I’m becoming increasingly convinced that our world has left a generation feeling isolated through its attempts to connect everyone and everything through technology.
Sure, we see each other’s tweets and see our loved one’s experiences on Instagram, but I’m not convinced that I’ve grown closer to those friends through that. I’ve noticed that I make less of an effort to reach out to my long distance friends because I feel I’ve already caught up with them through following their social media updates.
In some of the different ministries and apostolates I’ve worked in, I’ve seen an increasing number of people that seem to be lonelier than ever.
Recently a man made the news when came back to the digital world after a year disconnected from the internet. His experience reminds me that like anything else, this disconnect we experience isn’t exactly the fault of the technology, but the blame is in our decisions from our fallen state on how to use it.
There is a reason that the sacraments cannot be administered through technology – Jesus wanted us to engage each other in person. This is the same reason we cannot just think about Jesus or read our Bible at home and have it count as honoring the Lord’s day.
We are made for community.
Considering our current relationships with technology in the modern world, we need to consider how we can use technology without letting it hurt our relationships and communities.
On May 12th, the Church is celebrating the 47th World Communications Day. Benedict XVI released the message for this day the week before he announced his resignation on the feast of St Francis de Sales. The letter is titled Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization. I highly recommend reading the document in its entirety, but I want to highlight some of my favorite quotes from our beloved Pope Emeritus.
In our contemporary society, we have passed the point of having the option to use new and social media. Benedict XVI reminds us that it is necessary to engage people in their common language – technology.
“Believers are increasingly aware that, unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important.”
“The ability to employ the new languages is required, not just to keep up with the times, but precisely in order to enable the infinite richness of the Gospel to find forms of expression capable of reaching the minds and hearts of all.”
In a world of avatars and unfamiliar names, people often forget that these are interactions with real people. Benedict XVI urges us to always keep that in mind in our digital dialogues.
“The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young. Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there.”
We must never forget that we are Christians.
“In social networks, believers show their authenticity by sharing the profound source of their hope and joy: faith in the merciful and loving God revealed in Christ Jesus.”
Benedict XVI warns of a possible failure in our evangelical attempts with people we know if we have not paved the way through pre-evangelization.
“It is natural for those who have faith to desire to share it, respectfully and tactfully, with those they meet in the digital forum. Ultimately, however, if our efforts to share the Gospel bring forth good fruit, it is always because of the power of the word of God itself to touch hearts, prior to any of our own efforts.”
There are great opportunities to find and build community online, especially when we do not have much local support.
“The networks facilitate the sharing of spiritual and liturgical resources, helping people to pray with a greater sense of closeness to those who share the same faith.”
In the end, our digital outreach should invite people to a personal encounter with the personal of Jesus and His Church. Our digital communities should lead us to meet in person and join the physical church.
“Many people are actually discovering, precisely thanks to a contact initially made online, the importance of direct encounters, experiences of community and even pilgrimage, elements which are always important in the journey of faith… There should be no lack of coherence or unity in the expression of our faith and witness to the Gospel in whatever reality we are called to live, whether physical or digital. When we are present to others, in any way at all, we are called to make known the love of God to the furthest ends of the earth.”
Technology is a beautiful gift, but we must work at developing healthy ways of using it for personal growth, communication, interaction, and evangelization.
Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.
Read the Full Letter for the 47th World Communications Day