August 6, 2017: The Solemnity of Holy Father Dominic - Pastor’s Corner
A few days ago, I read an article titled: “The Future of Fake News.” The story focused on a new technology which combines artificial intelligence with computer graphics in such a way as to allow users to create realistic videos of people saying literally whatever they want in real time. Developed at Stanford University, this technology is to video what Photoshop is to images. We have been accustomed to seeing manipulated pictures – famous actors airbrushed from blemishes or memes of famous faces fixed on different bodies. However, this technology goes one step further by enabling the user to create a video image like a puppeteer manipulates a puppet. Although this technology is not perfectly seamless, even now with a cursory online search, you can now find famous people saying ridiculous things. For example, there are videos of President “Trump declaring his proclivity for water sports. Hillary Clinton describing the stolen children she keeps locked in her wine cellar. Tom Cruise finally admitting what we suspected all along … that he is a Broney (a fan of My Little Pony.)” Though there are fun and benign uses for such technology, the article wonders what might happen when, once it is perfected, it might be used for nefarious purposes. (Imagine a fake video of a president declaring war, etc.) It warns “this is the future of fake news. We’ve long been told not to believe everything we read, but soon we’ll have to question everything we see and hear as well.” In a time when reality can be easily adjusted at a whim, it is difficult to know the truth, to be confident in what is real, and in whom to trust. “Fake News” does not simply obscure the truth, but makes it difficult to know where to search for it.
This weekend we celebrate the feast of our parish patron, St. Dominic. The origin of the Order of Preachers flows from St. Dominic’s eagerness to preach the Gospel in a culture that had lost its foundations of Gospel truth. As a cathedral priest in Spain, St. Dominic did not have ambition to start a new Order, but his preaching movement was born from a passion to share the Gospel “Good News” in the face of what might be called “fake Good News” spread by the Albigensian heresy in Southern France. The Albigensians promoted a form of the Christian Gospel which denied the goodness of creation. They imagined that the universe is a result of an intrinsic conflict between the forces of spiritual goods and material evils. Whatever is spiritual is good, whatever is material and can be seen is evil. For this reason, even as they embraced living simple, disciplined lives, free from material comforts, they also rejected the Incarnation of Jesus and the blessings of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. This dualistic corruption of the Gospel awakened in St. Dominic the desire to be a champion for preaching truth. This is why the motto of the Order of Preachers is Veritas (Truth).
As we celebrate St. Dominic as a champion of Truth, we also are invited to participate in his vision to share the Good News to folks in a culture awash in fake news about our faith and our treasured beliefs. Reflecting on St. Dominic’s life, there are two aspects which are instructive for how we too might share in this mission. First, Dominic realized that, in order to be a credible preacher, he must live in a way which gave witness to the faith. Though St. Dominic was not the first preacher to attempt to share the Gospel with the Albigensians, he was the first to be successful. Unlike the missionary preachers who attempted to impress the people with displays of wealth and ostentation, traveling with huge retinues of dignitaries and feasting in large banquet gatherings, St. Dominic embraced the impoverished lifestyle of the locals. He rightly judged that, though they were misled to reject the goodness of the body, the Albigensians were right to reject a wanton materialism that all too easily can distort the Church’s institutions, leadership and message. In order to preach the truth, he lived it. St. Dominic’s poverty of body and spirit is a welcomed, if uncomfortable, reminder that, if we want to be champions of truth, we have to practice what we preach. Second, St. Dominic’s preaching was not simply rooted in reciting the commandments or exhorting moral behavior, but was founded in a relationship. In the Gospel, Jesus does not say that the truth just is an idea, concept or command. Jesus identifies himself with the truth: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6). To be champions of truth, we have to have a real relationship with the source of Truth: Christ himself. In this way, sharing our faith is not only about declaring what the Church teaches or prohibits, but also, preaching is a personal sharing about Jesus’ presence and activity in your life. This sort of sharing opens the mind and heart to the living Spirit of God.
This weekend is also the celebration of the Transfiguration of Christ on the Mount. In fact, this feast (which is always on August 6th no matter the day of the week) is the actually the day of which St. Dominic died in 1221. (The fact that St. Dominic’s feast day, now officially on August 8th, has been moved to five different days over the past 800 years is a subject for another article and perhaps a testament to his humble itinerancy). Jesus’ transfiguration in glory is the ultimate promise and destiny of those who, like St. Dominic are champions for truth. No matter if we are optimistic or pessimistic with regard to the “future of fake news,” our celebration of St. Dominic encourages us to share the Good News of Jesus in how we live and how we witness to the ways in which God has transformed our lives. Happy Feast!
Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P., Pastor