Sunday, June 29, 2014

Why The Church Is Better Than Facebook

(Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul 2014: This homily was given on June 29, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16: 13-19.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Peter and Paul 2014]

The title of my homily today is, “Why the Church is better than Facebook.”

Let me begin by making it clear that I have nothing, per se, against Facebook and people who are on it.  I’m not on Facebook, personally, mostly because of time constraints.  I have enough to keep me occupied, technologically speaking, with my blog and email and text messaging.

Any more than that would result in what you might call “technological overdose,” which I definitely don’t need.

That having been said, why do I say that the Church is better than Facebook?

Well it’s because of an article someone sent me the other day by a man named John Horvat II.  The article was entitled, “Unfriending Facebook.”

When I read the title, the first thought that occurred to me was, “This must be about Facebook users who’ve dropped the service for various reasons.”

But I was wrong.

The article was actually about Facebook employees who have left the company because of the way it’s run.  And the irony is that “the way it’s run” is precisely what attracted many of them to the company in the first place!

You see, Facebook is an organization that, as Horvatt puts it, “breaks all the rules, smashes traditional hierarchies and lets its employees exercise their creativity without all the restrictions of times past.”

The rules and policies, in other words (like set hours and clear job descriptions), that guide most employees in most places of employment do not apply, for the most part, to the men and women who work at Facebook.

Now you would think that this would be something they all loved, but in many cases it’s precisely what has driven them away from the company.

In addressing the question of what former Facebook employees complain about, Mr. Horvatt writes the following:

Curiously, [they complain mostly about] those “fun” things that are heralded as cutting edge in the new postmodern workplace: the lack of organization, focus and rules.

Working for Facebook can be exhausting since this is not your normal 9-to-5 job that plays by the old rules. Everything goes. Employees can be subjected to long 12-14 hour workdays under stressful conditions. Engineers complained of being on call 24/7 for weeks at a time to keep service up and running. Employees are absorbed by the fast pace and intensity of their work.

The no-walls free-flow atmosphere that is supposed to foster creativity is also stressful to workers who complain of a complete lack of privacy whatsoever at the social media giant.

“At most companies, you put up a wall between a work personality and a personal one, which ends up with a professional workspace,” wrote one former employee. “This wall does not exist at Facebook which can lead to some uncomfortable situations.”

Yet another popular complaint was the laid-back attitude that left everything undefined and unfocused. Employees sensed a lack of infrastructure to provide guidance or support. There are constant guessing games where workers are expected to intuit what is happening in their departments and what is expected of them. The result is a “lack of professionalism” and “stability” where instructions are not clear and organization is lacking, which leads, in turn to stressful situations.

This leads Mr. Horvatt to draw the following conclusions:

These and other complaints underscore the importance of human relationships and leadership in the workplace. It is not surprising that, despite high wages, perks and the prestige of being part of an over-hyped company, there are those who opt out of working in a pressure cooker. People are not made to live in an atmosphere where a reckless spirit of unrestraint and instant gratification dominates. They need guidance, infrastructure and leadership to give them support. As a result, frenetic intemperance takes its toll upon the psyche causing burnout and disillusionment.

Facebook needs to face the fact that life is not a Facebook page consisting of superficial posts of fun and games. Until the social media giant learns this important lesson, it can expect to see itself increasingly “unliked” and “unfriended” by its disillusioned employees.

So why is the Church better than Facebook?

Well, ironically enough, the Church is better precisely for the reason that some people complain about her!  To use the terms found in this article, it’s because the Church has a clear organization—and a clear focus—and defined rules (which we call “commandments”).  It’s because the Church gives us guidance and support.  It’s because the Church preaches against unrestraint and instant gratification, and because the Church clearly teaches us what God expects of us, and what we need to do to get on—and to stay on—the road to heaven!

So often those outside the Church—and sometimes even certain people INSIDE the Church—criticize her for these very things.  But, as the experience of many former Facebook employees makes clear, we need guidelines and rules and structures in order to be happy and to reach our full potential as human beings!

This is why Jesus gave us a hierarchical Church and instituted the papacy.  Jesus created us; he knows how we operate and he knows what we need.  Jesus called himself “the Truth” in John 14, and in John 8 he promised that his truth—his teaching—would set his followers “free”: free from sin; free from Satan; free from eternal death; free from fear and hopelessness.

But Jesus was not na├»ve!  He knew that his truth needed a guardian: a chief guardian who would work in conjunction with other guardians to preserve and teach and defend his truth from the time he ascended into heaven until the end of the world.

Without such an authority Jesus knew his people would very quickly and very easily fall into error and become divided from one another (which is precisely what has happened, historically, in Protestantism).

And so, one day during his ministry—when he was with his apostles at Caesarea Philippi—Jesus singled out one man to be that first guardian—that first spiritual father—for his future spiritual family: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

Now some of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters will object to this idea and say, “No, no—Jesus wasn’t establishing the papacy here.  He wasn’t establishing an office.  Yes, he was making Peter the head of the apostles, but Peter’s authority ended when he died.  There’s no provision for his authority to be passed on to anyone else.”

Oh yes there is!  Here’s where “the keys” come into the picture.  Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The symbolism of “the keys” goes back to the 22nd chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah.  There a man named Shebna (who was something like the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Judah at the time) is removed from office and replaced by a man named Eliakim. 

And to indicate the change in power God says these words:  “I will place the key of the House of David on [Eliakim’s] shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open.”

The “key” there in that verse symbolizes dynastic authority—that is to say, the authority of an office: an authority that was meant to be passed on from one person to another.

Jesus, therefore, gave Peter “the keys” to make it clear to him (and to all of us) that he was establishing something PERMANENT: an office that would continue to exist long, long after Peter died.

And it has—Pope Francis being the 265th man after St. Peter to occupy the office of spiritual father (i.e., pope) in the Lord’s spiritual family, the Church.

Some people (especially in the secular media) are waiting for Pope Francis to change the teaching of the Church on certain matters of faith and morals.

We all know what those issues are; no need to list them here.

Well, they’ll be waiting for a long time, because it isn’t going to happen!

Yes, he may change certain disciplines and policies in the Church; he may change certain aspects of the bureaucratic structure of the Church; he may focus on certain aspects of Church teaching that previous popes haven’t emphasized as much.

True enough.  But he will NOT change the defined teachings of the Catechism—because he can’t!  He can only guard and protect and teach those things.

That’s all he has the power to do!

Notice that St. Paul says in today’s second reading, “I have kept THE FAITH.”  It wasn’t his own opinions that he was faithful to; it wasn’t his own version of Christianity that he followed.  He kept THE FAITH—THE ONE TRUE FAITH, of which St. Peter was the chief guardian.

You see, unlike the officials at Facebook, the Church doesn’t leave her people without direction and guidance and the help and assistance they need.

That’s why we have a Pope; and that’s one of the biggest reasons why the Church is—and always will be—better than Facebook.