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The Gospel today (Mt 15:21-28) presents us with a story of a woman who came to Jesus seeking for help to heal her daughter. This woman was a Canaanite, a group of people that were cast out by the Hebrews and considered unclean because they were seen as pagans. Although this woman knew she was considered as unclean among the Hebrews, she didn’t allow her so called ‘unclean’ status to prevent her from seeking help from a Hebrew whom she saw as capable of helping her. 

From the onset, this woman taught us a lesson. That we should not allow any barrier to stand between us and our God. Never allow the feeling of unworthiness to further push you away from God or never feel that your sins are too grave that God is no longer interested in you. If we know the God we serve and what we need, then we must not be distracted but remain focused on the prize.

Interestingly, this woman was never discouraged even by Jesus’ words that alluded to her as ‘dog’. The use of the term ‘dogs’ to refer to the Gentiles was a common practice among the Jews of Jesus’ time who believed they’re the only true children and heir of God. Jesus certainly didn’t believe in such discriminatory perception. However, he repeated the words as a reminder to his people and to show them that anyone who has faith can be saved, not only the Jews. It was also a test of faith for the woman. 

Although her faith was tried, she passed the test. She was focused on the prize and not the obstacles on the way to the prize. She abandoned her pride and focused on the needs of her daughter. She believes that this Holy man was more than what he just told her. Her pride was also tested. She refused to succumb. She knew that this man called Jesus was a holy man, and since he has done it for others, he will do it for her. And so she persisted. This woman had her faith and pride tested but she passed with patience and persistence. 

Brothers and sisters, what are the hurdles we encounter in the process of seeking God’s favors? Sometimes our prayers and requests seem to go endlessly without results. There are times we experience more hardships and even increased problems on the way despite our prayers. Such feelings of helplessness and seeming lack of immediate response from God are capable of discouraging us and creating the feeling that God doesn’t care. But like this woman in the Gospel, if we focus on the prize not the hurdles or the bumps on the way, we will eventually enjoy the flavor of our patience Sometimes God delays His answers so that we can cherish His gifts when they come. And again, at other times God’s delays may indicate His change of plans for us against our erroneous desires. Remember, He controls the future and He will not hand you a snake instead of a fish. Stick to God’s plans with patience. One who is patient can boil a rock and drink from its sauce. 

Doubts and fears are two strong enemies of human endeavors. So many of us are determined to walk through the waters of life but unfortunately our fears and doubts truncate our determinations and thwart our efforts. In our Gospel reading today, Peter was affected by the effects of fears and doubts. Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and asked to do the same. He was invited by Jesus. Sure enough, Peter started walking on the water quite good. But when the wind became strong he was frightened. Doubts set in, and he started sinking. 

Peter walked on the water not by his power but the power of Christ. As long as he relied on the power of Christ he kept walking on the water. But the moment Peter started focusing on himself and thinking it was his ability and power, he started to sink. He sank because his human powers were limited by fear, doubts and uncertainty. Peter began by trusting in God, but his failure came when he turned attention to himself and began to trust more in his ability rather than God. But when he returned his attention to the powers of Christ and invited Jesus to help him, he received the strength and continued to walk again.

As humans we have our storms, our troubles and our worries in life. These are often worsened by our doubts and fears. Our strength alone is not sufficient to combat these troubles because our human abilities are beclouded by fears and doubts and the evil one does well in an environment of fear and doubt. But the more we rely on the power of God, the stronger we become with the ability to manage our troubles. The moment we assume we can solve our problems independent of God, we find ourselves stumbling and sinking the more into our problems.

Are you experiencing chaos in your life? Is your faith beginning to slip? Are you feeling rejected? Are you tired of trying? Those are moments of doubts and fears. Don’t give in easily or else you will be drowned and be taken away by the storm of your problems. When you realize your family is tearing apart, and you no longer find joy in your spouse or your kids, don’t merely rely on your power alone to fix it – call on God. Or it may be that when you started your job you’re all excited but later down the years you no longer find joy in it, you’re getting frustrated with everything. Don’t allow yourself to sink. It’s time to call on your helper for more strength. Whatever you do seek the hands of God. Without God, our human powers are full of doubts, uncertainty, mistrust etc. Although Peter was afraid because of the storm, he never allowed himself to be defeated by his fears. He fought his fears by calling on Christ – a superior power – to help him. Whatever solution you seek for your problems, never forget to include a spiritual solution.

