My husband and I made the decision to leave social media. I went through and deleted all of my social media accounts, except for Instagram. I don’t post anything to it anymore. I only use it to pray the Rosary with a friend of mine who is leading virtual prayer. The decision has been a long time coming and those who have followed my writing for years know that I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I deactivated for a year and still have no idea how I ended up back on it for a few years.
The volume on social media is such a cacophonous din of rancor and over-politicization of everything that it was robbing me of much needed prayer time and peace. I watched as both sides of the political spectrum sought to demonize the other in the name of the dignity of the human person. An irony lost on many, I’m afraid.
My Catholic friends spend hours arguing about everything and anything in the Church and politically to the point that I realized anyone on the outside watching the dumpster fire of Catholic social media would have no interest in joining our ranks and would rightly head for the hills. I knew more about my friends’ political beliefs than I did about their lives or their Catholic faith. Either that or I could see how people would mistake Catholicism with an allegiance to a particular political party and not an encounter with Jesus Christ.
We are not called to evangelize primarily through a political or moral message. Many Catholics berate Bishop Robert Barron’s approach, but he understands that the radicality of the Gospel message does not come from the law. Christ is the fulfillment of the law, but our Faith is not purely the law. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said the same thing in Deus Caritas Est: “We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” We are Christian because we have encountered the Risen Lord and chosen to answer His call to follow Him.
The problem today–as it has been in other ages–is we often want to put the cart before the horse. We think we can tear into the virtual world of competing ideas and ideologies and declare the moral law–usually through a political driven lens–in order to convert souls. This is not how we convert the culture. When we do this we forget that our own conversion was first an encounter with Jesus Christ. Once we came to love Him, we were able to choose to surrender ourselves to the moral law and all of the requirements of Christian discipleship. We have to lead people to Christ first and then the moral demands of following Him.
The reason that Catholics are unable to radically impact the culture is because we look exactly like the culture. We fight, demonize, and divide. We are just as much a part of the problem as those we criticize on the other side, whatever side that may be. The truth is necessarily divisive, but we must offer it in love and not primarily through an ideological lens that is influenced more by our political beliefs than by our identity in Christ.
We cannot change hearts and minds when we are uncharitable and aggressive in our response to those who oppose us. We cannot force others to convert. There’s a reason Christ commands us to pray for our enemies. It is not only for their sake and conversion, it is for our own conversion of heart. It stops the Enemy from fomenting animosity, division, and hatred in our own hearts.
Oftentimes we falsely believe that we must constantly berate others with the moral law. This is impossible in an age marked by nihilism, relativism, utilitarianism, materialism, hedonism, and a growing hostility to religion. In an age of “me” it is very difficult to lead with morality since people will take it as an attack on their autonomy. Leading with morality in an age when morality is set by the individual will only lead to further entrenchment.
Instead, we have to lead people to Christ through our own example first. If we are committed to holiness, then we can be a light in the darkness to our lost culture. Once that light begins to shine in the hearts of others, we can begin to lead them down the path to Christ where ultimate conversion takes place. It is this light that reveals to our culture how lost in darkness it truly is. As I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I wondered where this light is because it is in short supply.
For decades we as Catholics have been taught that our role is primarily social justice related. This has infected the priesthood and the laity. We are constantly called to action. We must achieve justice. We must always be doing something. Usually how this is accomplished is vague and in purely humanistic terms, even if not intended. The de-emphasis on prayer and the Sacraments is indicative of this mentality in the Church today.
We no longer see holiness as the primary means by which we evangelize and transform a culture. Instead we see it as primarily accomplished politically or socially. It is prayer and intimate union with the Father that is the source of Christ’s ministry, not the other way around. We cannot grow in holiness and become saints if we are not grounded in prayer and the Sacraments above all else. We cannot transform the culture and win souls to Christ if we are not immersed in prayer and the Sacraments first. It is from prayer that we can go out into the world to do God’s will.
The saints are the example to us of how to evangelize and transform a culture. We are never going to do away with all injustice in the world. That will only be accomplished at Our Lord’s glorious and triumphant return. What we are called to do is transform the community around us. If every Catholic was truly dedicated to a life of prayer, the Sacraments, and the pursuit of holiness, then our culture and the world would transform overnight. Ranting endlessly about politics online is not leading anyone to holiness, including the person who is doing it. An over-emphasis on the political life runs the risk of turning our political beliefs into a false idol and leads us to build our house on sandy ground rather than the solid rock of Christ.
