that the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” (Stanton, Glenn. FactChecker: C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton Quotes, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-c-s-lewis-and-g-k-chesterton-quotes.)

[2] Yeats, William Butler. "Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop"; The Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/43295.

[3] Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/courtesy .

[4] Alberione, James, quoted in: Daughters of St. Paul, Living and Celebrating the Advent-Christmas Seasons, St. Paul Editions, 1982, pp 18; 107. 


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Rae Stabosz has been a member of the Association of Pauline Cooperators since 2003. She and Bill Stabosz, her husband of 46 years, have six sons, three daughters, ten grandsons and eight granddaughters. Rae retired in 2007 from the University of Delaware, where she was a technology and media specialist for 27 years. She is co-founder and past president of The Society of Catholic Scholars of Delaware and proprietor, since 2004, of the Pious Ladies Bookmobile.

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