As we continue to explore Marshall McLuhan as a model for Catholic communicators in this Year of Faith, we ask him the question, “How do we come to faith?” or “How do we strengthen our faith?”
In his fascinating essay, “Passion and Precision: The Faith of Marshall McLuhan,” contemporary Derrick de Kerckhove recalls a conversation he once had with McLuhan on the subject:
I remember that once, pressed by an overload of worries, in the middle of a conversation about the French adaptation of his book From Cliche to Archetype, I asked him one of the few personal direct questions I ever ventured with him, “Marshall, what does faith mean to you?” and he answered right away, as a matter of fact, a simple evidence:
“Paying attention, faith is paying attention, not to the cliches of religion only, but to the ground of the total man, which is the archetype. You come to the faith by prayer and by paying attention.”
Prayer is easy enough to understand, but what is meant by ‘paying attention?’ Expounding McLuhan’s answer, de Kerckhove cites McLuhan’s exposition of Our Lord’s famous words in the Gospel of John:
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear”; that is, let him tune in on the right channel! Yet most people do not have ears to hear, but only to listen. To listen is merely to pay attention with one’s eyes, so to speak, namely to comprehend the way words come to you. But that is not hearing, that is not being “in tune” with the communication. Christ Himself uses this metaphor. He makes a distinction between listening and hearing. The scribes were “listeners”, they were looking at written words: “It is written that so and so … and you say so and so.” But they didn’t have a clue. They used their ears not for hearing, but only for listening. This is what happens today: you may have all the necessary titles and yet remain incapable of tuning in properly. Christ also said: “My sheep know my voice. I know my sheep and they know my voice. But if you cannot hear me, you do not belong to my fold.” This kind of thing is said many times in the Gospel: these people do not belong to my fold, they do not hear. If they hear my voice, it is because the Father let them. In other words, the Father has “programmed them from within to hear Christ.”
So while McLuhan’s first response: ‘pray’ means seeking the grace of faith, ‘paying attention’ means listening to Revelation and then opening ourselves to its reality & consequences for us as humanity, and as an individual. One of those consequences is submitting myself to its veracity. Those whom Jesus praised for their faith took that extra step.
This is precisely what the Catechism tells us about faith: “To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard” (pp.144), which is both a human act and a gift from God (pps. 153 & 154).
What does faith, then, mean in your own life? To which consequences of Revelation have you not fully submitted? The Year of Faith invites us to explore and respond to these questions. Pray and pay attention.
Next week: McLuhan on the liturgy