The second document to emerge from Vatican II was the Decree on the Use of Social Communications, Inter Mirifica. This document was released on December 4, 1963, the same day as Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy.
These two documents were imperative to setting the tone for the rest of the council and the fact that they were released first speaks volumes about their urgency and importance to the Council Fathers. But Inter Mirifica has an especially significant part in the Council and in our day as well. Today more than ever, we have the opportunity to reach and unite the world within seconds. The Fathers acknowledged this saying,
The Church recognizes that these media, if properly utilized, can be of great service to mankind, since they greatly contribute to men’s entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God. (IM, 2)
Presently, the radical group ISIS has taken note of the powerful influence that social media contains. With less than 140 characters and a link, they have spread their ideas as wildfire through the hearts and minds of disillusioned people, especially youth, all over the globe. The terror group seeks to gain recruitment through interest, power, and intimidation to lead others in joining their terrible and horrific plans.
The Church recognizes this potential for evil in Inter Mirifica,
The Church recognizes, too, that men can employ these media contrary to the plan of the Creator and to their own loss. Indeed, the Church experiences maternal grief at the harm all too often done to society by their evil use. (IM, 2)
Pope John Paul II echoed this on the 36th World Communications Day when he said, “Despite its enormous potential for good, some of the degrading and damaging ways in which the Internet can be used are already obvious to all.” Though these evils exist, it is important to be aware and informed. Inter Mirifica tells us,
Finally, the narration, description or portrayal of moral evil, even through the media of social communication, can indeed serve to bring about a deeper knowledge and study of humanity and, with the aid of appropriately heightened dramatic effects, can reveal and glorify the grand dimensions of truth and goodness. (IM, 7)
Then, while scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed two things that brought two vastly different emotions to mind. The first was of the recent beheading of the captive freelance American journalist, James Foley to the hands of ISIS/ISIL. The other was an icon that said Bernard of Clairvaux was “trending.” A saint known for unity and inspiration and a group of terrorists known for their ambitious evil.
I thought to myself how ridiculously awesome it is that a saint can “trend” and that we must make a concerted effort to make it happen more often. Of course, for something to “trend” all it takes is for a certain number of people to talk about a thing; for the right collection and ordering of characters to be entered into a status. But when something trends, it says more than what is trending; it tells us what ideas are trending. What’s actually trending is the content – the goodness and holiness of a meek 13th century monk.
Social Media might be used by the same people who seek to destroy the lives of others but, as Vatican II tells us, we can use these tools for great works and inspirations of hope and peace. The document says that we “can” use social media for good, but we must see that to mean that we must “always” use it to spread hope and goodwill. Using social media is not just an occasion to tell people what you’re having for lunch – it’s an opportunity to become activists for the Kingdom of God. What better way to promote the Kingdom that to promote its ambassadors, the saints?
It was said of St. Bernard that his personality “was so attractive, his power of persuasion so difficult to withstand, that we are told that mothers hid their children and wives clung to their spouses lest he attract them into the monastery.” That’s the sort of attraction that we must possess for the Kingdom.
Responding about the Kingdom of Heaven in several parables, Jesus tells his people that they too must be among the weeds in the world (Matt. 13:24-30). In the cyber-world, we must be present also. We must promote, share, like, and retweet our way through the atrocities that are being shown all around the internet. This is what truly attracts men and women to the Church: the offer of hope and love.
Today more than any other time in history, everyone has the power to join together in deciding what will trend and how people will react. Will we help the cause of evil in the world by saying nothing at all, keeping a good article to ourselves, or not wanting to share and retweet for whatever reason?
Pope Benedict urged us,
Dear Brothers and Sisters, I ask you to introduce into the culture of this new environment of communications and information technology the values on which you have built your lives. (43rd World Communications Day)
If we really want to win this thing we must become more active in the use of social media. The smartphone and two fingers are the weapons of choice in today’s culture war and we must be on the frontlines, armed with these tools. Making something trend is as simple as a click and a few keystrokes, a simple way to contribute to peace in the world.
This is a direct part of our missionary role as Christians, as in agreement, Pope John Paul II exhorted us in 2001 with,
The Church’s presence in the media is in fact an important aspect of the inculturation of the Gospel demanded by the new evangelization to which the Holy Spirit is summoning the Church throughout the world. (35th World Communications Day)
Editor’s note: Shaun McAfee is the social media director of Holy Apostles College and seminary and will be offering a free course on Social Media and the Magisterium at http://www.hacsmooc.cc/