How to stay above the fray in 2020

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Is it over yet?

Maybe you’re having the same feeling: 2020 has barely begun and already you want it to be over. If the weather isn’t wearing you out, the news probably is. Impeachment, drone strikes, heightened security, investigations, debates, primaries, polls, invasions, scandals, outrages, wildfires … will it ever end?

In this age of the 24-hour news cycle — which increasingly feels more like a 24-minute news cycle — we are buried under an avalanche of information. Most of it — let’s face it — isn’t good. Between glaciers crumbling and world leaders tweeting, it can all make us feel not only unnerved, but unhinged. High anxiety, anyone?

What is a faithful Catholic to do?

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.

The easiest course, perhaps, is simply to tune it out. Unplug, disconnect, lower the volume and break out the rosary beads. But that isn’t always practical or possible. Try as we might, the news keeps pounding on the front door, demanding to be let in. “Breaking news! This just in! Developing story! Can’t you hear me?!”

Sigh. Yes. Unfortunately.

As someone who spent nearly three decades working for one of America’s busiest news operations — and who somehow emerged with only a little wear and tear to begin the second chapter of my life in ministry — I know only too well how exhausting and dispiriting the relentless onslaught of news can be.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’d like to offer a few suggestions to help make the coming months not only bearable but, just maybe, uplifting. These suggestions apply not only to hearing or following the news but also to engaging with it online — on social media, blogs or comment boxes.

Scripture

Where to begin? Well, you don’t have to look far for advice or solace or inspiration. It really is closer than you think.

Let’s start with Scripture.

First, listen. St. James wrote, “Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas 1:19).

When it comes to consuming the news and weighing people’s opinions, be “quick to hear” — pay attention to what is happening in the world, and what others have to say about it. Be alert. Be aware.

But that doesn’t just mean listening to the news you want to hear or statements that affirm your own beliefs, ideas or opinions. Widen your circle. Look at different angles. Seek different sources, different outlets. Consider other views. Hear what those you disagree with are saying.

Listen. You don’t have to like it, but it helps to know where others are coming from.

And, as St. James wrote, be “slow to speak.” Not every utterance, event or outrage demands a response. Sometimes the best response, really, is no response. And if you do feel the need to respond, respond in prayer. Mary, after all, the model for all disciples, famously spent much of her life in reflection, absorbing the earth-shaking events around her and “pondering them in her heart.”

Turn the other cheek

Pondering is highly underrated. We all should do it more.

Which brings me to the second important idea: Put away the sword. As consumers of news, it seems, we never go into the media unarmed. But Jesus told his followers in Gethsemane, at a moment when they could have faced certain slaughter, “Put your sword back into its sheath” (Mt 26:52). Stop looking for a fight. Don’t see every issue, headline, sound bite, comment or opinion as a target waiting to be impaled or an idea that needs to be beheaded. It isn’t worth it.

Put another way, turn the other cheek. Don’t escalate.

So much of what we encounter in the media is, frankly, noise and spin — and so little of it amounts to anything more substantive than an excuse to fill airtime or feed the national appetite for outrage. There’s enough of that to go around. Don’t add to it.

Catholic Christians

It also helps to consider ourselves as more than just readers, consumers or commenters on the passing scene. We are Catholic Christians.

I’ll say that again: We are Catholic Christians.

We live to carry out the teachings of Jesus Christ, with fidelity and joy and, above all, sacrificial love. A familiar saying from the early days of the Church quotes a pagan, who marveled, “See how these Christians love one another.” He didn’t say, “See how these Christians shove one another.” As consumers of news and information — and as people who respond to it, comment on it, write about it — what we say and how we respond should reflect the One we follow.

It’s worth asking ourselves: Are we doing that? Is our response Christian?

Faith demands certain fearlessness

Third, do not be afraid. Scripture offers us that wisdom again and again in times of anxiety of peril. Fear and dread — and their close cousins, uncertainty and worry — are common human responses to anything unexpected, unplanned or unwanted. We are people prone to be afraid.

Face it: If we’re honest about it, few of us would say we are genuinely fearless.

But faith demands a certain fearlessness — and a sure-footed, unwavering trust. In a time when we are bombarded by the news — when we’re learning about developments so quickly and they’re being hyped so relentlessly — at a certain point, we need to remember that so much is simply out of our control. Pope St. John XXIII reportedly used to say: “It’s your Church, Lord. I’m going to bed.” That’s not a bad attitude.

The familiar saying of the recovery movement, “Let go and let God,” can be a comfort and, surprisingly, a source of strength. Want to feel truly liberated from the burden of blaring headlines?

Let go and let God.

Support from the Catechism

Finally, there’s a short paragraph in the Catechism that I think can help all of us look at the events of our world — and those who comment on them and act on them — with more charity and, perhaps, clarity, especially when it comes to social media.

Are Facebook and Twitter raising your blood pressure? Take a deep breath.

Like the Catechism puts it: “To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words and deeds in a favorable way. Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it” (No. 2478).

In other words, strive to believe the best; don’t suspect the worst. We live in a jaded, cynical, suspicious age — and it is tempting to look for ulterior motives in everyone and everything. But too often that can lead to dark thoughts and even paranoia — and it does nothing to help us view those around us with respect or even charity. It’s poison.

All of us need to work against making cynicism and suspicion our default modes for life.

Listen. Put away the sword. Do not be afraid. Those guideposts, I think, can lend some stability to an unstable world and offer a way to approach the events of the coming months with a spirit of confidence, faith and hope. Ultimately, the Lord knows what he’s doing, even if we don’t.

John XXIII had the right idea, I think. “It’s your Church, Lord. I’m going to bed.”

 

POPE FRANCIS: MEDIA ‘A GIFT FROM GOD’

“In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity. The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another. We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. … The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.”

— Pope Francis, in his message for the 48th World Communications Day, Jan. 24, 2014

 

 

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