One of the things I often ponder about is how great social media is for a Catholic writer. Think about it for a second. I’m a 33 year old who lives in a small town in Michigan. Through social media, Catholic Exchange has promoted my writings, and it reaches people from New York to California, Nigeria to the Philippines, and I’ve established friendships with people from all of those areas and then some. I have instant access to all of the news I want right on my phone. For better or worse, I can read instant reactions from people on Twitter. All of this has profound ramifications for how we Catholics can spread the Gospel.
Yet for all of these benefits, there are a lot of drawbacks. As often as Facebook may edify, it can also corrupt. You might be able to read any take on a subject, but they are often the worst takes. While you can spend time growing in holiness, you can also grow in sin. Because of this, I’ve often found one of the things Catholics talk about most on social media is how corrosive social media is. I will assume that it is true, and ask the following: What can we Catholics do about it?
Be Reconciled to Your Brother
Before we condemn those we see doing wrong, have we tried approaching them privately? In the Bible, Matthew 18 tells us that if we see a brother sinning, go and rebuke him between him and you alone. (Matt 18:15) Normally there is the temptation to jump into the debate on social media and rebuke him in front of an audience, so that audience can praise you. This isn’t the Biblical way of handling it. Often this doesn’t work. Yet we should always presume someone is open to correction, even if by all appearances they are an impious wretch. St. Pius X exhorts us with the following:
“For the Lord is not in the earthquake” (III Kings xix., II) — it is vain to hope to attract souls to God by a bitter zeal. On the contrary, harm is done more often than good by taunting men harshly with their faults, and reproving their vices with asperity. .. They perhaps seem to be worse than they really are. Their associations with others, prejudice, the counsel, advice and example of others, and finally an ill-advised shame have dragged them to the side of the impious; but their wills are not so depraved as they themselves would seek to make people believe. Who will prevent us from hoping that the flame of Christian charity may dispel the darkness from their minds and bring to them light and the peace of God? (St. Pius X, E Supremi, paragraph 13)
Light a Candle
The old proverb tells us that it is better to light a candle, rather than curse the darkness. For the purposes of social media, this is instructive. The darkness will always be there. There will always be corrosive elements of social media. Are you contributing to it? Let us say you read someone engaging in rash judgment, unbridled speculation, or the sin of detraction on social media. Instead of engaging in the same, why not promote stories of Christians who are bastions of sobriety and good judgement? Draw light to those people. If you see a lot of immodesty on social media, give examples of those who are pure of heart. If you see someone with a martyrs complex, bring to light edifying stories of today’s martyrs. Nobody is saying you cannot condemn bad stuff. You can and you should. But we must do more than condemn! The apostle Paul tells us:
For the rest, brethren,whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things. The things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these do ye, and the God of peace shall be with you.
Follow the Example of Job
When you bring up Job, everyone always thinks about his heroic patience during suffering. What one might forget is what happens before all that suffering. When the author describes Job, we see the following line:
Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.”
Job would offer sacrifices daily for his family, hoping that, if they cursed God, he could intercede for them. This is the hallmark of a redemptive theology, something Catholics are always called to. When we see someone sinning, we are called to sacrifice for them. We don’t need to kill any bulls or goats, but we can still sacrifice. Imagine fasting on Fridays, and offering it as reparation for the sins you’ve seen on social media? If you go to frequent Eucharistic Adoration (or if you wish to start!), why not pray The Divine Praises, a set of prayers that is specifically meant to counter blasphemy and obscenity in speech?
Social media, if used improperly, can be a great occasion of sin. Yet Catholics must reject a sense of defeatism in social media (it will always be that way), and we should also reject adding to that with our own behavior in how we condemn those guilty of fault. Let us instead use our own behavior to edify, rather than condemn.