I often hear many one-sided arguments, in support or resentment, of social media. Yes, there are beneficial and negative effects in this new information-based technological world, and we can say the same with anything that is around us. Before we go much into the topic of how we can fully integrate and evangelize using social media means, we have to recognize that the Church has always been very creative in using different types of social medium to preach the Gospel. The Vatican Radio and newspapers, as well as many Catholic-based news outlets and media, have always been counted as reliable sources for news as well as effective means to reach those who might not have access to these essential tools of information in poorer parts of the world. Second, we just celebrated Christmas, which is the commemoration of the living Word of God (logos) who chose to take flesh to be one of us, for the sake of our salvation. God the Father spoke to us in real ways through His living Word. He spoke to bring us life, from creation to redemption, in our daily journey as well as to call us back to conversion. That is the central message of Christmas, the message that needs to be preached and shared to the whole world by those who believe. Therefore, we can be sure to say that everything is good and beneficial if we use them rightly, in moderation and proper discernment, for the higher goods of preaching the Gospel and integrating our faith in the current world.
The term “social media” reminds us that everything around us is just different types of medium to connect us socially to and with one another. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves whether we are truly using social media for that purpose, or has it becomes an addiction, a comparative mean to see what others are doing, or something for us to live out another persona that is not necessarily our true self? Instead of becoming instrumental in connecting people together, social media often becomes a destructive temptation for many because they are too worried about what other people have and what they do not possess. It creates envies and comparisons which steal one’s joy and defeats the real purpose of connecting people. Second, many people have become too worried about how they present themselves on social media to get more views, likes, or recognition as if those numbers define who they are. Social media has made many young people put their self-worth on how much they are popular or unpopular on different platforms that they spend a lot of times trying to create picture-perfect or engaging posts as to gain the necessary favors. It creates a real confusion of identity and shallow understanding of happiness, which often leads to episodic (or even long-term) depression. Last but not least, social media often creates a sense of addictive dependency as people tend to be more occupied with the virtual world than reality itself.
When was the last time we can find young people talking to each other and spending time to talk from the heart without fidgeting or needing to check their phones in order to look up what other people are doing or how their posts are being received? It happens too often and too easily. What does a young person do when he or she is bored or does not want to pay attention to what is going on? Check and spend time with social media posts or brain-numbing games! What does one do when there is something going on or something special happened? Take a picture, post a review, write a tweet, compose a post, or something of the like! There is no more personal sense of real wonder and awe nor is there a real desire to take things as they are because everyone seems to be busy about the “Picture else it didn’t happen!” mentality. However, for me, there is a deeper issue at hand, and that issue lies within how we understand ourselves and value ourselves: (1) as it is in reality with real-life events and human interaction or (2) behind a screen for a virtual world and audience to see? I have seen too many shallow friendships and relationships for the sake of social media or engaging means because we lack real human connection, commitment, and willingness to know and love the other person as he or she truly is. Life is not perfect nor is relationship! Life is not always exciting nor picture-perfect, people are often dull and hard to love so we cannot expect engagement, excitement, or what we thought they were or how they should be like what is said on social media posts. Yet, we have to learn to know, appreciate, and embrace them for who they really are instead of whatever preconceptions or personal desires we have for them. Reality is often bland, not as engaging or interesting like social media as we go from one thing to the next, but it is beautiful because people make it beautiful and unique. Therefore, it is important to remind ourselves that social media fails when we cannot really be social with one another face-to-face, heart-to-heart.
Social media is not all bad though. I found myself following and reading a lot of faith-related articles and news sources that were recommended and shared by others. I found so many articles and thought-provoking writings from young people and different outlets that I would not have known in my typical daily routine through social media. Therefore, let us go back in calling social media what it really is! It is a set of technological advancements and instruments for our digital age. It is up to us to use all things in moderation and with prayerful discernment. All things can be good and beneficial if we know our limitations and what really drive us. If we allow ourselves to be immersed, judged, and identified by the virtual reality, then we have to ask where do our peace and happiness really need to be found. If we allow ourselves to be too occupied and worried about what other people think or how we need to portray ourselves our lives on social media, then we have to ask ourselves the real (challenging) questions of personal identity and self-worth. All things are simply instrumental unless we allow them to be the definitive end or criterion of who we are, controlling us and making us overly-dependent on them. It is perfectly fine if we use them as means for and toward something greater instead of treating them as definitive, controlling ends in themselves.
