News reports suggested that this message—dealing indirectly with one of the “third rails” of public discourse, namely death—left many of its viewers concerned, or at least confused and critical.
Pundits can critique the reasoning and remarks of the PSA’s producers and audiences. One constructive reaction focuses on an axiom familiar to many Catholics, including the Knights of Columbus. This organization that builds up and activates the spiritual lives of Catholic men traditionally includes among its admonishments a simple two-word Latin phrase: “Memento Mori” or “Remember Death.”
As a 2020 article from Catholic Digest discusses, the somber reminder tells us that meditating upon one’s mortality and the prospect of death can be a clarifying exercise for the mind and heart.
With help from the PSA, New Yorkers can contemplate a sobering piece of “bad news,” or at least the fact that various forms of very bad news can and do arise in everyday life.
Let’s be fair to the city’s office of emergency preparedness. They dwell much less on the tragic scenario of a nuclear attack than on the tactics for surviving that attack.
A PSA of False Hope?
The announcement is still flawed because it offers simplified tips centered on going indoors, staying indoors, and monitoring updates and advice from the government. Our presenter closes with encouraging words: “You’ve got this.”
Is that really so? If a blackout ensues, for example, can the population access such electronic media as the “Notify NYC” website the presenter promotes? Isn’t this false hope?
An Alternative to 'Bad News':
There is nothing false, hopeless, or simplified about the Church’s alternative approach to the ultimate “bad news.” We know that, without the acknowledgment and anticipation of evil occurrences, people will not appreciate how good the “Good News” really is. The Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ offers the sure path toward happiness in this life and in eternal life.
Reflections on the 'Four Last Things'
Our reflections on the “four last things”—death, judgment, heaven, and hell—help to see the high stakes in our worldly existence. They add a sense of purpose and urgency to a daily pursuit of authentic happiness, grounding our lives in practical, virtuous wisdom for the common good.
They also add clarity and extra dimensions of hope and wonderment when we turn to John 3:16 and read that God the Father wants to give us eternal life through His son; Christ accompanies us as we work out our salvation with a loving embrace of the Holy Spirit’s gifts.
Words to Ease Fear
These empowering instruments for the survivability of individuals and the whole human race are sure things. We must understand and use them well, so the Bible and the teaching Church have provided limitless information on what to do and why.
Much of this time-tested information comes in bite-size pieces, perhaps resembling prophetic PSAs if only we will pay attention. The providential resources described are valuable in good times and bad, they ease our fear rather than kindle it, and they do not shut down in power outages.
This leads to one additional reaction, in the form of a suggestion.
A News Hook for Spiritual Growth
Those seeking to evangelize the culture, enriching its “survivability” through timely and timeless insights, should think more like journalists—at least in one sense. Memorable messages for spiritual growth often have a “news hook” that works like this: “Did you see x? Our faith and reason show us this can mean y. Therefore, let’s respond by doing z.”
Religious leaders, please seize the opportunity to mention New York’s recent PSA jeremiad in homilies and other presentations. Encourage people to view and ponder the warning, and then offer more meaningful, reasonable instruction and conversation. Let’s talk about what we are saying—through our governments’ strategies and our global situations. Let’s consider the underlying insights about our fragility and responsibility.
Our faith is relevant to any personal “end-times” disrupting our lives. Saintly guides and solid guidance will help us act upon the most enduring truths, including the four final truths.
Otherwise, “blind guides” will offer only odd little tidbits of fact that strand us as demigods in idle seclusion, waiting for updates.
The Teacher and the Call to Catechize: In this article, we explain that all teachers are called to catechize and what it catechizing your students really looks like.
Between the Lines, Young Writers Reveal Hope: Ultimate happiness and culture-healing result from teaching skills that allow students to use meaningful communication and push conversations forward.
A Reminder of the Opportunities in Suffering: With Christ, we can put our suffering to work for us and the world—and find opportunities to grow in virtue and to grow the church as a whole.
Bill Schmitt is a journalist, educator, and marketing-communications specialist who recently completed his third semester as an adjunct professor of English at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, IN. He served on the communications staff of the University of Notre Dame from 2003 to 2017, managing many projects and joining in a wide range of multimedia, interdisciplinary collaborations. Since then, his freelance work has included feature-writing, editing, podcasting, and blogging, with much of his work centered on the Catholic faith. Bill holds a BA from Fordham University and an MPA from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. Find his blog at OnWord.net and more career information on Linked-In at billschmitt-onword.