So, Catholics on social media spent a week savaging each other. Rhetoric ramped up and charity was rather scarce. But the case everybody was fighting over was the opportunity, not the cause, for our civil war to erupt. Whether conservative or liberal, Catholics had a whole list of topics they were already fighting over. This incident merely gave everybody an excuse to ramp up the vitriol, accusing people who took the opposing side of everything wrong with the world. OK, fine. Both sides worry about how people are behaving . . . but the problem is, people take offense because it’s their heroes or causes getting targeted, and they’re willing to use the same tactics against their enemies. But since I already wrote about that, I won’t carry that any further.
The problem is, while we’ve been having our civil war, we’ve been neglecting the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Fighting over who is being most loathsome on social media is not leading others to Christ. In fact, it’s probably doing more to drive people away and lead them to think we don’t practice what we preach. My question is this: What are we doing to carry out our mandate as Catholic Christians, and how does our online behavior advance it?
No, this post isn’t going to be one about “Spend Less Time On The Internet!” The Church has recognized the value of media and the rapid advances made in the 20th and 21st centuries, and encourages Catholics to make use of it to evangelize the world. As Benedict XVI put it:
Among the new forms of mass communication, nowadays we need to recognize the increased role of the internet, which represents a new forum for making the Gospel heard. Yet we also need to be aware that the virtual world will never be able to replace the real world, and that evangelization will be able to make use of the virtual world offered by the new media in order to create meaningful relationships only if it is able to offer the personal contact which remains indispensable. In the world of the internet, which enables billions of images to appear on millions of screens throughout the world, the face of Christ needs to be seen and his voice heard, for “if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man” [Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini #113].
So, when we spend time on social media, we need to ask ourselves how we’re making known the face and voice of Christ in our words and actions. That doesn’t mean we’re doing wrong when we share stupid puns and other things. But in what we say and do, we have to consider the message we send. Assuming it’s not a morally neutral area, like cute cat pictures, we need to ask: Does it advance the Kingdom of God? Or does it drive people away? I think the difference between the first and the last is whether the message or the tone shares the Christian teaching and/or shows Christian love and charity, or whether it shows things against what the Church teaches or treats people in a way which is against the command to love our neighbor as ourself.
As always, this is not a case of only conservatives being to blame or only liberals being to blame. It’s about Christians behaving like the rest of the world (see Galatians 5:20). The problem is, Christians are not supposed to be like the rest of the world and have a disordered love for it. We’re called to be the Light of the World, Salt of the Earth, the City on a Hill (Matthew 5:13-16). It’s not just about converting people, but converting cultures as well. The problem is, it’s easy for us to become corrupted if we forget our task as Christians.
Now I’m no bishop with the authority to bind and loose. All I can do is point to our call as Christians to follow the Church because we believe she is the Church established by Christ. All I can do is encourage people to deeply consider what Our Lord has called us to be and contrast that with what we actually are. If we find it is different. That’s a wakeup call to repent and turn back to the Lord. It’s not my task to tell you, the reader, where your flaws are. Most of you, I never met face to face. How would I know what your sins are? I only know you have flaws because, like me, you’re a human being and therefore a sinner. So all I can do is urge you to look to the Church to form your conscience and see where you need to change.
Because this isn’t about winning a Facebook argument. This is about the salvation of souls—ours and others. As St. Paul said:
1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor 13:1)
If we don’t have love for each other, we can’t witness the Christian message to the world. If we can’t witness the Christian message, people won’t respond to the Great Commission. Obviously we argue about the faith because we think it is important. So we need to consider the ultimate goal when we consider how we should act. Our focus should be on God and on following His Church to bring people knowledge of Our Lord and His command to follow Him.