TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Catholicism in the Digital Age

The Journey, a Catholic Program, is broadcast each Sunday night on Rhema FM 99.7 at 6.30pm. It is a work of the Diocese of Wollongong, undertaken in partnership with Pulse 94.1FM Wollongong, and aired on a growing number of Christian radio stations around Australia.

This past Sunday, I was responsible for the Gospel reflection on this program. The previous four weeks of the Journey Program can be found on the Newcastle Rhema FM website under 'find a program'. You can also subscribe to receive it as a weekly 30-minute podcast. I encourage you to tune in and grow in your faith as well as be updated at the end of the program by Helene O’Neill who captures the events around our diocese.

I thought I would share this Gospel reflection with you:

On this Social Justice Sunday, the last Sunday of September, we hear a social justice Gospel which invites us to reflect seriously on the social teaching principle of a preferential option for the poor.

We have two main characters, the rich man who is absorbed in his comfortable lifestyle and does not pay attention to, or even see the poor beggar, Lazarus, who is lying at his gate.

Both men die and what follows is a radical twist in the parable. The rich man finds himself in Hades, while Lazarus is gently conveyed by angels into the arms of Abraham. A dialogue between Abraham and the rich man follows, with the rich man begging Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his five brothers of the fate that awaits them if they do not change their ways.

Abraham reminds him that they already have the Scriptures which invites them to care for the widow, the orphan and the needy stranger at the door. And we have one, Jesus, who has risen from the dead and who has given us a clear message as to how to live a selfless, compassionate and generous life, a life that takes to heart our social responsibility, because we are called to live in right relationship with our God, each other and with all of creation.

We are asked to examine our own lifestyles and to examine our consciences on how selfish, self-absorbed, self-centred, self-indulgent and indifferent we are in the face of the global village we call home. What do we see? What choices are we making? What are we prepared to share and with whom?

This story is not about the good we are already doing but about the good we fail to do. It also serves to remind us that beyond death there is an eternal home which awaits those, who may seem to be the least among us. God gazes on the lowly and lifts them up.

Please God let me, let us make just choices concerning Lazarus at our gate, locally, nationally and globally. Let us make choices which will ensure that at our deaths, we too will be carried gently and lovingly by the angels into Paradise.

Each year on Social Justice Sunday, the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) releases a Social Justice Statement. The 2019-20 Social Justice Statement is titled Making it Real – Genuine Human Encounter in Our Digital World.

Australia’s Catholic Bishops have been issuing an annual Social Justice Statement almost every year since 1940. Social Justice Statements since 2000 are available on the ACSJC website.

I invite you to go online and to download this year’s statement which asks us to seek to have genuine human encounters in our digital world. It explores the many platforms that now exist online in which we can encounter our neighbour:

The hallmark of our discipleship can be seen in how we make the love of Jesus real in our relationships, how we serve our most vulnerable sisters and brothers, and how we break down divisions that undermine human dignity and the solidarity of our communities.  

The statement makes reference to our global neighbourhood marked by human dignity, the common good and solidarity.

It provides quotes from Pope Francis with the following coming from his 2016 Message for the 50th World Communications Day:

The digital world is a public square, a meeting place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in meaningful discussion or unfair attacks… Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbour whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected… The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web. How many changes have happened during that time, to the way we communicate, work, do business, socialise, and seek entertainment? We carry this information tool around in our pockets and refer to it frequently without giving it another thought. We are citizens of the digital world and we are still learning how to negotiate this world safely and responsibly. The Statement covers the benefits and pitfalls of this relatively new technology.

The following calls, to be active citizens in shaping this digital world, are made in the Statement so as to infuse the digital world with a realism and trust that allows for genuine human encounter:

The call to every user:

  • Make your online presence one of dignity and respect
  • Be present to others in the real and virtual worlds
  • Take care of yourself and others online

The call on communities:

  • Every community should promote digital literacy
  • We cannot leave our sisters and brothers behind
  • The local community is a place to make the virtual real

The call on political and industrial leaders:

  • We must protect the personal data of citizens
  • We call for transparency and accountability in all online systems
  • Truth and trustworthiness must be guaranteed

Having spent the past week with three of our grandchildren, aged between five and eleven, I observed the tug of the digital space on their lives. I also noted that encounters with people are like a game being played and the consequences of the harm they do to each other and those around them is not fully recognised, because the ‘characters’ are not ‘real’. Human relationships are more expendable in this digital mindset because the aim is to win without responsibility for any damage along the way. The ‘reality’ of the digital world and those they are encountering in real life is blurry. Our task as parents and grandparents is to keep ourselves informed and to challenge behaviours that do not cherish the dignity and worth of every person, place or creature. We are still learning!

Sandie Cornish wrote the following words in the Introduction to Building Bridges: Social Justice Statements from Australia’s Catholic Bishops 1988 to 2013:

The Statements promote a vision of God’s reign of justice and peace made manifest in the world. It is a vision of love for one another as equally beloved children of the one God. It is a vision of social inclusion, community, solidarity and right relationship. Key messages of these Statements could be summed up as follows:

  • Each person and each culture is of great value.
  • We are one human family.
  • Everyone must be included. Every group must be able to participate.
  • Every person and every group is called to contribute to the good of all and to welcome the contributions of others.
  • We need to look after one another.
  • We need to look after the whole of creation.

I do hope this year’s Social Justice Statement was acknowledged in each of your parishes and that a Social Justice group forms part of your parish. Some of you may like to consider joining the Diocesan Social Justice Council (SJC). Please contact me if you believe you are called to that. The SJC is working towards breaking open more fully this year’s Social Justice Statement at the beginning of next year.

I finish this week’s message with the Social Justice Prayer which accompanies this year’s Social Justice Statement:

Making it Real

Genuine human encounter in our digital world

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Help us to recognise the evil latent in a

communication that does not build communion.

Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.

Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.

You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds

of goodness for the world:

where there is shouting, let us practise listening;

where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;

where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;

where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;

where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;

where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;

where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;

where there is hostility, let us bring respect;

where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.


A Prayer from Pope Francis, 2018

Message for the 52nd World Communications Day

Follow mnnews.today on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.