Learning to use social media well

Maybe it’s just me, but I have this total love/hate relationship with social media. I’ll have a week where I spend far too much time on Facebook, reading through discussion threads and even occasionally participating. But then I’ll get so fed up with myself for having invested (read: wasted) so much time there, that I completely disengage for weeks on end afterwards. I guess you could call it a bit of a Facebook hangover.

In general, I try to avoid interacting on social media. Lately it seems like an increasingly angry place, particularly when it comes to cultural, social, and political issues. Gone are the days of cute baby pictures and grumpy cat memes. But I also know that as Catholics, we don’t have the luxury of disengaging fully. It is our moral duty to pursue, promote, and extol the common good. The Catholic faith is not a privatized, individualistic means of working out our salvation, it turns out, but a faith lived and experienced in community. We come to receive the Eucharist in the Holy Mass together, after all.

But how do we engage on Facebook (or other platforms) in an era of such confusion and polarization, without completely losing our minds? And, is it even worth it?

It’s important, I think, to recognize both the limitations and influence of social media. On the one hand, platforms like Facebook and Instagram remain very poor substitutes for face-to-face, authentic engagement with another person. They offer a level of anonymity that allows for behavior that most people would probably be ashamed to exhibit in person. Worse yet, it is in one sense a form of make-believe — none of your interactions are actually happening in the real world. People would do well to take the time they’re spending on social media, and invest it into their parish community or neighborhood.

But all of that being said, we can’t deny that the digital continent wields a tremendous amount of reach, and potential influence. Before my conversion to Catholicism, I didn’t know any Catholics in real life. The only information I had was in books, and online. So, I came to really appreciate the small handful of Catholics with a strong web presence, who made the tenets of the faith accessible to me when I didn’t yet have a parish community of my own. Therefore, it makes sense for Catholics (who wish to do so) to live their faith publicly, online, and thus engage the larger culture. It should certainly not supplant in-real-life evangelization and community, but it can be an addition (or, as in my case, a precursor) to it. You never know who is watching and listening in to your discussion about the sanctity of life. You don’t know who is admiring your Catholic lifestyle. God does the real work here, of course, but we can certainly help plant the seeds.

And really, who better to confront the problems facing our culture than the very Bride of Christ? There is an enormous need for Catholics on the frontlines, upholding the dignity of the human person, demonstrating what the love of Jesus looks like, and doing the long, hard work of the Gospel. We live in a throw-away culture where now even people, created in the image and likeness of Christ, have become expendable. Yet as Catholics, we possess the truth about the dignity of the human person, and therefore are able to have our respective communities’ best interests at heart, even when it comes to shaping public policy. We are incredibly blessed to have the social teaching of the Church, marked by things like subsidiarity and a preferential option for the poor. (Participation in community is another!) If we don’t offer truth, beauty, and goodness to the world around us, who will?

Of course, this means that we need to educate ourselves about what the common good actually is. It seems like social media platforms these days are filled with little else besides emoting and arguing. Most people are well-intentioned, but may still not possess accurate information. (Sound familiar? This pretty much sums up half my Facebook feed!) So, we have to know our Catechism, be familiar with Sacred Scripture, and understand the reasons behind what our Church teaches. That way, if a controversial subject like gay marriage comes up in conversation, we can respond with both charity and truth. We can ask good questions, like what is the nature of marriage, and what is the state’s interest in marriage. We can explore the idea of love, and whether or not there is an objective property to it — and if someone claims there isn’t, we can consider the implications for society when love is merely a passing feeling. They say that more is caught than taught, and that is certainly true, but in order to participate well in a productive discussion, we must also have knowledge of what we speak.

Finally, and I know this is kind of obvious, we must first and foremost remain close to Jesus. Attending Holy Mass, spending time in prayer, and participating in parish life are really the only ways to keep the right focus in our topsy-turvy world. We won’t be troubled by the inevitable person “who’s wrong on the internet” because, ultimately, our life is not lived there. We have other, better things to think about and do. Plus, how can we be assured that we’re thinking correctly about something when we are not walking closely with our Lord? This is also crucial to drowning out the ever-present noise that threatens to invade our very souls. The peace of Christ must first dwell in our own hearts for us to be of any use to the rest of the world!

During Lent, my goal was to spend less time on social media. Maybe a better goal for me, though, would be to learn to use it well.

