Friday, 8 December 2017

Pull Up a Pew #5 - A Catholic Voice -

In 2013 Pope Benedict referred to the digital social media as the new 'agora' , the new open space where thoughts, opinions and information is exchanged, an open square in which new relationships and communities are created.

"These spaces, when engaged in a wise and balanced way, help to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with concern for privacy, responsibility and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of unity between individuals and effectively promote the harmony of the human family. The exchange of information can become true communication, links ripen into friendships, and connections facilitate communion. If the networks are called to realize this great potential, the people involved in them must make an effort to be authentic since, in these spaces, it is not only ideas and information that are shared, but ultimately our very selves.
The development of social networks calls for commitment: people are engaged in building relationships and making friends, in looking for answers to their questions and being entertained, but also in finding intellectual stimulation and sharing knowledge and know-how. The networks are increasingly becoming part of the very fabric of society, inasmuch as they bring people together on the basis of these fundamental needs. Social networks are thus nourished by aspirations rooted in the human heart." (Pope Benedict XVI Message for World Communications Day 2013)

Caroline Farrow, woman, wife, mother and journalist has truly embraced the calling to speak out and witness to the Truth openly in the virtual sphere. She is an ever-present Catholic voice in the media who is not afraid of being in the spotlight and faithfully communicating the Church's viewpoint.

Though we've never met in person I have had the great pleasure of  following Caroline's social and traditional media output over a number of years and today I have the great pleasure of introducing her to you on my little virtual cosy space. 

Meet Caroline Farrow.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Catholic background.

While I was baptised into the Catholic church as a baby and while I was always aware of this during childhood, my upbringing was, to borrow the phrase of Father Ted, ‘an ecumenical matter’. My father is an Anglican and was the organist at our local church, which is where my sister and myself attended every Sunday both for the morning and service and for Evensong where we sung in the choir. We also used to enjoy earning 50p, which was then the going rate for singing in the choir at weddings!

The only time we attended a Catholic Church would be during the school holidays when we would go to visit my grandmother who lived in Devon and attended Buckfast Abbey. In fact Buckfast Abbey feels very much like my spiritual home. Not only was I baptised there, but my first memories of Catholic liturgy are there and I remember being transported by the smell of incense, the monks’ chanting and being transfixed by the vibrant stained glass window of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel where we sometimes sat during Mass. One of my earliest memories is of sitting on the floor in that chapel clutching my palm on Palm Sunday.

One great sadness is that despite being baptised, my sister and I never received First Holy Communion. When we began to attend secondary school, the local vicar called my sister and myself to the Rectory one Saturday morning and told us that we needed to make a decision in terms of what denomination we were.

We returned feeling quite confused and reported the conversation to our parents, whereupon my mother sped off to the Catholic secondary school we were attending in order to speak to the headmistress, a nun, who determined that of course we must be Catholic and ought to attend the school Mass every Sunday. (We were day pupils at a Catholic boarding school). I don’t think the sisters were aware we had not received any kind of catechises so we were instructed simply to attend and copy what everyone else was doing at communion. My sister is a few years older than me and I remember my mother teaching her how to make the sign of the cross which she would need at school.

So it’s not surprising that I later lapsed as we had little in the way of instruction either at home or even at school. We went to Mass on Sundays, high days and holy days, but this was in the mid-eighties, the community was dwindling and it was presumed that by the time pupils got to secondary school they already knew all about confession and so on. It was only when I was well into maturity that I learned that you were supposed to go to confession before receiving the Eucharist, or what you were supposed to do with a rosary, or why you genuflected.

When was the crucial point of your reversion to Catholicism and in what way did your life change?

My conversion was a gradual process rather than a dramatic Damascene affair. I’d always had a basic belief in God and Jesus Christ, but had fallen away from going to church and from Catholicism thanks to the difficult teachings on contraception and sex, which I didn’t understand and preferred not to think about.

There were several steps on the journey along the way. One being when my daughter was a tiny baby and I was breastfeeding her to sleep while reading a copy of Brideshead Revisited for the first time. As I reached the end of the story when Charles’ conversion is described, I began to weep and decided that even though I was a miserable sinner who had done everything wrong in life, I was determined that I would not allow the same to happen to my daughter and would do whatever I could to give her the gift of faith that I had lacked as a child.

I started attending a Baptism course and then Mass every Sunday and began to explore the Catholic faith more and more deeply. I had realised through my own experience that the Catholic Church was right about abortion and contraception, therefore I wanted to learn what else she taught and why. I knew I believed in Jesus, but I wanted to understand how best to follow him and know more about the faith into which I had been baptised and to which I felt I intuitively belonged. I had to alter the course of my life which involved making some difficult personal decisions.

Tell us about your job

My vocation is no different to that of any other wife and mother, though being married to a Roman Catholic priest is in and of itself, something of a vocation, meaning that you often have to subordinate your own needs and desires to that of your husband’s ministry. I often find myself cancelling work arrangements and interviews because his vocation takes priority, which wouldn’t necessarily be the case for other Catholic women who work. It’s why I feel strongly that a married clergy is not a panacea, especially in a world which demands that male and female careers are of equal importance. My husband doesn’t have a job, but a vocation which carries incredible spiritual responsibilities, therefore my vocation is to support him, which many contemporary women find hard to understand.