Focus your attention on Jesus and be courageous to call on Him always. With trust in Jesus we can walk on the waters of life despite its turbulence. Never rely on your abilities alone. Remember, we draw our strength from God and we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).

In the transfiguration event, we are presented with a scene that appears to be an open transition from the Old covenant to the New. Moses and Elijah represent the old covenant – standing for the law and the prophets respectively. Jesus appears in the middle of these great men of the scriptures as a fulfillment of the covenant. The transfiguration brings to the fore the relationship between the Old and the New Testament. The presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus shows us that the Old Testament and the New Testament are not opposed to each other. Rather, they complement each other in the fulfillment of the law and the prophets through Jesus Christ. We believe that the scripture or the Bible in its entirety is the revealed Word of God. 

Furthermore, as a confirmation of who Jesus is, while in the presence of his disciples, and standing amidst the representation of the Old Testament (Moses and Elijah), God pointed at the face of the New Covenant (Jesus Christ) and asked us to ‘Listen to Him.’ A kind of a transfer of authority from the old to the new, not in opposition but in transition. The transfiguration fused together the law and the prophets into the new covenant – salvation through Jesus Christ.

The voice of God in today’s gospel commands us as christians to listen to His son. How does Jesus speak to us today and how do we listen to Him? There are various ways. As christians Christ speaks to us through the scriptures, through the Church and it’s teachings and through the traditions of the Church. Unfortunately, many Christians today see the Bible, the scriptures, the Word of God, as boring. Some of us cannot sustain a long-term interest in reading the bible. It is easier for some to finish a 100-page book in hours but they cannot sustain reading only a two-page chapter of the bible in a month.The question is why the lack of interest on the things of God? As Christians, we need to transfigure our image and ignite our interest for the things of the Divine so that we can hear Him and listen to Him.

Sadly too, many of us have ignored these channels through which Christ speaks to us. We fail to listen to him when we decide to pick and choose what to believe in the Scriptures and in the teachings of the Church. So many of us have allowed personal and societal ideologies to dictate what to believe about what the scriptures and the Church teach. It is sad that for some professed Christians social and political ideologies speak to us more than the Word of God. We prefer to listen to those loud societal voices while ignoring the gentle whispering voice of God. As Christians, the teachings of our faith should shape our moral, social and political ideologies, not the other way round. When we take the teachings of the Scripture and the Church together we will realize that they do not fit into just one narrow ideological view. Our faith is not a ‘party-line’ ideology. It supersedes all. We must be true followers of Christ who listen to him in its entirety. We cannot afford to remain pick-and-choose christians.

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In today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:44-52), Christ used parables to compare the kingdom of heaven to certain treasures in the field and a merchant in search of fine pearls. Reasonably, we may perceive the Kingdom of heaven as something abstract, far removed from the present or something that awaits us only when we die. But we must also remember that a parable is actually an earthy story embedded with heavenly meaning. I choose to particularly reflect on these two parables in the light of our today’s earthly story hoping that it may resonate with our real life experience and make meaning to us.

The treasures and the fine pearls found by the two men in the parables denote something special and invaluable that must be loved, cared for and even give up everything to possess, maintain and sustain them. In our present reality, we need to talk about the ‘treasures’ that lead us to the ultimate treasure (the kingdom of heaven). We cannot attain the ultimate treasure if we do not cherish the earthly treasure bestowed upon our earthly care. The real treasure of life is under our noses: the people we share our life with; our communities, our gifts, and the opportunities we face every day to show our values as Christians. It is in such heart of ordinary things that we discover the kingdom of Jesus

In the two parables, one found a treasure by chance, he stumbled on it (was lucky), while the other had to search so hard for the fine pearls before he finally found it. It is a reality of life that some of us are lucky that our treasures come to us without much pain: the joy of a good family (a great husband/wife), very listening kids, a good paying job, good health, a strong faith passed to us by our parents, etc. But others are not that lucky. They have to work so hard, sometimes with pain and difficulties, for them to discover and possess their treasures: they work extra hard to remain happy with a family (constant struggle with marital relationships), struggling with children that are in and out of trouble, struggling to keep a job, struggling with health issues, etc.

