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Buried, survives three days . . .

Nathan Ahearne  |  02 May 2018

Fake news spelt out in scrabble blocksSuddenly, three women burst through the door with an audacious claim – 'Jesus is alive'. Some say he spoke to them and they touched his feet.

Most of the disciples dismiss them as fools but Peter and another believe Mary Magdalene. The burial cloth is all they find in the empty tomb, a small piece of hope. Could Jesus be alive? The disciples have every reason to doubt this good news, to find a logical explanation and dismiss it as fake news.

In his 2018 message for World Communications Day, Pope Francis states that fake news seeks to ‘advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests’. With the rise of outrageous media claims, we too must dig deeper and visit the tomb ourselves, checking the facts and sources before we believe what is served up in our social media feeds. How many of us have become like Thomas, the ultimate sceptic, demanding to place our fingers in the wounds of Christ before believing what we read and hear? At a time where we are bombarded with misinformation, it is important to recall Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 8:32, ‘the truth will set you free’. 

How does the truth of the resurrection hold today? With four differing accounts in the gospels, some may find the claim of the disciples to be dubious at best and completely fictional at worst, but Christianity without Easter is nothing. We know that Paul preached a resurrected appearance of Christ to the early Christian communities (1 Cor.15:3-8). 

Has the Good News of the resurrected Christ lost the viral nature of Paul’s proclamation to the Gentiles? Caught in a sea of despairing stories, shocking violence and political turmoil, the message of God’s love appears to be a small voice in a throng of angry tweets. The success of fake news can be attributed to ‘its appeal to stereotypes and common social prejudices, exploiting instantaneous emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration’ (Pope Francis). Running contrary to this, the message of the Gospel is a countercultural, slow burn, bringing hope to those who seek God. In trying to conform with modern society, are we tempted to substitute Jesus with a more palatable message in our Catholic schools?     

The effectiveness of fake news lies in its ability to mimic real news, offering seemingly plausible accounts. We must ensure our Catholic identity doesn’t simply mimic the teachings of Christ but offers the full and authentic teaching of the Church (John 14:24). RE lessons must be supported with data, quality sources and based firmly on sound catechesis. It can be tempting to water down and creatively explore our faith in an attempt to captivate and hold an audience of young people, without ever giving them something solid to chew on (1 Corinthians 3:2). Our personal witness must also carry this authenticity, or teachers risk being fake news to their students. We must trust that if we maintain the truth of the message, the Holy Spirit will open the minds and hearts of those we teach. 

Why are so many captivated by sensationalism? Perhaps fake news wakes us from our slumber, disrupting the mundane zombie routine of life (Archbishop Mark Coleridge). Catholic education offers students an alternative approach; to pray to the Holy Spirit for the gifts of wonder and awe, for eyes that seek truth and beauty. In the New Evangelisation, the kerygmatic message remains unchanged, but is expressed with new ardour and methods (John Paul II, Discourse to the XIX Assembly of C.E.L.AM., 9 March 1983). How can Catholics use social media to help spread the word without being fake? 

Sarah Yaklicdirector of Catholic media at the University of Notre Dame states, “if we are going to be serious about living out our commitment to the New Evangelisation, then creativity has no bounds. We have to do everything to go out and find the right words to speak to people, because people are away. … We have to be groundbreaking. We have to be the first person to do something brand new”. 

Pope Francis concludes his message with a challenge to journalists (and teachers) to offer their work as ‘truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines… created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they are the majority in our world – who have no voice’.

Nathan Ahearne is Director of Faith Formation at Marist College, Canberra. See also Nathan’s blog.

Main image: Marco Verch -


Topic tags: ourrelationshipwithgod, valuesandmoraldecision-making, scriptureandjesus

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