In order to keep ourselves not occupied with the virtual world and its addictive, codependence temptations, we have to keep our focus on the higher reality. It is a reminder that our prayer has to ground our thoughts, words, actions, and deeds. If we do not know or have the desire to fix our mind on God and the divine reality, we will get stuck with the mundane shallowness of this world. If we do not take the time to pray, reflect, and discern how things are supposed to be in the light of our identity and relationship with God, we will get dragged, pulled, and be agitated by the changing realities of both the physical and virtual worlds. All things can be used for good if we are focused, desiring and using all things, for the highest good, which is union with God Himself. If we do all things in Him, for Him, with Him, and through Him, we should not be afraid of lesser things occupying and controlling us.
Last but not least, we can all use social media to bring greater awareness to what our faith really teaches and professes. I think many people nowadays still have a lot of misconceptions about the Catholic faith. Furthermore, even those who are cradle Catholics are in need of further catechesis, evangelization, and formation of the Gospel and Church teachings. The world is getting more connected, yet the topics to be discussed are redundant and boring with the typical mundane stuff; therefore, we have a mission to instill and lift one another up with higher values by letting our faith and its commitment, its passion for evangelization, and its desire for further growth through proper catechesis be shared through social media. As mentioned before, I have come to read many interesting articles and know many thought-provoking perspectives that I would not know if I do not see them shared on social media. By reading them and praying with them, I believe I am able to see, understand, know, and discern how to better care for the faithful in this post-modern world. By seeing their struggles, confusions, frustrations, passion, thoughts, and desires, I can see the hidden presence of hope in the midst of all of the daily, personal, and social issues that are present in our midst. Those means challenge me to rethink and be creative in how I minister, preach, and share the Gospel message in the midst of our contemporary world. Furthermore, they also challenge me to find ways to reach out to others through social media and the information world as well. I am pushed and challenged to use means that I would not personally choose to share my Catholic faith, love for the Lord, and the challenging invitations for those who are seeking for something higher.
Even though the social media world is challenging at times, because not everyone will agree with you or think what you and I are saying are the true Gospel or Church’s teachings because of how they view life or how politics teach them to see the world, yet we can find ways to respectfully dialogue with one another. I try to bring all things to prayer as I discern what to say, how to respond, or to lift someone up (even when they might be someone hard to accept or loved at the time). I also have to know that I am prone to become too dependent on technology, so I set personal perimeters as to keep myself limited and in check as not to become too focused, dependent, or motivated by the virtual reality world.
The Lord Jesus chose to be incarnated and lived among us, to be like us in all things except sin. (cf. Hebrews 4:5, Philippians 2:5-11) He used creative means like parables and other instrumental tools to teach the people and tell them about the Kingdom. He reached out and spoke to them in ways that they could relate with and understand. He made Himself available and relatable to all those who were seeking the truth, even those who failed and lost their ways on the journey. Therefore, we should take on the attitude and heart of the Lord Jesus by making ourselves available to all in order to walk and help them along with their faith journey. This is the foundational and essential part of what makes us humans! May we not forget our humanity by loving those who are around us; but at the same time, may we not allow humanistic desires to drive and define us. We are all created for more! Our hearts, souls, and beings were formed and created by the infinite God who loves us; therefore, let us not let finite goods distract us but to desire to seek, embrace, and live for the Highest Good of all. We should and can allow our faith to be shared through social media.
Hence, let us remind ourselves — with all things — to use them as ways and instrumental means to build, nourish, and deepen our humanity and its real desire and purpose of social connectedness. Let us take time to truly pray, grow, reflect and discern how we can use things that are around us as means to enrich, challenge, and help us grow in our faith. We can use all things to pray as we bring them before the Lord in our own prayer times with Him. Last of all, let us not be afraid to share and live ourc faith out loud in loving and charitable ways (even with social media means). Without a doubt, we can find real, viable, personal, and creative options to integrate our living faith in the virtual world through social media. Let us share the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ to every living creatures and beings, in everyday human interactions and even through information-based, technological means! Let us live reflect, imitate, and share what we believe and what Christ has done for us at all times and through different mediums so that those who come to know us can know who we are (our joys and blessings, struggles and hardships). Let us take on the words of the angels to the poor shepherds and all those who were seeking for the newborn King:
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David, a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
Let us proclaim the hymn of joy in our everyday life:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed and merry Christmas!