The Cloud of Unknowing

Source: District of Asia

The dilemma of using the internet.

Freefalling Into The Cloud

Not so long ago, fax machines were considered to be at the cutting edge of communications technology. At the time, there was a debate among SSPX faithful and clergy about whether priories should be allowed to have these extravagant symbols of modernity—was it not too worldly, too expensive, too disruptive to the spiritual life?

Since then, we have had similar debates about desktop computers, email,  laptops, mobile phones, wi-fi, Kindles, smartphones and especially “the cloud” (the internet). But always following the same path: initial resistance followed by silent capitulation. Yes these things are worldly, they are expensive and they can be disastrously disruptive to the spiritual life and even to health. But we carry-on. Initially we were a year or so behind the curve of adoption of these new technologies, but now we are right up there with the techies and the nerds.

Are we on the right path? Are these wonders of the world really working as tools of detachment from the world and attachment to God? Are we like the motoring enthusiast who is so much in love with his car that he forgets where he is supposed to be going? Should we be using the latest technology in our apostolate? Here, we attempt to answer this last question in relation to the internet.

The Advantages

It is clear that the internet facilitates the apostolate: it enables an individual priest to reach thousands, it is a bigger resource than any library or bookshop and its cost is minimal.

Practicality is not the only argument in its favour either; presently, we are in the thick of a life-and-death struggle for souls and one of the biggest battlefields is the electronic media-space created by the internet. Whether we approve or not, if we do not have a compelling presence in this space, the message of traditional Catholicism will effectively disappear for a significant and growing proportion of souls ...even in traditional Catholic families.

Websites offer a passive presence on the battlefield while initiatives such as the E-pistola updates of the US District (a weekly email giving information about impending feast days, future events, commentaries on past events and interesting snippets on Catholic tradition) are an active communication tool. They present one of the few chances a soul has of achieving the presence of God while glued to a smartphone.

The Dangers

It is clear that we need to be attractive, instructive and edifying in the electronic media-space, but are we not sucking our faithful into this fog of virtuality away from the crisp air of the real world? And at what cost to the soldiers who are engaged in the electronic apostolate? Being stuck in front of a screen all day is not good for the spiritual life—there are temptations without number and it is so absorbing that we rarely practice any virtue while clicking and tapping away. It is also not good for our social life or even for physical health.

The Best Solution

Ironically, it seems that we need to be in the cyber world precisely to get people out of it—into the real reality of a holy family life, work life and parish apostolate. Our offerings should be attractive enough to draw people away from the rubbish; informative enough to point them in the right direction; and effective enough in actually making them log-off from IT-lobotomy and switch on to the blue skies outside their windows.

We should be like the farmer who replies to a traveller’s enquiry about the best way to Dublin: “Well, I wouldn’t start from ‘ere if I were you..”

We should be like someone who deliberately gets himself locked-up in a prisoner-of-war camp in order to distribute maps, ropes and hacksaw blades to the troops so that they can escape.

To do this, priests need the help of a few skilled members of the laity to free themselves from the technical side of the electronic apostolate so that they can communicate more with God and less with “the cloud.” This would put them in a position to produce instructive and edifying material, for, as Dom Chautard says in his Soul of the Apostolate, there is no fruitful apostolate which is not grounded in contemplation.

The faithful, in turn, need to sanctifying themselves by making their religion the centre of their lives (rather than the internet) which means acting upon this exhortation for more real virtuosity and less virtual reality!

May Mary help us—poor and miserably weak children that we are—to see the her Divine Son through the clouds of unknowing, and become once more ...the apple of His eye.

Rev. Fr. Robert Brucciani.