At the end of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, we read a passage of especially great importance. Having seen Christ, risen from the dead, the disciples at last become fully aware of who Jesus is: the Messiah, in whom they had placed their trust. Speaking with great majesty, a majesty proper to God alone, Jesus gives them what has been called the Mission Mandate, that is, His command to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, sharing with them His own authority: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).
Pope John Paul II elaborated on this mandate, writing: "Before Christ ascended to his Father after his resurrection, he entrusted them with the mission and power to proclaim to mankind what they had heard, what they had seen with their eyes, what they had looked upon and touched with their hands, concerning the Word of Life (1 John 1:1). He also entrusted them with the mission and power to explain with authority what he had taught them, his words and actions, his signs and commandments. And he gave them the Spirit to fulfill their mission" (Catechesi Tradendae, 1).
It is remarkable to note how, from the very beginning, Jesus makes use of human instruments to proclaim a divine message! He sends forth His disciples, making use of their feet, which would take them and their successors to the ends of the earth and their voices, which would proclaim His message to the entire world. A number of countries and cities are even proud to proclaim their belief that one or other of the Apostles actually preached in their towns and cities and, in the Epistles of Saint Paul, we read of Paul's famous journeys throughout much of the then-known world. In the journeys, both of the apostles and their successors for many centuries, they would have used basic means of communication, the human voice and current means of travel, as the vehicle for their fulfillment of the mission mandate. In a very basic way, they would have also made use of the technology of their times. In apostolic times and in the immediate centuries that followed, they would have made use of the famous Roman roads to ease their travel from place to place and increase their efficient use of time. They would have made use of the art of shipbuilding as it was known at that time in order to travel by sea. We can probably assume that, like our Lord, they preached in open spaces standing on high ground so that they might be better heard as they preached their message.
Advances in Technology
As new technologies were introduced, such as printing, the Church made use of these to continue to proclaim the same message while using the most efficient means known at a given time. As we know, the twentieth century brought about a remarkable advancement in technology. It is interesting to note that, well into the first third of that century, pulpits were equipped with what were called sounding-boards to enable the voice of the preacher to be carried in some way by having it bounce off a wooden board. When microphones and public address systems were introduced, the Church was quick to employ them so that her message, as always, might be preached with greater clarity and understanding. Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) became a great friend and admirer of the inventor of radio, Guglielmo Marconi, and had Marconi install a radio station in the Vatican, which was immediately used by the Pope. The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on the Mass Media, summarized what we have been pointing out here and addressed the Church's use of technology in the modern age, teaching: "The Catholic Church was founded by Christ our Lord to bring salvation to everybody and consequently is duty bound to preach the Gospel. It believes that its task involves using the media to proclaim the good news of salvation as well as teaching people how to use them properly" (Inter Mirifica, 3).
When technology increased even further with the introduction of popular film and television, the Holy See responded by creating a committee which would eventually become the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Archbishop John P. Foley, a priest-son of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and former editor of The Catholic Standard and Times led this Council for twenty-three years, until his recent appointment as the Pro-Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. He worked tirelessly to emphasize the importance of technology and communications in spreading the message of Jesus Christ. He also never ceased to proclaim that technology is always to be seen as a servant of the truth: never a master in itself.
Many of the faithful throughout the Archdiocese benefit from another means of modern technology that is used to spread the Gospel message: the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). The television and radio programming of this network has extended throughout the world and makes it possible for the faithful, as well as non-Catholics, to increase their knowledge of the Faith, grow in the spiritual life, participate by television in the celebration of Mass, the recitation of the Rosary and other devotions and be a part of Papal and local Liturgies of great importance.
The Internet and its information highway contain a remarkable amount of resources for growth in our knowledge of the message of Jesus Christ. The contents of books and documents, as well as informational sites, are easily found and accessed through this latest technological marvel. Research and access to Church documents has been made easier and more accessible through this latest form of technology. All of this only aids us in the preaching of the Gospel.
The Dangers of Technology
Many of us have probably read some of the studies which indicate the dangers which technology brings with it. There are concerns about children and young people who spend so much time on the computer that they do not develop the social skills which come with interaction with others. Research has also shown that technology is sometimes a threat to communication and presence in marriage and in friendships. The possibilities for sin that technology brings with it is an entirely other topic. Pornography is an enormous challenge to our society.
It is important to remember that, just as in the use of various means of communication, the human element should never be lost, this is also true in the preaching of the Gospel. My episcopal motto is taken from the Gospel of Saint John: "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14). The eternal Word, Son of the Father, took upon Himself our own human nature. He used the elements of that nature to bring His message of salvation to the world. He preached using a human voice to proclaim a divine message and His miracles often made use of very basic elements. His tears, His groans, His bloody sweat, His just anger, His gentle touch and even His silence make use of characteristics which are intensely human but exhibited by the Divine Person of Jesus Christ. In transmitting His message, the Church has always sought to use the most efficient means available but the human element cannot be lost because this is part of the Divine plan.
Several years ago, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, presently the Archbishop of Milwaukee, published a book, Priests for the New Millennium, based on a series of talks he gave to the seminarians at the North American College in Rome, where he had been the Rector. One of his many excellent insights reflects upon the danger of modern technology for the priest, who is entrusted with the preaching of the Gospel in a special way. He points out that, while technology is a marvelous tool for the preaching of the Gospel, it can easily obscure and even practically eliminate the human element, which Jesus has made part of His mission mandate. Archbishop Dolan points out, amusingly but effectively, that spending hours at a computer developing an evangelization plan can never take the place of the time and personal interaction necessary for the work of evangelization.
The word of God must be preached and heard. Technology has made that preaching and hearing easier and more widely available and to that extent, we embrace it and are grateful for it. I have even made use of "You Tube," a technology I would not normally be familiar with, in the service of the Gospel! However, the medium is not the message. Saint Paul, that great preacher, knew and made use of Roman roads and horses, as well as his speaking and writing ability to preach the message of Jesus Christ. The preaching and the hearing are what was important to him and that is what is important to us. As long as technology serves that end, it is beneficial to us. Let us use the words of Saint Paul both to conclude our reflection and to put it into its proper context: "Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. But I ask, did they hear? Certainly they did; for ‘Their voice has gone forth to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world'" (Romans 10:17,18).