Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Medium Is the Message

It is a great consolation in spiritual reading when you encounter the work of wise people whose thoughts clarify and confirm the truths you have been fumbling toward.

Today, in the Franciscan calendar of saints, the Capuchins honor one of their own, a priest known as Joseph of Leonessa (1556-1612). This ancestor in faith, a missionary to Turkey, became a famous preacher in his native land. In chapel this morning I meditated on one of his sermons, printed in my breviary. Here is a part of it:

The Gospel and the good news of our Lord's coming into the world through the Virgin Mary is not a matter for recording primarily on writing materials but in our hearts and souls. This is the difference between the written law and the law of grace. The former is called written because it was engraved on tablets of stone; the latter is called the law of grace because it is imprinted on the hearts of men through the infusion of grace by the Holy Spirit. This is what was promised by the Lord according to Jeremiah: I will make a covenant with you not like the covenant I made with your fathers. Concerning this new covenant Scripture adds: I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts.

Every Christian, then, must be a living book wherein one can read the teaching of the Gospel. This is what Saint Paul says to the Corinthians: Clearly you are a letter of Christ which I have delivered, a letter written not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh in the heart. Our heart is the parchment; through my ministry the Holy Spirit is the writer because my tongue is nimble as the pen of a skillful scribe.

Would indeed that the preacher's tongue were moved by the Holy Spirit, dipped in the blood of the spotless Lamb and writing skillfully on your hearts today. But how can one writing be written over another writing? Without erasing the first the second cannot be written. But avarice, pride, wantonness and the rest of the vices have been written on your hearts. How will we write humility, uprightness and the rest of the virtues unless the previous vices are erased? If men had such writing on themselves each one, as we said, would be a book and his life would teach others by example. For this reason Paul adds: You are my letter, known and read by all....


All I can say is, Wow. A living book of the Gospel. A letter of Christ. This is what I have been trying to say for some time now. Love it or not, I am how God is speaking. I do want to be the word God is speaking. I am but a poor stereotype of the Word of God, a word straining to be heard as a faithful echo of the Word. And by grace I am re-writing myself, constantly, so that I am better what God is speaking me to be. One continuous draft and re-draft of the music and lyrics to the song of myself God has authored: that is religious life.

Marshall McLuhan, media theorist and prophet for our age of mass communication, proclaimed that "the medium is the message." This convert to Catholicism was speaking of technology as an extension of ourselves. Through our media, our senses and our consciousness are projected onto reality, organizing and re-organizing reality. The media we use reflect the way we think and perceive and thus affect the world we construct. When we adopt a new medium, it alters the way we construct the world. Our culture, our society, therefore, is how we speak it. The medium is the message.

McLuhan was studying human media. The alphabet, movable type, radio, television, the Internet: these are human media. Four centuries before McLuhan, Joseph of Leonissa was studying media, too, except he was speaking of divine media and the divine message. And Joseph, restating what Jeremiah and Paul said many centuries before him, announced that we, human beings, are living books of the Gospel. No longer is the divine message engraved on tablets of stone alone; it is written on tablets of flesh in the human heart.

Human beings are themselves divine media! We are how God is speaking! How great a destiny! How could this be?

God, the ultimate reality, the author of our total environment, has spoken through all ages, communicating life and grace in many ways, extending the divine power and consciousness into creation, nurturing it through countless changes. God did this through many "media," from physical to chemical to biological nature. God readied the world for the definitive projection of this power and consciousness, which would forever transform reality and change the way it changes. In the mystery of salvation history, God chose a human being to be the ultimate medium of grace. For those who believe, Jesus Christ is the perfect self-communication of God. "And the Word was made flesh." The medium is the message. By the creating and saving power of this Word, all human beings could become sharers in and bearers of the message of eternal life.

Love it or not, I am how God is speaking. Jesus Christ is God speaking. Like Francis in imitation of Christ, I yearn to be more truly what God is speaking and become fully who I am. May the medium be the message. For this fond hope, Joseph of Leonessa, pray for us.

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