Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Church, Politics, Social Media, and Becoming a Lesser Man

The spiritual classic, "The Imitation of Christ," quotes Seneca who wrote, "As often as I have gone out among men, I have returned a lesser man." It's a bit of a harsh statement, but perhaps many of us can relate to it on one level or another. It's that feeling of emptiness that can come from being together, but really talking about nothing of substance or accomplishing nothing purposeful. It's that feeling of engaging in a conversation that leaves you emptier than when you began it.  It's a sadness that comes from feeling as though you've lost some of your humanity as a result of interacting with others. Gossip, negativity, and grumbling can often have this effect.

For the better part of a year, that's pretty much how I've experienced social media. Sure, there are the moments of feeling closer to people and sharing a good laugh or an uplifting story, but there's way more emptiness than fulfillment. Instead of social media bringing people together, it seems to be alienating them. It would, however, be unfair to blame social media alone for this alienation. Certainly politics has increasingly become more divisive, nasty, and angry. Social media becomes the place where people who are angry about politics try to make the people they disagree with angry too. 

But, it's not only politics and social media that are becoming instruments of division in people's lives. Sadly, the place that should be a safe harbor from the torrents of anger and division has itself become increasingly a battleground. With an ever increasing boil, the Church has become not a place of joy and peace, but a place of war, and social media becomes the field of battle in these wars. Every time I see a post about the Church or politics these days, I cringe because I know that if I read it, I will walk away a lesser man. If I comment on it, I will walk away even less of a man.

Like many others, I like a good debate, but I realize that these online debates are not helping the Church or persons. Again, social media isn't the reason for the division. The divisions that are present right now in the Church are significant, but social media exacerbates them and makes them the face of the Church. The four marks of the Church--oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity--are being obscured by the division, hostility, pettiness, and self-inflated opinions of its members. Instead of being a leaven in the world, the Church, as it is seen on social media, is becoming a mockery.  

What am I to do? What are we to do? What are Catholics who feel like they are increasingly becoming lesser human beings because of their engagement with political and ecclesial realities to do? Should we withdraw from the world and its debates? Should we leave social media behind? Should we limit what we read? Should we disengage from the debates that are dividing the country and the Church?  Maybe. Maybe we should. I don't know. But, I propose also another option.

We ought to become men and women of communion. We ought to set as our highest priority in a world and Church that seems to be breaking apart, to be servants of communion. But, the priority ought to be on building up communion in reality and not just virtually. In other words, don't let social media replace real life. Eat meals with family and friends, go and pray with people, visit someone who is ill, go to daily Mass instead of scrolling through and sharing tweets, live in reality rather than living virtually. Instead of debating online whether the divorced and remarried should receive the Eucharist (an online debate that is unlikely to result in the truth being known, loved, and lived), go and visit the Blessed Sacrament or pray for someone in a difficult marriage or pray for the Truth to prevail. Pray for those who cannot receive the Eucharist. Pray that we always and only receive the Eucharist in the state of grace. Fast for someone who is suffering or for the unity of the Church. Strengthen the bonds that exist among your fellow Catholics. Live your friendships in reality and not just online. And of course, the way to deepen communion among others is for us to deepen our communion with the Lord through prayer, sacraments, and the Word. The world needs our personal holiness and our holy friendship more than it needs our social media posts.

I am in no way saying that important things don't deserve our attention. I'm just saying that more and more, I feel like a lesser man when I go into the realm of social media. This is particularly sorrowful when it is a result of reading about the Church. Perhaps there are other people who go on social media and who leave feeling less of a person because of what they experience there. For their sakes, perhaps those of us who are Catholic can opt to be men and women of communion who bring to others something for which they are searching, meaning, fulfillment, and friendship. 

I don't know how to fix the hostilities that are present both in politics and in the Church. What I do know, however, is how to live true Christ centered friendship with others. The work of friendship, the work of communion, doesn't bring with it the immediate satisfaction of lots of "shares," "likes," and "retweets," but, as often as we act as men and women of communion, it makes others and us more--not less--of a human being.

(And, the irony is not lost on me that I'm posting this to . . . social media).


  1. I understand and agree. Your parenthetical last sentence is astute. Don't let the negatives dissuade your on-line ministry. It is an important vehicle for the Word.

  2. I was thinking exactly the same thing recently and have decided not to comment on stories anymore because most of the bloggers are ignorant about Catholic teaching and are interested in bashing the Church. Real people, not anonymous bloggers, are worth engaging in discussion because you can have a personal encounter that may touch them, even beyond your words.