For most of us the internet is a communications tool that allows us instant access to the world. We use it for business. We email our family and friends. We watch videos and listen to music. We shop. And we look for answers to the questions we have. Folks like me also use the internet to discuss our faith in God and answer questions from our readers. In that way, the internet can be a great tool for spreading the good news of the Gospel. This past week Pope Francis spoke at length about the internet and he offered some advice on using it as part of the Church’s “New Evangelization.”
To begin with, he said the internet is a good thing—even though some uses of it might be sinful. “The internet…is something truly good, a gift from God” (1/23/14). Like any of God’s gifts to us, it’s how we choose to use the internet that gives it meaning and purpose. If we spend our time online viewing pornography, then the internet is an occasion of sin for us and we should avoid it. But if our use of it fosters communication and dialogue, it can be a valuable resource in sharing the Gospel. The pope said,”By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach ‘to the ends of the earth’ ” (Acts 1:18). Can you imagine what St. Paul would have done with the internet? Here was a guy who preached, wrote, walked, sailed and sent forth converts in a hostile and dangerous world. Jail and shipwrecks couldn’t stop him. What if he’d had a website and a blog? How many followers would he have on Twitter? How many friends on Facebook? I think St. Paul would’ve loved using the internet to preach Christ.
Unfortunately some of the Christian message online today is obscure, ineffective, argumentative or just plain mean. There are some ways to share the Gospel that can bear good fruit and a few pointers can be good to remember:
1). Slow down. The written word needs reflection, both when doing the writing and when reading something written by someone else. Without face-to-face interaction, the written word can be open to misinterpretation and its meaning can be lost or muddied. We know this from our own text messages with others, don’t we? Take your time, ask questions and don’t jump to conclusions.
2). Intellectual arguments are usually pretty useless when it comes to faith. When was the last time someone changed your faith in Jesus by arguing with you? Trying to “one-up” someone about God just doesn’t work and usually causes bad feelings. When we’re arguing we aren’t truly listening and we aren’t engaged with the other person because we’re too busy formulating our next talking point. It’s far better to listen than to argue. “To dialogue means to believe that the ‘other’ has something worthwhile to say and to entertain his or her point of view or perspective” (Pope Francis, 1/23/14).
3). People looking for the Lord are hurting. We don’t look for answers if we think we already have them. Realize that seekers are going through a process that can be painful and scary and don’t add to that. Pope Francis said, “The digital highway is…a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope,”. Be kind.
As Christians, the internet and social media should call us to be reflective and deliberate in our interactions with others. We must be good listeners and respond with our hearts and our mercy, not with our egos and our need to be right. Sometimes the best response is silence. There’s a big difference between proselytizing and listening, between pedagogy and the simple human encounter of a shared conversation, a quiet time of hearing and reflection. Be truly present to that other person. Be kind and respectful. Remember that God most often enters through a broken heart and not a conquered intellect. Be tender and be mindful of what the other person might be going through. The internet is another way to reveal the love of Jesus to a broken culture.
“The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; not of wires but of people.”
—Pope Francis, 1/23/14