The blogosphere can be a hateful place, and we Catholics are in no small part responsible
Pope Benedict XVI will be remembered for many contributions to the Church, but one of his most characteristic gifts is his ability to observe and analyze culture and current events, get to the roots of the mayhem, uncover the signs of hope, and look to the future with prophetic insight. It was with this acumen that he encouraged my generation to set out as missionaries to a New World, the “digital continent.”
And I responded.
I first got involved in new media back in 2011. I learned how to blog for World Youth Day Madrid, and a year later, bounced onto Twitter. Then a blog I co-founded on the Pope Emeritus went viral and I’ve dabbled in everything since: Instagram, Periscope, YouTube, etc.
With that viral blog, I learned the immense power and beauty of communicating the Gospel to thousands from the comfort of your home. With just a few clicks, one can connect, dialogue, evangelize, communicate, share good practice and so much more. I wonder what the likes of St Paul or St Therese would have done with social media. Oh the holy possibilities!
But oh too, the holy responsibility that comes with everything we post, tweet or comment!
Over recent years, I have grown more and more discontented with the way the Catholic social media scene has developed in the UK, and I wonder just how detrimental this development is to unity within the Church and to our engagement with society.
My discontent echoes something Fr. Thomas Rosica of Canada’s Salt + Light TV said in a recent address: “We Catholics have turned the internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith.”
A senior Church official spoke to me last year about the nature of the blogosphere, commenting on the spirit driving various media platforms. He made this point: If something divides the Church, tearing people down in the process, then how can you claim it is from the Holy Spirit? It is not.
I struggle to grapple with this culture that has somehow seeped into Catholic communications. After a particularly nasty incident involving a young priest who took an internet beating last year, two young bloggers contacted me independently, asking what we can do to end this divisiveness in our Church, for relentless negativity is counterproductive to our mission in an already hostile environment, and it doesn’t exactly model community or communion.
Is social media the best place to thrash out our issues and concerns?
The recent March for Life in Birmingham, UK underlined the power and strength of people united in joyful witness. This unity and joy are vital if our work on the digital continent is to bear good fruit. Around the time of the March, two different stories were unfolding on social media about abortion and the Catholic Church in the UK. One involved the scandalous pro-choice positions of some key figures of influence in the Church in England and Wales. This is shocking and divisive in itself. However, by way of response, how much did the angry tweeting, face-booking and blogging actually achieve?
Why not change our tactics in the public arena and focus on the good? Let us praise God for the many religious who marched, for the bishops who were bold enough to turn up or send their support, for the priests who preach on the Gospel of Life, for the many young people, and people of all ages, who were involved in this event. Let’s showcase all that is good, focusing very much on the good, so that it can flourish and grow.
My own personal resolution as a missionary of the digital continent is to flood social media with all that is good, beautiful and true, and to encourage others to follow me.
We need the humility to trust that all that is of darkness and error will run its course without our (cyber) smackdowns*. As we know and believe, His Truth is eternal and unchanging, and has more power than anything we can tweet. Let us flood the internet with His Light and His Love.
From the desire to be re-tweeted, deliver us, O Lord!
“He who continues in anger, strife and a bitter spirit has a taste of the air of hell.”
— St. Philip Neri
[*Edited for clarity of meaning – Ed]