By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, May 13, 2013

Some Provocative Reading

This week, a couple of recent statements to bring to your attention.

First, yesterday, May 12th, was World Communications Day. Before his retirement, Benedict XVI issued a statement to mark the occasion. In it, he focused upon the fascinating world of social networking, and offered some guidance to both the Church and broader society.

As regards the Church and her mission to evangelize, he speaks of the social networking world as a new "agora", that is, a new public square in which people are increasingly coming together to share ideas and otherwise be connected. Since this is a factor of growing importance in fashioning the very fabric of society, the Church must be present to propose the Gospel as an essential contribution to the common good.

Pope Emeritus Benedict has given me a lot of homework here!! In order to be present in the social networking realm, a "considered understanding of this environment" is a prerequisite. In other words, it is essential for the Church to know and understand this reality, which, I confess, I really do not yet know well at all. Well, time to get at it! As our former Holy Father said in that statement, underlying the various reasons that attract people to social networking are fundamental human aspirations, such as the need for relationship, the desire for understanding, the search for truth and meaning and, ultimately, the need to be loved and to count. Therefore, the Church cannot not be there with the answer that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Very instructive, too, is the message Benedict directs to society at large. He recognizes the great potential for social networking to contribute to the harmony of the human family. Yet this positive contribution relies on adherence to basic principles, such as respectful dialogue and debate; the honouring of privacy; responsible and truthful interaction among persons; and authenticity, that is, offering our true selves. We can easily see how the opposite of these can turn social networking into an instrument of division and harm.

Second, the CCCB has recently issued a statement on the environment, as we have tended to do periodically over the last number of years. The role of the Church is not to propose or evaluate specific technical solutions to environmental problems, but to form consciences by the proffering of important principles to guide reflection and decision making. The principles proposed in this document derive from reflection upon the interrelationship between the Creator, creation and human beings. I invite you to read the brief document in its entirety. For the purpose of this blog post, I draw your attention to one principle in particular, namely, the relationship between human and natural ecology.

Benedict XVI stressed this point often, since it is, indeed, of fundamental importance yet does not seem to enter in any meaningful way into the various discussions on the environment. The basic point is that the maintenance of the natural environment is dependent upon respect for the human one. By human ecology is meant that network of interrelationships and interactions that form both the human person and human community. To respect this ecology we need to understand and respect the principles which undergird it: the right to life at all stages; the truth of marriage and family; universal human dignity; human solidarity, especially with the poor, vulnerable and marginalized. This principle leads us to broaden our consideration of environmental issues, and what we in fact include in our consideration of environmental factors. What are the "toxins" in the "air" that are undermining or even destroying our human ecology? One could mention addictions, such as substance abuse or pornography; illusory expectations pertaining to the pursuit of happiness; individualism and moral relativism. Each of these undermines human dignity and thus erodes self-respect. When human ecology breaks down then environmental degradation will follow.

Take a look at both documents. Lots of great food for thought.