Interestingly, I lost more friends in social media over the years because of my over-emphasis on divisive political beliefs–which have evolved considerably–than I ever did when I stopped those posts and began sharing my Catholic faith publicly. I would post on moral issues at times, including my involvement in 40 Days for Life, but most of the time I shared a lot about the spiritual life, the Cross, and the demands of Christian discipleship through my own experiences and the saints. I had friends email me who were of different faiths to tell me that they appreciated my willingness to share my faith. The issue is not our Catholic Faith as it is in reality. It is ideologically driven or weaponized counterfeits to our Faith that turn people off right now.
This is why I also see it as disastrous for Catholics to endlessly fight over cultural Catholic issues. The bickering about the Liturgy, reception of Holy Communion, and the in-fighting in the Church does nothing except push people on the outside away from our vitriolic battles against one another. Ideology in all of its forms is a counterfeit that leads to division. We know the spirit of something by its fruits and that which rancorously divides is not from Christ, but from the Enemy. We can disagree, but we are called to do so in love and respect so that the world knows we are brothers and sisters, rather than in the Pharisaical and judgmental way we do it today in social media.
We also should have the humility to be open to correction if our beliefs are counter to the Church’s. My own understanding changed dramatically when I took graduate Moral Theology and Catholic Social Teaching. I realized how many of my beliefs were from my political ideology and not Christ and His Church. I got a stern talking to in Confession from a good and holy priest when I talked to him about it. It was necessary for Christ to lead me to a fuller conversion of heart. He continues this process within us throughout our lives.
We also need to grow in enough self-awareness to know that If we feel the need to hunt people down to correct them, then it is our own pride that has blinded us. It is a temptation for all of us to want to get the last word in. I battle it myself. But it is also one of the reasons so many relationships are destroyed in social media. Pride. A very heavy and deadly sin we all battle that social media enables. One of the clearest signs we are dealing with pride is when we must be the last to speak and/or correct.
Are we truly interested in converting souls to Christ and His Church? If so, then that should be priority number one instead of constant fighting and bickering. We cannot lead people to the beauty and truth of Catholicism if we ourselves do not cast light. I believe the division in the Church and the world today greatly wounds Our Lord’s Most Sacred Heart and Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. How could it not? We are called to communion, but we have ignored or forgotten this call.
I finally made the decision to leave the hurricane of anger and division because I realized that I could do more to help in the long run through more time dedicated in prayer than I could ever do trying to call people away from blind ideology towards a less divisive way of seeing things. I also realized that my call for people on all sides to demand greater moral character from our leaders fell on deaf ears. I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish anything in social media as it stands today.
All of the time we spend arguing could be better utilized in prayer and serving our families and communities. We should be building up authentic forms of communion rather than reducing ourselves to a false form of communion that works for a Cartesian world, but not for the body-soul reality espoused by the Catholic Church. We need to be truly present to one another in body and soul in order to love as we are supposed to and to dwell in communion together with the Most Holy Trinity. Social media should never take the place of the community that is truly present in the world around us. We are needed in the city we live in at this moment in history in order to lead souls to Christ.
We should not disengage with social media altogether if we are able to handle it in a way that keeps us from sin. I’m still a writer. There are some Catholics doing good and evangelizing through social media. I think we need to seriously discern in prayer, however, whether or not it is leading us to holiness. We should at least pray for true conversion of heart and a clear conscience to show us where and when we fail to live as Christian disciples in social media. I do believe he is calling some of us away from it and others to be a light on it. We have to discern what He is calling us to as His disciples.
Funnily enough, because that’s how the Holy Spirit works, I just discovered this is today’s first reading for daily Mass today from Galatians 5:1-6:
Brothers and sisters:
For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.
It is I, Paul, who am telling you
that if you have yourselves circumcised,
Christ will be of no benefit to you.
Once again I declare to every man who has himself circumcised
that he is bound to observe the entire law.
You are separated from Christ,
you who are trying to be justified by law;
you have fallen from grace.
For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness.
For in Christ Jesus,
neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything,
but only faith working through love.