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Sr. Helena Burns: Making the most of your news I.Q.

  • December 3, 2020

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Making the most of your news I.Q.

Sr. Helena Burns, FSP

I was recently asked by a parish to do a (virtual) workshop on “News Literacy.” I was told by the families that invited me: “The confusion goes way beyond just ‘fake news.’ There are so many voices on so many digital platforms, speaking both without and within the Church — we need some guidance!” All sides produce legitimate-seeming data, evidence and documentation. Who and what to believe?

If you, too, are struggling with this issue, may I encourage you to not give up trying to discern news? Obfuscation can be a technique to make us give up on ever being able to uncover the truth. 

Along with providing fact-checking tips, I told the teens at the News Literacy workshop to start by trusting those around them who know them and love them and have their best interests at heart, and then branch out with various tools to discern truth in news reporting. Can our loved ones be deceived by misinformation, disinformation, propaganda and outright lies? Of course, but they are not the ones trying to persuade us with hidden agendas or corporate dictates. Who better to join forces with us in our quest for honesty than family and friends (no matter how ideologically disparate we may be)?

What’s crucial in the search for veracity is to have a variety of news sources, alternative input besides the MSM (mainstream media). That’s easier than ever  because of all those voices on (often free) digital media platforms. They’re not all conspiracy theorists or crackpots. In fact, independent amateur journalists are dishing up so much documented truth these days that they’re being censored more and more by the “neutral” platforms themselves (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc.). And as Catholics, we need not only Church news from trusted Catholic entities, but secular news from a faithful Catholic perspective.

“We are living in unprecedented times.” I am tired of the word “unprecedented.” I propose substituting the word “extreme.” We’re all wondering when things will return to “normal” or if they ever will. There are rumours of international subterfuge taking place, that the pandemic is being used as an excuse for social control that will be “the new normal.” Those who’ve lost loved ones or livelihoods due to COVID-19 aren’t as worried about the Big Picture. Their immediate purview is grim enough.

If we’re dealing with outsized, entrenched evil like the corruption in the Church evidenced by the former Cardinal McCarrick’s perplexing rise to power, we need to start thinking a little less like Mr. Rogers and a little more like the criminally insane. That is, if we want to get a handle on how the heck it happened. If we believe that Pope John Paul II knowingly and willfully bestowed a red hat on a serial molester, perhaps the perp is still controlling the narrative.

As I told the parishioners at the News Literacy workshop: “This isn’t the time to leave the Church! Things are getting exciting! Wickedness is being exposed!” You have no stomach for it, you say? You thought that at least there was goodness and light and good guys in the Church? There are good guys (and gals) in the Church and in your city and in your neighbourhood. But there’s also badness and darkness and bad guys (and a few bad gals). Teach your kids to know the difference and to “fix your eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).

If you’re still freaked out by the times we’re living in, know this: God has His own Great Reset. “There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed” (Luke 8:17). The truth will out. God wins. And we will win with Him if we’re found at His wounded side. There may be further trials and tribulations ahead, but God’s love will never abandon us. This life is short, but a glorious forever awaits those who love God back.

When the Israelite scouts were scoping out the land of Canaan, promised to them by God, conflicting reports came back. One said the land would be easy to take, the other report said it would be impossible. Thus, the Gospel hymn: “Whose report will you believe? We shall believe the report of the Lord.” God has chosen us to live in these exact times, these extreme times, and He hasn’t left us in the dark. He has told us everything we need to know to live well. We can trust Him. We can stand on the Word of God. The future, ultimately, is all Good News.

(Sr. Helena, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA.  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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