Contemplating the vocation of the Catholic journalist

Originally Appeared in : 9803-2/1/18

With the timely release of the pope’s message for the upcoming World Communications Day —scheduled to coincide each year with the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists and writers—comes an invaluable opportunity for those in the Catholic press to reflect on not only the quality of but also the spirituality behind their work.


Had you asked me what came to mind when I thought of the phrase “Catholic journalism” six years ago, I likely would have said the obvious: a news beat revolving around the Catholic faith and/or a person of the Catholic faith who reports on the news. 


Now, however, one of the first things that comes to mind when I consider the phrase is “vocation.” 


Over my relatively short but intense career in the Catholic press, beginning with an internship at the Catholic Review diocesan newspaper in Baltimore in 2013 and continuing these past two years with the Southern Cross here in the Diocese of Savannah, there have been far too many instances when I considered leaving behind journalism completely for a less stressful occupation. To this end, I will only say that I generally don’t believe I fit the preconceived profile of a journalist, extroverted and daring in nature.


However, with each successful assignment or meaningful interview, the realization dawns on me, hopefully with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, that despite its many, many challenges, no other work would work for me.


I’ve come to believe that Catholic journalism isn’t merely a livelihood—though of course it does sustain me financially. 


It’s the work God has chosen me to do.


The benefits—the opportunity to capture special moments and speak to both ordinary and extraordinary people and share their inspiring stories; the privilege of getting to travel around our diverse diocese on a regular basis; and the knowledge that the efforts of one’s labors won’t be hidden under a bushel—are certainly great.


But in retrospect there’s something even more special about this work.


Secular journalists talk about the honor and obligation in sharing what they believe to be the truth—though what so much of the world today believes is now true wasn’t always considered true. For example, look at the changing public opinion on marriage as well as on gender and sexuality.
Catholic journalists, however, can talk about the glory of sharing the Good News, which though still truthful, stands to have an impact long after “old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).


We don’t just continue on the work of greats like Bob Woodward and Edward R. Murrow. 


We continue on the work of the apostles and first disciples who trekked around the world preaching eternal truths that haven’t changed with the ebb and flow of public opinion and never will change. 


As Pope Francis said in his message for World Communication Day 2018, all journalists—especially Catholic journalists—have the ability to affect both lives and souls. We can promote a “journalism of peace” that “is committed to pointing out alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence.” 


I believe that for Catholic journalists, a “journalism of peace,” however, goes beyond merely avoiding hostility, sensationalism or superficiality in our work. It goes beyond the idea of avoiding “fake news” merely because it presents disinformation and/or sugarcoats reality.


When I think of a “journalism of peace,” one of the things that comes to mind is John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” To that end, we need to avoid “fake news” because it is one of the symptoms or signs of a rapidly growing relativism that indicates a lack of trust in the absolute value of anything.


To a Catholic journalist, it might seem like it’s our job to shine light on any and all dark matters in our universe. But it’s not: It’s Christ’s. We are merely instruments in his hands created to shine the spotlight back on him. 


Through the words and images God allows us to publish, we have an opportunity to do more than inspire hope in the ability of the human mind and body to survive another day, to look out toward the horizon knowing that life within its boundaries might get better in time. 


We can inspire hope in the ability of the soul to withstand time itself, knowing that there’s something greater than our fragile minds can ever know or understand, far beyond the earthly horizon. 


And as an afterthought, for all those who wonder why news has to “bleed” so much as we say in the news biz: As Mike Donehey, lead singer of one of my favorite Christian bands Tenth Ave North, once wrote in his Tumblr blog, sometimes God “uses dark colors when he paints” and “brings beauty out of the pain.” Pope John Paul II also said that we were made for greatness and not comfort.What we report and publish, even if it highlights the often dismal nature of humanity, can be used by God to focus our sights heavenward and help us realize our dependence on him.


Knowing that I play such an important role in proclaiming the Kingdom of God, how could I do anything else?


Here’s to a new year of sharing stories that give meaning and purpose to our proximate contexts, helping us to grow in our faith and trust of our ultimate context,


Jessica L. Marsala is Assistant to the Editor of the Southern Cross.

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