An investigation of the relationship between social media and Catholic teaching
Walking across campus at any given time, one is hard-pressed not to notice how everyone seems to be looking down at their phones. They could be scrolling through newsfeeds, composing a new tweet, or reading a hilarious yak on YikYak about the FSU quarterback. The widespread and constant use of social media is a reality of our generation, and we must consider how this seemingly isolating means of communication fits into the Catholic Church.
In Pope Francis’ message for the 48th World Communications Day, he proclaimed, “Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church; today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts.”
But in what ways might we spread this beauty of encountering Christ using social media?
Father Fred Jenga, CSC, who is currently working on his Master of Arts in Communication Studies at San Francisco State University, told theRover:
“We need people on social media who are happy in their faith and can communicate that to others. We need to share our stories of faith and hope. We need to generate and share texts, images, animated features and audiovisual content online that tells others what our encounter with Christ has meant for us … That is how we reveal the beauty of our faith and encounter with Christ.”
Along with sharing encounters of God’s love, Father Jim Gallagher, CSC, gave theRover ideas of ways in which we can use social media to fulfill the Catholic mission:
“The way that we can incorporate the Catholic mission into social media is to do so in similar ways that Catholics have been called on to interact in the marketplaces of old. This is through being present and engaging in some of the conversations. At times this is to merely engage in conversations that are not overtly theological or evangelical as a way to build a base of relationship or show interest in the good of the other.”
Social media has also helped connect the younger generation to the Church’s teaching, spreading God’s word through a medium that appeals to young people.
Casey Skevington, a junior in Farley Hall, told the Rover about her parish’s Facebook page:
“[The Facebook page] is used to inform community members about special music or services, to promote service projects, to inform the Congregation of when administrative meetings are happening, and to broadcast little faith reminders throughout the week … The member in charge of social media keeps up with the latest trends; on Throwback Thursdays it’s always fun and a bit sentimental to see pictures of myself and fellow youth group members from when we were two or three.”
Kate Morgan, Associate Director of Communications at Campus Ministry, told theRover, “You have a lot of young people who are graduating college … and trying to be a member of their own parish community, and it is very difficult when they are being communicated with by way of bulletins … I think a lot of success from parishes comes from reaching the younger audience via electronic communication.”
Social media can be a valuable complement to Catholic teaching, but, as Morgan put it, “I don’t think that social media or electronic communication can replace that one-on-one communication or that one-on-one evangelization on the ground floor.”
Father Jenga agrees: “There are people who have an active life online but no life offline. Our online faith communities should never replace our real-life faith communities. Online interactions/faith only add onto what we get from the real-life faith community. This situation is similar to what happened when we first had televised masses. Attending one in the comfort of your home should never replace joining other parishioners in your local church. The real-life community takes precedence over any technology-enabled community.”
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when trying to fulfill the Catholic mission through social media is that social media should not be viewed as a means of self-elevation or self-promotion, but as a way to inspire others to do good and to join God’s community.
Father Gallagher told theRover, “As in all things we are called to move out from ourselves in love of the other. Anyone engaging in evangelization needs to keep in mind that the goal is the good of the other and not the glorification of the self. There is a temptation in social media to become self-promoting, yet that temptation is in many places in our life. The key is to move past that temptation and keep the focus on the good of the other.”
It can be easy to view the iPhone only as a way to promote the “I,” but using social media in this way does not help to spread the faith. Viewing social media as a means to help promote and inspire others is the best way to spread God’s love and presence through this form of media.
Caroline Corsones is an English major with a minor in business economics. She was under the impression for much too long a time that “YikYak” was a website featuring gifs of talking yaks. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.