Our Gospel today is challenging. It challenges us that regardless of how we discover our treasures we need to cherish them when we have them. Our possession of God’s kingdom hereafter is built upon how we manage our treasures here and now, whether they come to us easy or we have to struggle to discover and maintain them. We must not take anything for granted. We must find joy in what we have, even if it means struggling to make them better. For us to maintain our treasures or discover our fine pearls, we need to let those who are close to us know how much we cherish them. Be positive about what God has blessed you with. Learn to shower words of blessings upon the treasures that God has bestowed upon your life: your spouse, children, family, friends, etc. Tell them how beautiful they are, how intelligent they are, how helpful and priceless they are. And don’t forget to love yourself regardless of your looks and health condition – who you are is also priceless! Appreciate your employer, thank your employees and love what you do. Make your family and all that God has blessed you with to know how special they are, let them see you as one who can give up everything to possess them because they are of inestimable worth like the treasure in the field and the fine pearls. Certainly, they may not be perfect, but grace is built upon nature. People grow and do better when they know they’re appreciated. Don’t be too negative towards them all the time, you can fine the most beautiful pearl and treasure in the world if you are patient and positive with what God has placed into your care.

In today’s world, technology has provided us with a means for easy and accessible communication with a global audience in addition to our everyday face-to-face interactions. The faceless nature of technology – through the Internet and social media – has given many people the courage to express themselves in a way that they are not able to do in real-life face-to-face communication. This is a positive development. Unfortunately, this ability to courageously express feelings and thoughts through Internet technology has also introduced a callous attitude to communication and expression that promotes intolerance and hate among people. In the process of free and faceless expression, some have ignored the place of charity in human interactions. Pope Francis, in his message for the 50th World Communications Day (2016), emphasized the fruitful encounter between communication and mercy. His message was an invitation to the world to use the means of communication with which this generation has blessed us to communicate with fraternal love and charity, not by spreading hate and division.

This brief paper reflects on the relationship between communication and mercy and delineates the responsibilities of the person that communicates, especially in a time when technology appears to be a major aid to communication and transmission of information. As we reflect on the invitation to communicate with mercy, love and charity, the challenge to us as people of faith is: how do we do this? How do we communicate with love and fraternal charity in a society that is culturally and religiously diverse? How do we communicate with mercy in a world torn apart by religious intolerance? How do we communicate with mercy in a world where ethnicity and race are central points of identity? I believe that the answer lies in developing a communication spirituality that is guided by the principles of our faith.

Developing a Communication Spirituality

The message of the Holy Father for the 50th World Communications Day caused me to further reflect on the emerging concept of communication spirituality. This is a new concept; it attaches a spiritual meaning to communication beyond the everyday understanding of communication as a process of transmission of messages from sender to receiver. Communication spirituality embodies the idea that such transmission of messages should lead to building up humanity, not destroying it. Communication spirituality is embedded in the meaning of communication and mercy as presented by Pope Francis: “In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family” (Pope Francis, 50th World Communications Day, #11).

As we use the various tools of communication, particularly the new media technologies such as the Internet and social media, I invite us to develop a communication spirituality that will enable us to communicate with mercy, love and fraternal charity. Communication spirituality ensures that whatever comes out from the inside of us and is expressed in a message – in the real world or online –  should always flow from, and be grounded in, the spiritual experience that has been internalized as a result of our faith. Technology does not communicate; it is the person that communicates by the use of technology. Therefore, it is impossible to remove the human element from true communication. Communication spirituality reinforces the demands of our faith that encourage respect for differences and accommodation of diversity in our human relationships.

The Internet facilitates and enables interaction between and among people of different cultures, races, belief systems, political inclinations and geographical locations. Communication spirituality helps us to value and appreciate our differences through the sharing of ideas and knowledge that enhances growth. Technology does not have the ability to do all these things. As an instrument, it only facilitates these behaviors. The ability to carry out these behaviors is exclusive to humans. Technology does not hurt our feelings; humans do. Technology does not judge anyone; humans do. Technology does not have a heart; humans do. Technology does not interact; humans do. According to Pope Francis, “it is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal” (Pope Francis, 50th World Communications Day, #10).

