2020 feels like a bad car wreck- I want to look away but can’t take my eyes off it. We read the morning paper, scroll through Twitter, and watch the nightly news. Knowing what’s going on in the world makes us well-informed citizens and allows us to bring the needs of the world to God in prayer and at Mass.
So why do we feel so bad? Of course, most of the news is negative, but the problem is deeper than that. News fatigue is a phenomenon recognized by mental health experts, yet little attention has been given to its spiritual implications. If you’re like me, it’s time to reconsider our relationship with the media and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius can help.
The heart of Ignatian spirituality is the belief that God is everywhere. God is always working in our lives and in the world, and we need only need to take time to notice and respond. The work of faith is to learn what is happening in the world so that we can engage, pray, find God, and serve better.
Pretending bad news doesn’t exist or focusing solely on the positive risks denying the incarnational reality that Christ is present always and everywhere, even our suffering. Keeping up with the world makes us better citizens, helps us to pray, and encourages us to respond with faith and love. So where do we draw the line? To know what to do, we must first remember who we are.
St. Ignatius begins the Spiritual Exercises with something called “The First Principle and Foundation” which expresses our deepest identity and mission as human beings. God loved us into being as His own children. We are created with purpose and the goal of life is to praise, reverence, and serve God in our own unique ways on earth until we share eternal life with him in heaven. Lest we think this is too abstract or complicated, the saints have taught us what this means. St. Irenaeus said “the glory of God is the human person fully alive”. God wants you to be fully alive, authentically yourself, and doing so brings God great glory. Pope St. John Paul II said that to become a saint is to “become who you are”.
Because God made us from pure love and with specific purpose, everything matters. All created things on earth are gifts from God to us and have their place in the order of creation. Everything exists for us, that we may become who we are and accomplish our mission. How we use God’s gifts matters. Faith begins with gratitude for all God’s gifts and uses them insofar as they help us in our life with God. St. Ignatius’s point is often summarized as “tantum quantum” (Latin for ‘insofar as’) because that is our measuring tool for discernment.
We are to keep things in our lives and use them when they bring us closer to God and each other, but let them go if they become an obstacle to love of God and neighbor. The genius of the tantum quantum is that it accounts for complexity between people, and diversity of situations. Each of us is unique, and is given our own missions from God. So what helps one person in her life with God may not be the same for someone else.
Each of us must apply the tantum quantum to our own relationship with the media. The news and even some social media can be a great way to stay informed with current events and keep up with family and friends. Insofar as that makes me a better son of God (leads me to deeper faith, hope, and love) then it helps me in my life mission. But insofar as it causes anxiety, or intrudes on quality dinner conversations, or keeps me up late at night scrolling, then it hinders me in my life mission. God created us to be free, joyful, and generous. Ignoring the world is not an option, but we can decide how we engage it.
We cannot simply condemn the problems of the media or celebrate its benefits. Each person must prayerfully consider how the media, like all created things, is a gift from God that can be a source of life or an obstacle to overcome.
Step 1: Invite the Holy Spirit to lead you in this time of prayer.
Step 2: Ask for openness to be guided and even challenged by God’s love.
Step 3: Examine your life with God using these questions:
– Who has God created me to be? (As his beloved daughter/son)
– What is/are my mission(s)? (At work, family, friendships, etc.)
– How much time do I spend watching/reading the news? How is it helping me in my missions from God?
– How much time do I spend on social media? Why do I check social media? Is it to stay connected or am I looking for something more?
– How do I feel when I engage the media? Do I feel satisfied at the deepest level? Am I more inclined to faith, hope and love?
– Does the media make me a better, more prayerful, more generous person?
– How can I adapt my media habits so that it helps me toward the end for which I am created?
Step 4: Remember prayer is a dialogue between friends. Listen, and ask “God, how are you calling me to engage with the media?”
Step 5: Conclude with an Our Father.
Let us be patient and generous with one another as we all engage the world in our own ways. We are united as one human family, so let us encourage one another in faith that God is always at work, especially in the darkness. We thank God for the gift of the media and ask that it inspire our prayers and bring us closer to God and one another.