As a former fallen-away Catholic, I still read blogs posts, Facebook statuses and comments online with an eye as to what outsiders might think.
I try not to judge people who contribute online in a way that would have been cringe-worthy for me when I was an atheist; I am sure some of the things I write now cause other people to cringe. We all have off days when, after hitting send, we regret not taking a moment to think about it.
Thankfully, God can work through anything. Different styles and personalities work for different people. And the truth can be uncomfortable sometimes.
But there is a difference between uncomfortable and downright excruciatingly uncharitable.
Lately, the cringe factor has been really super high on all fronts, and I don’t think I am alone on this. I’m not sure if it is the after-effects of a discombobulating synod or the supernatural strangeness that always surrounds this time of year, but things have been off.
One woman on Twitter recently shared with me that she had been considering entering the Catholic Church. But she is feeling more hesitant lately because of the overwhelming negativity and anger among the Catholics she sees on social media.
It breaks my heart to think that people who may have been intrigued and interested in Catholicism since Pope Francis’s visit may be turning away at the door because most of us, including myself, haven’t quite reached the same evangelizing joy, humility and trust in God that Pope Francis models for us every day.
Like it or not, when we have conversations amongst ourselves online, it is out there for the whole world to see. The Internet has pretty much obliterated the notion of private conversations. But while this is true, it seems that some of us still speak to one another as if we were around the family Thanksgiving table, rather than out in public—with others watching.
As one of my sisters recently said: “I wish Catholics would learn to use their ‘inside’ voices!”
We are being watched. And some of these people are trying to find Christ in our behavior. Even atheists understand that we believe our conduct is a visible sign that Jesus is present in the Church. Unfortunately, when we are not acting like Jesus, we are not playing our part in the salvation of souls.
While being true to ourselves and to the Church, we can acknowledge and respect the reality that others are listening in.
Here are 10 questions we can ask ourselves before posting blog posts, Facebook statuses, tweets or online comments:
Will this post bring others closer to God?
Is this post true, charitable and respectful?
If someone outside the Catholic Church saw this, would he or she be scandalized?
Am I gossiping or speaking ill of another person?
Have I put myself in the shoes of the person I am speaking about or talking to? Have I thought about his or her feelings, family and the varied life experiences that move this person to behave and think the way he or she does?
Would I be happy to be reminded of this post in a week, a month or two years?
Am I responding to this person out of self-justification or love?
Does this post bring light into the world, or darkness?
Is it necessary or helpful for me to contribute my opinions on this subject in this particular forum?
Do I feel inspired by the Holy Spirit to post this?
Wow, some of these questions made me blush in embarrassment thinking back to ways I have behaved online!
Our engagement online requires discernment. Obviously, these simple questions may or may not help you in your discernment. But even if we don’t ask any of these questions, simply pausing for even a moment before responding or participating online can help us write with a bigger picture in mind, rather than being moved by our immediate reactions, fears and anger.
Do you have any more suggested questions, add them in the comments!