Therefore, we should never allow the facelessness we feel when using a piece of technology to make us forget that we are persons with a heart and feelings, communicating with another person or persons with human features just like we have. The fact that some may seem heartless and mean in their communication with us, is not an excuse to pay them back in their own coin by becoming heartless and mean as well. Rather, it is an opportunity to put our communication spirituality into play: communicate with conviction, in love and with fraternal charity. This type of communication sets us apart as people of faith and encourages peaceful collaboration and integration among people in our society.

Communication spiritualty in a multicultural environment demands that our Facebook posts, our tweets, our text messages, our blog posts, and our face-to-face conversations have, as their end, the desire to contribute to the common good of the person and the society. To develop a communication spirituality in a pluralistic society is to value the benefits of technology, which are a gift to our generation, and to use these tools to promote peaceful coexistence. People should use technologies to communicate their opinions and knowledge without resorting to hurting other people by demeaning their faith, their ethnicity, personalities or any other natural human attribute that may apply to them. When religious people allow the principles of their faith to guide their communication activities, they will realize that “communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society” (Pope Francis, 50th World Communications Day, #3). This is true communication spirituality in practice. It is the act of communicating with mercy, with love and with charity.

In our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, politicians and religious leaders must understand the diversity that stands before them. The thoughts they express have great impact on the lives of the people. We must not allow anger or sentiments to guide our utterances. Rational communication is needed to make our world better. Communication spirituality means sacrificing our anger and our sentiments, and communicating with a voice that is firm but charitable. Communicating with mercy, love and charity can have a positive influence on many people and can bring about conversion in the heart of the receiver of our messages. But hate only begets hate. When we preach hate, post hate, and return hate with hate, all we get is more hate and no peace. Any communication that blocks further opportunities for renewed relationships and reconciliation stands against mercy, love and peace.

Finally, when we develop a communication spirituality that is centered on fraternal charity and mercy, we begin to communicate with respect, with integrity, with a sense of justice, with a heart of compassion and with a desire to be of service to humanity.

Modern media have penetrated every sphere of human life, and they are influencing the way things are done. By modern media I mean the new media technologies (social media, smartphone/tablet technologies, apps, online games, etc.) which are convergent of the traditional media (television, radio, newspaper, etc.). Central to this convergent media is Internet technology. Because the influence of the modern media is both positive and negative, this article enumerates both the pros and cons of these modern media for the family. Young people of today are certainly born online and raised by technology. This paper is aimed at helping families, especially those raising children, develop a strategy for harvesting the benefits of the growing technology innovations and preventing their pitfalls. The goal is to nurture the family in an online environment guided by ethical and moral values of decency and respect.

The Positive Influence of New Media Technologies for Families

  • They create opportunities for networking among families to keep them together regardless of geographical distance.
  • They have provided families with tools that enable them to form family prayer groups online through group blogs, group chats and conference calls.
  • More families are able to own personal electronic bibles that can be used anywhere and anytime. These can be used for individual or family reflections to enhance and encourage growth in the spiritual life.
  • Modern media tools can be used to create small Christian support groups (e.g., WhatsApp and Facebook pages and groups).
  • They bring families very close to sources of information.
  • New media have exposed more grass-roots people to the process of engagement, especially in democratic and political landscapes.
  • Through social media and the Internet, more people and families find connections that lead to the acquisition of jobs, enrollment in institutions of learning and other opportunities which were previously not possible.

