Going forth into the “night” of our culture

Catholics need to engage the culture through the secular media. Here’s why and how.

Pope Francis recently addressed to the Brazilian bishops, saying, “The two disciples have left Jerusalem. They are leaving behind the ‘nakedness’ of God. They are scandalized by the failure of the Messiah in whom they had hoped and who now appeared utterly vanquished, humiliated, even after the third day. Here we have to face the difficult mystery of those people who leave the Church, who, under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church – their Jerusalem – can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment. Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age. It is a fact that nowadays there are many people like the two disciples of Emmaus; not only those looking for answers in the new religious groups that are sprouting up, but also those who already seem godless, both in theory and in practice.

“Faced with this situation, what are we to do?

“We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.”

This is what we, not just bishops and priests, are called to do by Christ and by his Church. 

One of the arenas where this “night” is darkest is the secular media. Many Catholics, discouraged or scandalized by what they see in the media, choose to ignore it, as Tolkien’s hobbits ignored the shadow in the south. Believers often retract into the shells of their parish communities, or family, friends, and media they trust. Unfortunately, without engaging and influencing the culture – changing minds and hearts – these “Shires” may also be overrun. 

For those Catholics who, by training or aptitude, are capable of engaging the culture through the secular media, avoidance is not the answer. In a word, you may be the only authentic voice of truth that a lapsed Catholic, agnostic, or materialist hears.

How can this engagement be accomplished, considering a media culture that is increasingly ignorant of the Church, and often hostile toward her?

For most Christians, this engagement can best be achieved by composing letters to the editor, op-eds, or articles for publication. Media interviews are another avenue, but I prefer op-eds and letters, as these are less likely to be radically edited or altered. 

Let’s be clear: those opposing the Church’s message actively engage the media: Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion organizations, the gay and lesbian lobby, radical secularists, and materialists of all political stripes.

After decades of these endeavors, I’ve learned a lot, mostly from trial and error (plenty of errors!).

• Catholic media, like Catholic World Report, provide formation and information that help prepare us for this challenging media apostolate. Good formation is essential if we are to accomplish Our Lord’s work, and not just peddle our own opinions.

• Prompt responses to editorials and articles are essential, the same day or next, whenever possible. In 2013, an imperfect response, promptly submitted, is better than a “perfectly” crafted late response.

• Know and observe the word limit! Exceeding the word limit is grounds for rejection or, worse yet, haphazard editing that distorts the point you are trying to make.

• Civility is important because it’s a virtue, also because incivility is grounds for submittals (including future submittals) to be ignored/deleted. Don’t complain if a submittal isn’t published. 

• Don’t give up, but don’t inundate the publications with submittals.

• Understand and provide all of the required submittal information, typically full name, address, email, phone numbers – some publications will call to verify certain things. The New York Times and The Washington Post, for example, will often request additional information before publication: is your submittal an original composition; is it exclusive or has it been submitted to others, or published elsewhere; are you affiliated with any subject of the editorial or article?

• We must be “as wise as serpents”: employ reason, logic, factual information, not speculation or emotional diatribes. Many in the secular culture tune out Scripture or dogmatic references, so it’s more effective to appeal to constitutional and human rights, natural law, or justice. “And as gentle as doves”: remember, you are trying to change hearts and minds, not win an argument. Some need to take a first, tentative step back to Jerusalem before they can jog or sprint. 

• Anticipate editorials and articles based on current events and, knowing the editorial slant of the publication, start composing something ahead of time, and then edit the response when the editorial or article appears. An op-ed addressing a developing issue can be prepared ahead of time too.

 • Check spelling and grammar, and expunge excessive wordiness before submittal. Make your submittal as print-ready as possible. This, along with lucid points, makes a difference to busy journalists.

• Accept that some of your submittals, including some that are published, won’t be your best work. 

Oh yes, a lot of prayer, for wisdom, patience, protection from discouragement, equanimity, and (of course) charity.

This is our Areopagus. Many are called to emulate Paul and Barnabas, even when the response is less than heartening. Our culture desperately needs more (and new) articulate and well-formed voices, including young voices, in the public square. 

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About Thomas M. Doran 81 Articles
Thomas M. Doran is the author of the Tolkien-inspired Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), The Lucifer Ego, and Kataklusmos (2020). He has worked on hundreds of environmental and infrastructure projects, was president of Tetra Tech/MPS, was an adjunct professor of engineering at Lawrence Technological University, and is a member of the College of Fellows of The Engineering Society of Detroit.