We all probably wish we could take back some things we have said and done online, not only for our own sake but for the sake of other people we were called to bring closer to God and instead pushed further away.
I often read some of the comments on Catholic blogs, (and sometimes the blog posts themselves) and I wonder to myself, “Does this person care that other people (especially non-Catholics) will read this and feel repelled by the way we talk about the faith and to each other?”
Do we as Catholics approach our activity online with too much concern for private opinion and not enough concern for evangelization? After all, our primary goal as Christians should be to grow closer to God and to spread the Gospel. Are these things at the forefront of our minds when we engage with others online?
Pope Francis recently tweeted:
What does “evangelise” mean? To give witness with joy and simplicity to what we are and what we believe in.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) May 5, 2014
With this in mind, I compiled a list of things I don’t think Pope Francis would do online. I use Pope Francis as our model because I think he is a good example of Jesus living today, and because he is truly an evangelizer par excellence.
Without further ado, five things Pope Francis wouldn’t do online:
1. Bait or Hate Atheists: As a former atheist, I am really sensitive to this particular online faux pas. The numbers of atheists are on the rise as well as the number of people who do not affiliate themselves with any specific religion.
We have a choice. We can make atheists and the non-religious our enemies, or we can follow Pope Francis’ lead and engage with our brothers and sisters with respect and interest. Thankfully, some people chose to do the latter with me.
2. Participate in Infighting: If we cannot see others’ failings, differences and uniqueness in the light of Christ, but instead skewer our fellow Christians with the ferociousness of lions in the coliseums, are we at all surprised when others find our Church unattractive? If our faith leads us to cannibalize one another over liturgy, doctrine, politics, social justice, etc, is it real faith? Or is it our own sense of self-importance masquerading as faith?
Pope Francis tells us quite clearly that unity is more important than conflict, a unity that can only be found in Christ.
3. Put Politics before Jesus: In a world in which politics sometimes seems like the ultimate reality, it is no surprise that we as Catholics sometimes fall into thinking that politics supersede faith. A good example of this is the recent statement Sarah Palin made about baptizing terrorists by waterboarding.
It is easy to point fingers but how often do we let our passions get the best of us when discussing politics? When accused of being a communist, Pope Francis rightly insisted that his politics is the Gospel. Do we put the Gospel before anything else?
4. Engage in Gay bashing, Anti-Semitism, Sexism: If our goal is evangelization, (not offense or defense), then our approach, our reactions, and our mode of being online is entirely different. Spreading the good news about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality does not encompass behavior that name-calls, vilifies, or belittles.
Pope Francis asks us: “When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” In the same way, Pope Francis urges us to banish anti-Semitism from our hearts and clearly rejects machismo.
5. Get Lost in the Looking Glass: Are we more concerned with publicizing ourselves or Jesus? Do we flaunt our degrees, our Catholic credentials, or our connections? Do we thirst for “likes” and retweets? Chances are, it is a mixed bag.
We all want to climb higher in others’ esteem but Pope Francis tells us: “If you like climbing go to the mountains and climb them: it is healthier!” Vanity creates discord within the Church and frankly repulses others rather than attracts. We are called to bring people to Jesus, not to ourselves.
So, in the end if we chose to follow the path of Pope Francis, would the Gospel reach more people?
Judging from Pope Francis’ effect on the world, I’d say yes.
I’ll let Pope Francis finish writing this article with his beautiful, germane words from a recent homily:
“You cannot understand a Christian without witness. We are not a ‘religion’ of ideas, of pure theology, beautiful things, of commandments. No, we are a people who follow Jesus Christ and bear witness – who want to bear witness to Jesus Christ – and sometimes this witness leads to laying down our lives.”