In terms of the job I am most well-known for, I work as a freelance Catholic journalist and media commentator. It involves being very switched on and plugged into the news cycle and being ready to produce an written article or commentary at a moment’s notice, on anything to do with either feminism, motherhood or the Catholic Church at a moment’s notice.

I’m also doing some freelance work with a number of different Catholic media outlets, and am enjoying planning and producing multimedia content, such as forthcoming radio shows, which is giving a fascinating insight into life behind the camera and I’m enjoying honing my interviewing technique which is an entirely different skill set altogether, where you get to showcase a guest. It really helps being involved in Catholic organisations where your faith is taken as a given, celebrated and understood, rather than treated as a curiosity and misrepresented.

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Social media today is a very efficacious means to get your point across and let your voice be heard. You are a very active member of the virtual community, at what point did you decide that was necessary?
Social media was an organic development. I never really consciously decided that I was going to become an active member of the virtual community, but I realised by the  number of social media followers I gained and the amount of interaction and responses I was receiving, that this was something I could use productively, without actually taking up too much off my time.

I was quite flattered the other day to be called a Catholic opinion former, which is really not how I consider myself and something of a responsibility.

In 2009 Pope Benedict encouraged us to take the Gospel message to the Internet, how do you think that call is progressing?

If I’m honest, I think the internet and social media needs to be used more productively in terms of promoting the Gospel message, which is something all of us, myself included need to give more serious thought to.

There are some fabulous resources out there from trusted names, such as Catholic Answers and EWTN which are so helpful in terms of informing one’s faith and certainly helped me and my husband at various points in our different journeys of faith.

The downside of the internet for Catholics is that it is giving a lot more information and news than was every previously possible about the possible political machinations inside the Vatican and there’s a danger that we become over-invested and obsess about things which we have little of chance of changing or influencing and we begin to fret or even become despondent. It is good that Catholics are becoming more informed, we just need to ensure that we respond productively. Internecine squabbles are never a good witness to the faith.

We need to use the internet first and foremost to develop our own interior and prayer lives, which is vital if we are to be able to effectively evangelise others. It’s sometimes easier said than done.

Social media requires a lot of our attention and there is always the danger of feeling that you have to be engaged all the time or you might miss something. How do you balance that with your family life?

Social media only takes up as much time as you let it. The joy of an app is that it is easy to dip in and out of social media as and when you have a spare five minutes. The danger is that reaching for your phone can become an addictive and time-consuming habit.

It helps that I am a touch typist, able to type very quickly and so I tend to use Facebook, which lends itself to longer posts and more nuanced engagement, mainly when the children are in bed.

I make a habit of putting my phone away whenever I am spending quality time with the children and I’m too busy either first thing in the morning when I am getting the children ready for school, or when I have picked them up and am preoccupied with dinner, homework, bath and bed, to be distracted by the phone. I set myself a time limit in terms of social media and then stick to it.

In terms of catching up with the news cycle I have a few key accounts which I follow to keep in touch with developments and of course if a big story breaks, I will get a notification on my phone, but as I said, if I’m spending time with the family, I just put the phone away in a drawer or somewhere so I can’t be distracted by it.

Can you recall the most surreal conversation you had on social media and the most edifying one?
I’ve had so many surreal conversations on Twitter that it’s difficult to single out the most striking one. I think it might have been Ben Cohen from Pink News attempting to claim that my opposition to same-sex marriage rendered me anti-Semitic on the grounds that liberal Jews support it and therefore I was trying to deny them religious freedom!

The most edifying conversations tend to take place privately when people message me with various questions about the faith, or express support for what my public stance on various issues of faith and morals which they feel prevented from speaking out against. I am always delighted when people share their faith experiences with me and it’s gratifying when people who may otherwise be politically opposed to you, accept that you are approaching matters from a perspective of good faith.

I have been humbled that I count two gay men amongst my friends on social media who don’t know me in real life, but have been able to see that I harbour no hatred, animosity or ill will towards them. These types of friendships are crucial and I really appreciate the generosity and open-mindedness of people who do not demand that I abandon my beliefs before friendship, respect and mutual co-operation can be achieved.

What is your family policy on social media especially with regard to your children?

My younger children are all too young to have social media accounts or even want them at this stage. I love sharing photos of my children but am very careful to select ones which won’t cause them any embarrassment when they are older.

Now my eldest is a teenager I do not share any photos of her at all without her explicit consent. As a result of my public profile, I have unfortunately and perhaps inevitably, attracted various cyber-stalkers over the years which has caused my family distress and deterred my daughter from social media as she is worried that she too may be become a target.

To be honest, while the circumstances surrounding this may be unfortunate, my daughter doesn’t feel as though she is missing out in any way, but she is well aware of how to keep safe on the internet if she does change her mind in the future. I’m hoping that she stays away from social media for as long as possible and continues to model this for her younger siblings.

While she does have a tablet which was a school requirement this year, she doesn’t tend to use it, other than to catch up on Strictly Come Dancing and play Candy Crush! Our internet is pre-filtered and there is some excellent software available which monitors and limits children’s device use and the rule is that no technology is allowed in the bedroom after 9pm. We also have software which sends us copies of text messages sent and received. Children are going to have to cope with mobile devices and internet etiquette as adults, therefore it’s beholden on parents to help them learn good habits and to keep use of devices in perspective.

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