By David Cooley.
In the 13th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus’ disciples ask him why he speaks to the people through parables. He answers: “… because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” (Matt 13:13) He goes on to explain that the people he is talking about fulfill an ancient prophecy of Isaiah: “You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive.” (Isaiah 6: 9-10)
Jesus’ parables are always fascinating but what’s striking in the passage above is how he refers to those who aren’t following him. What does it mean to be a person that looks but does not see, or a person that hears but does not understand? And how can disciples of Jesus today be sure to be people who truly see and understand?
I often think of Pope St. John Paul II and the world in which he grew up. Observing the horrible ways that so many human beings were treated in the first have of the 20th century had a profound impact on him. He realized early on how important it is that we understand who we are and how we ought to act in the world. His teachings on the Catholic understanding of the human person are often referred to as the Theology of the Body.
The understanding of what it means to be a human person in light of Scripture, helps us to understand how we were created, our identity in Christ and our gifts so that we may see ourselves and others the way God intended.
Today, children are growing up immersed in social media. While it’s bad enough that traditional childhood activities are set aside in order to digitally “follow” others, create Tik Tok videos and stay up to date on the latest trends, what is even more worrisome is how young people are learning to perceive themselves and others. The line between what is real and what is not real is continuously becoming more and more blurred.
Since all of creation has a message to tell, it is important that we pay attention. Since part of the mystery of God is revealed through the human body, it is important that we have a proper understanding of human sexuality. In today’s culture, young people are being formed to not see creation the way it was meant to be seen, to not see their bodies the way they were meant to be seen, and to not see others the way they are meant to be seen.
This is all part of what it means to be spiritually blind, and Jesus is constantly inviting us to become people that see. In a fallen world we must train our eyes to see God’s plan for creation and to see that God has a plan for all of us. Only then will we be able to explore the two fundamental questions from the Catechism of the Catholic Church — where do we come from? And where are we going?
The older generations must properly lead the younger generations. Adults have a perspective about life that young people lack. They can see the bigger picture simply because they have been around longer. It seems like every year more and more studies are coming out about the increases in depression and anxiety in young people. There is a direct correlation between these findings and the rise of social media. This makes sense because they are selling themselves short and not realizing that they are made for so much more.
Those of us who have been around for a little while need to make sure that we, ourselves, are close followers of Christ and reading the signs of the times in light of the Gospel. We cannot do that unless we are on our knees praying every day and making the sacrifices that we need to make.
Secondly, we need to lead by example. Children are always watching and learning from us — how are we spending our time? We also need to make sure that the line of communication is always open and that our young people know where to go for information when difficult questions arise.
Finally, we need to at least ask the question: Do young people need to be on social media at all? It is skewing their vision of the world and their vision of themselves. It’s warping their ability to establish and grow real relationships that they will need later in life. Worst of all, it is plunging them into a society that is loud, showy, fake and often manipulative. Social media trains the person to look but not to see.
Our technology is growing so fast that we are all at risk of missing the world we were meant to see and not becoming the people we were meant to become.
David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Covington.