Although reading Scripture for prayer draws us into communion with the very Word of God, living and true, it means more than a pious discipline. We need to immerse ourselves in the Bible not only for spiritual moments of prayer, but in order to see the world aright, i.e. as the world actually is in truth. Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the realism of the word in his apostolic exhortation The Word of the Lord:
Those who know God’s word also know fully the significance of each creature. For if all things “hold together” in the one who is “before all things” (cf. Col 1:17), then those who build their lives on his word build in a truly sound and lasting way. The word of God makes us change our concept of realism: the realist is the one who recognizes in the word of God the foundation of all things. This realism is particularly needed in our own time, when many things in which we trust for building our lives, things in which we are tempted to put our hopes, prove ephemeral (emphasis added; paragraph 10).
Pope Benedict XVI, no champion of exaggeration, makes a startling claim for us Catholics in this brief quote. If we enter into the Scriptures, the inspired word of God, then we enter into the correct vision of the world; that is, we see the world not from “one point of view among many possible ones,” but the only correct outlook that displays a realistic vision of the way the world exists. Think about it this way: The very God who created everything, and who sustains all things in being, disclosed Himself to us through public revelation which reveals to us what God wants us to know about Himself, us and the world (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 107). If we want to see the world properly, then there can be no better vantage point than the heart of God; it’s not just one nice way looking at things, it’s God’s way, the one true God.
When Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “this realism is particularly needed in our own time,” I cannot help but ponder the expansive reach of social media, mainstream news, the entertainment industry, academia, and our troubled political environment. It may not be popular to make this point, but we need to be very critical – i.e. discerning and thoughtful – about the messages we take in through these varied platforms. We cannot ignore the fact that everything we see, read, and listen to goes through a process of editing and publishing that advances some stories above others, promotes ideologies of various groups, and seeks to influence what we believe and how we act. Although this might sound like Fr. Bearer entered into the realm of conspiracy thinking, we know from our own experiences what this looks like.
For instance, in your own Facebook feed, you select certain topics, pictures, videos, and posts to publish above others, and the friends and pages you follow do the same. Recent study shows that editing and photoshopping accompany the vast majority of photographs posted on social media. This makes sense on one level, no one wants to send out the worst pictures of oneself. But, think about this: If we do that for our own personal posts, what about larger organizations? We know that news outlets, like the Plain Dealer, receives countless leads on both local and international stories, and yet they only publish a select few on the limited space their hard copy news provides. People make those decisions, and they make those decisions for necessary reasons, but they, like everyone else, have outlooks on life, politics, and faith that also shapes their decisions. When it comes to movies, television shows, streaming series, and music the same holds true. We can trace our cultures shift on important topics of faith and morals by simply scrolling through the programming on our different devices. Think about how often characters a series creates highlight an important topic of debate in society, and then become something of a flashpoint for one way of looking at the world. From the shows made for children to the often gratuitous sex and violence in content for older audiences, these programs portray the world in a specific way that shapes our thinking, and can even inoculate us to what would, in any other circumstance, cause shock and horror.
All of this goes into the question of why we believe what we personally believe about faith, morals, and politics. Who “catechized” us the most about Jesus, the Church, the Bible, faith in the workplace, and morality? Have National Geographic documentaries about Jesus or even the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens been places that shaped our beliefs more than the Scriptures? When it comes to what we believe about faith and morality, have television series about various sympathetic characters living lifestyles contrary to the Church’s vision “catechized” our thinking more than Scripture and Tradition? Think about the number of shows that portray people of faith in a poor light. It often happens that the overt “Christian” in the movie or series is the stiff, dogmatist who self-righteously wags a finger at everyone, while the show portrays everyone else as much kinder, more reasonable and inviting; that’s not accidental, it was based on choices by writers, producers, and companies. When movies or shows portray “spiritual” people, they often are not offering an orthodox, Christian spirituality, but some version of New Age spirituality; just scroll through your programs that include shows about witches, magic, and occult spirituality. People in positions of influence selected these shows over others for one reason or another. We cannot pretend that the content that we read, watch and listen to popped into our streams, channels and feeds by accident. And, we cannot ignore the fact that all of this ends up shaping the way we think and behave.
Living a Christian Catholic life means seeing the world the way it actually is – the way God made it – and seeking to live the way God wants us to live. We cannot really do this without God’s word in our lives taking a significant position. Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” A foundational path towards the “renewal of the mind” comes through a prayerful study of Scripture. As followers of Jesus, we cannot allow influences other than Revelation (Scripture and Tradition) to shape what we think about God, ourselves and the world if we want to live on a solid foundation (Benedict XVI, quoted above). This doesn’t necessarily mean that we stop watching all the shows we enjoy, but it might mean we do opt out of some shows. Or it might mean we fast from all media for a time to “reset,” study Scripture, pray and think about what we’ve been listening to, watching, and reading. The Scriptures invite us to “discern what is the will of God,” and God’s word, the liturgy of the Church, and Tradition form our minds for proper discernment. When watching a show, listening to music or radio, or reading articles online, take a step back and ask a few questions: Why was this particular piece published? What is this telling me about the world? What worldview does this propose? How does this attempt to shape what I believe? How does this line up with the truth revealed through Jesus Christ? If we take this simple step in our consumption of information and programs on television, the internet, and radio we will be well on our way towards the “renewal of our mind.”
The Biblical worldview invites us to see the world aright. This means when we read and pray with Scripture, we do more than a nice devotional practice. Drinking in the waters of Scripture shapes our hearts and minds, and this joins us with God’s thinking and acting in the world. As Christian Catholics, this solid foundation of God’s word launches us into a life lived to the full. In a previous post, I offered 12 Steps to help us enter into the Scriptures. Take time each day with God’s word. How could we ever really live a full life without it?