COMING UP: Past 25 years remembered, next 25 anticipated at More Than You Realize conference

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“Be not afraid!”

This was the rallying cry at the Aug. 11 More Than You Realize conference, echoing the very same call St. John Paul II gave exactly 25 years ago when he visited Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Over 5,000 faithful from across the Archdiocese of Denver filled the seats of the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland at what was the largest Catholic gathering in Colorado since WYD ’93. The all-day conference was presented in both English and Spanish tracks, featured a dynamic lineup of renowned Catholic speakers, and culminated in a powerful commissioning Mass.

The name More Than You Realize and consequently, the logo resembling an eyechart, stems from the idea that almost everything may appear a certain way at surface level, but upon closer inspection, it can be more than one realizes and seen in a different light. This is especially true when it comes to the Catholic Church.

Over 5,000 gathered at the Budweiser Events Center Aug. 11 for the More Than You Realize conference, which celebrated the last 25 years since World Youth Day in Denver and looked to the next 25. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

In planning for nearly two years, pastors from each parish of the archdiocese hand-picked those parishioners and members of their community who they wished to attend the conference, which revolved around the idea of discipleship. Through engaging videos and talks given by speakers such as Chris Stefanick, Luis Soto and Dr. Edward Sri, attendees were invited to join a new movement of discipleship within the archdiocese, echoing the one sparked 25 years ago at World Youth Day.

“[I] had a great rejuvenating time at the More Than You Realize Conference,” said Alex Martinez, a parishioner at St. Pius X Parish. “I am excited to see the MTYR movement take shape.”

Brenda Garrett, a parishioner of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception said, “It was an amazing event, so blessed my pastor Father Ron from the Cathedral Basilica sent me. I am so proud to be part of this movement.”

The key to evangelization

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford spoke before Mass began about the impact of World Youth Day 1993 and the challenges the Church faces today.

“What does the summer of ’93 teach us about our present circumstances in 2018?” the cardinal asked. “The Holy Spirit was sent out in a special mission to our Church in 1993. The power of that sending was unexpected and disorienting to me as archbishop and to most others.”

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford speaks during the More Than You Realize conference. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

But despite urban violence, threats of boycotts, organized protests and other issues prior to World Youth Day 1993, “a fundamental change took place in the Church of Denver,” said Cardinal Stafford, “but not only here — among the young people who came throughout the world, [and] even the Holy Father.

“Above all, our Church was transformed,” he said.

Cardinal Stafford said that to evangelize those who don’t know the Gospel, we first need “…a deep awareness of the delight of the Father taking in each of us as baptized men and women,” he said.

“I would urge you to think deeply and to pray deeply about realizing how delighted God is in you — each of you — because you are received by the Father as being [part of] the body of his Son, who is beloved.”

‘Jesus is much more than you realize’

In his homily given in both English and Spanish, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila also touched on what World Youth Day 1993 means for us today.

“The world likes to tell us many things about ourselves,” he said, “and not many of them today are good or uplifting. Just look at the distorted image of beauty that is prevalent today, let alone the distortions of what it means to be a human person…

“The devil is certainly having a field day in a world that has abandoned God, and even in some members of the Church who have a weak faith in Jesus,” he said.

But despite similar issues taking place in 1993, the pope brought to Denver a message of hope.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrates the commissioning Mass that closed out the conference. (photo by Andrew Wright)

“When St. John Paul II spoke to the youth gathered for the prayer vigil on Saturday night at Cherry Creek State Park, he reminded them that God and a much bigger role for them to play in history,” said Archbishop Aquila.

That message is just as important today, within an archdiocese and Church that stand at a crossroads, the archbishop said.

“We have an opportunity to make a major impact for Jesus Christ, even as the surrounding culture is becoming less Christian.”

The pope opened the doors for those who attended to become greater disciples of Christ — not just directly after World Youth Day, but forever.

“St. John Paul II believed in retrospect that a revolution had taken place in Denver,” said the archbishop. “We, today, are the inheritors of this spiritual revolution, and we must not be afraid to put out into the deep to let our nets down for a catch.

“Jesus is much more than you realize. The Church is more than you realize. And your role in the plan of God is much more than you realize or [can] even imagine,” he said.

“And so, I beg you as your shepherd today to open your hearts to Jesus and speak heart-to-heart with him who loves you most.”

Aaron Lambert, Moira Cullings and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.