In the mid 1970’s, I took an introductory computer programming course at a Miami, Florida community college. One of the greatest challenges for this (then) young mother was trying to keep my toddler daughter from scattering the punch cards on the living room floor while I was sorting them.
Punch cards? That’s right. And no, I was not serving stegosaurus steak for dinner and yes, our car had wheels, not a hole in the floor board for us to put our feet through. But truly, computer punch cards do sound like another historical eon, don’t they? The word “Internet” had just been coined by researchers at Stanford university — not that I was aware of what they were up to — and it would be another decade before commercial ISP’s would be created as gateways into the system. This system — the World Wide Web — has become so much a part of the fabric of our lives that most of us can hardly remember living without it anymore.
My toddler is now a woman who keeps up with her friends on twitter and Facebook and is raising children of her own — children who do much of their academic learning in a virtual academy and for whom the word “google” has always been a verb.
All this was not even a gleam in the eye in 1963 when Vatican II promulgated Inter Mirifica (Decree on the Media of Social Communications) but to nothing before it were these words regarding media more applicable: “For its influence can be so great that men, especially if they are unprepared, can scarcely become aware of it [or] govern its impact…” (IM, 4).
We are to a great extent today being swept along by what the Church calls our “modern means of social communication” and especially by the Internet. We scarcely became aware of it before it was ubiquitous and who could have prepared for the tremendous changes it has made in our lives? So here we are, Catholic women, who in days past may have kibbutzed with a neighbor over the back fence, or kept up with distant relatives by mail and phone, connected with our world and with each other across boundaries and time zones with marvelous immediacy.
Today’s Catholic woman is online. But what are we doing here? What should we be doing? How do we govern the impact of this media? How do we use it to increase our personal faith, encourage our sisters in Christ, and evangelize our culture? I am prompted to a story:
Just a few weeks ago I received an email from Cheryl Dickow, a frequent contributor to CE and a new associate editor of this apostolate. The sister of a friend of hers had been in a terrible accident and lost one of her children, a 17-year-old daughter. Due to head trauma, the mother could not be told yet of her daughter’s death. Cheryl’s friend was keeping the other three children as they processed the loss of their older sibling and as their father kept anxious watch by the bedside of his seriously injured wife.
We get prayer requests all the time, don’t we? But haven’t you had those that particularly touched you in a special way? That is because we are called to comfort those who suffer an affliction like our own. In fact, St. Paul said that the comfort of God comes to us in our afflictions for the very purpose of making us able to comfort others in their affliction (2 Cor. 1: 5). Three years ago this Thanksgiving, I lost my own 22-year-old daughter in a car accident and so I found myself crying for the dad, for the three bereft siblings, and for the mom who would be last to hear the unbearable news. Over a period of days I was able to follow through emails and blog posts the progress of the mother’s recovery, rejoice when she was taken from intensive care, and approach with trepidation the day when she was finally told. But more. Through Cheryl, I was able to provide the family a digital copy of the program I had written for my daughter’s funeral and I could offer to connect them with a family in my own parish who had a family member suffer the same kind of head trauma just about a year ago.
Every Catholic woman online can relate a story of connecting deeply with others through this medium of social communication and making such connections fulfills a mandate that we have from God, a mandate written so deeply into our being as women that it defines us:
The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way — precisely by reason of their femininity — and this in a particular way determines their vocation….
A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God “entrusts the human being to her”, always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them “strong” and strengthens their vocation (Mulieris dignitatem).
We Catholic women can use the means of social communication to fulfill our vocation, to connect with one another, and to discern the truth in the babble of voices clamoring for our attention. We must boldly counter the media messages that deny our vocation or would lead us astray. As Inter Mirifica warns:
New and more efficient media of social communication are contributing to the knowledge of events; by setting off chain reactions they are giving the swiftest and widest possible circulation to styles of thought and feeling (IM, 6).
“Styles of thought and feeling” — what a profound observation. The very thoughts and feelings of people around us are being manipulated as though by fashion designers, from “prep” to “goth” to “emo,” people are being shaped to share a set of thoughts and feelings and much of it is contrary to our faith. We have to redeem this media by using it for good.
To this end Catholic Exchange announces the opening of a new channel dedicated to the feminine genius: Today’s Catholic Woman debuts today. Under the leadership of Cheryl Dickow, TCW will feature some of your favorite CE women writers and introduce you to some new ones. TCW will have a section devoted to the Blessed Virgin and a wider variety of topics than we have had room to cover on our homepage — from Fashion and Beauty to Tech to Gardening to Health and many more.