 The Negative Influence of New Media Technologies for Families

  • New ideologies can be spread easily through the Internet and the social media. These are mostly negative ideologies meant to mislead the gullible. They include atheistic ideologies, religious extremism, social behaviors contrary to faith and nature, and other ideologies opposed to family values. Those which promote false sense of independence from one’s culture and family are especially dangerous.
  • In the developing countries of Africa, for example, there is the eroding of cultural values which are replaced by foreign, and often, misunderstood, cultures because they appear flashy on the Internet. Losing the sense of respect in manner of speech, and the distorted understanding of beauty through immodest dressing and disrespect for the body are examples of this cultural erosion.
  • The new technologies provide more access to pornographic and obscene images and videos which takes away intimacy in marital relationships and replaces it with sensual pleasure derived from imaginary objects presented on a screen. A British newspaper carried out a survey which revealed that 66% of women have watched pornographic videos, while nearly nine out of ten men (88%) do the same, and a quarter of them watch such videos every day (The Sun Newspaper, April 2, 2009). This trend is growing worse with increasing access to the Internet through mobile devices.
  • There are many websites today that connect people for sex and immodest dating. These are connect-online-and-meet-offline-sex-matching websites. Through the Internet, cheating is now easier; for example, AshleyMadison.com is a website that facilitates extramarital affairs. When the identities of users were exposed several years ago, many were family people. Similar sex-matching websites are expanding to other parts of the world. These types of websites encourage adultery and destroy the family.
  • Pedophiles infiltrate the Internet and commit sexual crimes with vulnerable children.
  • The growing use of mobile phones and chat applications for sexting is a destructive trend. People send nude photos of themselves with others, sometimes with strangers. This is carried out by both children and adults. This is a dangerous trend that works against decent family values.
  • Modern media can take away good human relationships. Some people may relate more to their smartphones than to members of their family. In such situations, someone other than the parent or other family member, may have great influence over a child, a husband or a wife than his parents or spouse. Never underestimate the danger that such external influences can pose to the existence of a family.

How the Church Can Help Families

Despite the negative influences that the modern media are capable of exerting on the family, I strongly believe that the benefits of the new media technologies outweigh the negatives. We live in a generation that is highly influenced by the new technologies, and this trend will only grow, not slow down. Young people of today are born into this movement of technology take-over. In the future, that may be all they know and use. What is needed is to teach people how to use these new media technologies to engage in positive activities that will help, and not destroy, them. The challenges are even greater for African families because of the gap that exists between the young and the old in technology adoption in Africa. The gap between young Internet-savvy users and parents is presumably large among African families, considering the interest level difference between the old and the young and the age gap of Internet users in Africa. This gap between young and old Internet users is gradually closing in the Western world, though it is still wide. But the excesses of usage may even be more difficult for African families to control because many people in Africa access the Internet on private cellphones, not through computers that can be guided and controlled by parents or supervisors.

The negatives of the new media technologies pose some special challenges to families raising young children. The Church needs to come to the rescue, to help families develop ethical standards on the use of Internet technology guided by Christian values. Below are some suggestions for the Church and its functionaries.

  • Develop and engage families in educational awareness programs on the benefits of the new media and their potential dangers. Parents who are not familiar with how the Internet works are more likely to ignore the dangers. Organize diocesan and parish seminars that target parents and children. These events should be conducted by experts in this area.
  • Promote and encourage families to engage in the use of the tools of the new media. Parents of young children should communicate with their children and have access to their social media platforms. Parents should be encouraged to join their children in using the social media. It is not enough to give rules to children; parents must lead by example. Discuss issues with children in a way that is nonthreatening. Merely stating the right and wrong, or even cautioning young children on the dangers of the Internet alone, is not sufficient to keep them from engaging in unwelcome practices. Parents should teach family values to their children on the Internet. Therefore, participation of parents in social media is very important.
  • Families should be encouraged to organize family activities frequently to increase the bonds among family members (e.g. sports, reunions, and celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries of marriages). This may likely minimize dependency on media technology that may be harmful to family relationships. This type of dependency removes an individual from the family and places his interest more on a piece of technology or on an outsider. There should be a balance between the use of the new media and participation in family activities.
  • Families should be encouraged to use a variety of media and resources to check facts about issues. Not everything on the Internet is factual or true. Education on this aspect will minimize the dangers of indoctrination with the wrong ideologies of religion, culture or atheistic values that are often found on the Internet.
  • The Church should provide precise answers to issues that concern faith and morals and educate people on the best and most credible Internet sites or media to use when seeking relevant answers to their questions or concerns.
  • Church leaders (bishops, clergy and religious) must learn, understand and get acquainted with the knowledge of current social, moral and religious issues in order to provide informed answers to people’s questions. Families should be encouraged to seek counsel with their pastors on controversial issues, especially about the Church and society, that are often misrepresented on the Internet. This means that the pastor must be familiar with these issues. There is a need for continuing education for pastors on these issues.
  • Finally, church leaders must learn and practice how to best use the tools of the modern media in order to teach others. Our society is growing more sophisticated through the new technologies. Church leaders that ignore this fact may find themselves irrelevant and left behind in the future of evangelization.