“In social networks, believers show their authenticity by sharing the profound source of their hope and joy” (Pope Benedict XVI)
I heard the other day about a loyal daily Mass-goer who was harangued by his priest for checking emails during Mass. The man explained that in fact he had been using a Missal app on his I-pad to follow the Mass – the priest apologised and then took down the name of the app!
Social media has changed the way we work and play – and also the way we pray. We can read the Bible and the latest Papal encyclicals on our smartphones. Parishes and church groups are using Facebook to keep in touch with their members. And the Holy Father has 2.5 million followers on Twitter (even more than über-trendy Jesuit parish priests or controversial cardinals).
At the Jesuit Institute we are proud to have been making our contribution to this revolution. We turned Braamfontein’s wonderfully vibrant Joseph Capelle Stations of the Cross into an app that thousands of people could pray on their blackberries and thus also shared South African art and music with the world. We have taken the 160-year-old Apostleship of Prayer devotion into cyberspace and hundreds are now ‘liking’ it on Facebook (search for ‘PrayingwiththePope’). And we were the first country in the world to send out extracts from Vatican II documents and Papal teaching directly to people’s cellphones. This last service has just sent out its 1 millionth SMS and to celebrate that we are giving people a chance to sample the service for 1 week for free. (Just SMS the word JOY to 31222 between 19 and 25 May. After the first week if you continue you will be charged R4 per week for the daily SMS.)
Does any of this matter?
Some people dismiss such innovations as foolish attempts by the Church to seem modish and relevant. One man complained to me I should be telling people to go to church on Friday evenings in Lent and not encouraging them to pray the stations on their cellphones: though interestingly he sent me an email rather than a handwritten letter! Others get so excited at the many and varied ways of communicating that the ‘how’ of communication takes precedence over the ‘what’.
A 50 year old Vatican II document (Inter Mirifica) provides surprisingly up-to-date guidance; and this was further developed in Pope Benedict’s message from January with the challenging title Social Networks: portals of truth and faith:
- Modern media (such as social networks) are good things and are from God
- They can be used in ways that build the Kingdom by asking questions, sharing information and being present to others using new and effective language (a modern-day Pentecost)
- But they can also be used in ways that are harmful to us and to our faith and we have a responsibility to avoid those
It of course standard modern communications style to summarise everything in 3 bullet points and I would encourage you to read the original documents (just Google them of course!).
2,000 years ago St Paul (in 1 Cor 13) was even more succinct and more poetic so let his words be your guide for using modern media: “If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”