An opportunity for the Gospel to join the immediacy of the times
In Matthew 16:3, Jesus quipped that the spiritual leaders of his day were good at forecasting the weather but bad at reading the signs of the times.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, let’s remember one of the key “signs of the times” that prompted the council is what Pope Benedict XVI calls “the eclipse of God” in the Western Christian world. Formerly Christian societies, by the mid-20th century, had adopted a sort of practical atheism: people were going about their daily lives as if God did not exist.
But the council saw more than just problems in the hustle and bustle of contemporary life. It saw new opportunities, such as the development of the modern media.
In the last 15 years, there has been dramatic development in communications. First came the Internet, then the more interactive blog. Finally, the social media world of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube arrived. Put that together with smartphones, iPads and applications, or “apps,” and you have a communications revolution.
Let’s begin with the potential of the new media to build up the faithful. One of the council’s goals was to make the entire liturgy, in all its richness, more central and accessible to the life of every Christian.
Using free smartphone apps such as Laudate and iMissal, people now can carry around the ordo – the Church calendar – and the Lectionary in their pocket. Laudate also features daily Mass readings, the Liturgy of the Hours, hundreds of prayers, novenas and the Rosary available with the touch of a finger. I once corrected one of my teens for looking at her smartphone during Mass only to find out that she was following along the Scripture reading.
How many lay people have been put off by jumping around the breviary between all the ribbons and given up using the Liturgy of the Hours? That’s no longer an impediment. Online websites and phone apps now put the day’s Divine Office together to lead others via computer, tablet or phone to prayer.
Moving from prayer to catechesis, we find that the new forms of media have made church doctrine accessible everywhere by virtually anyone. Everything from the Scriptures to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to the writings of the priests, saints and popes can now be accessed by these devices.
But something that has always been true is even truer today: less is more. A tweet shared via Twitter is limited to 140 characters. Quotes are more likely to get attention than dissertations.
As people who share our faith with others, we can and should use the technology on a small scale to feed, instruct and inspire others.
The task of the new evangelization is to share the Gospel with the entire world and for the first time, the ability to speak to virtually the whole world is available to the average person through the global reach of social media.
Some stars of stage and screen have more Twitter followers than the combined population of Norway, Israel and Holland. People can share a post I make on Facebook or retweet something I send out. When their friends or followers do likewise, my communication goes viral.
I recently used a group texting app to share Scripture quotes privately with seven people in my family. During the same week I shared thoughts publicly through my Facebook page. Facebook statistics told me that my communications reached more than 293,000 people and more than 15,000 of them were “talking about” what I shared.
This gets to a final and important point. Social media is not static but dynamic. Its hallmark is interaction. Facebook has its famous “like” button but also has options to comment on a post or to share it. You know whether you are hitting your target.
A second hallmark of social media is that its use is not subject to a fixed schedule. It is not limited to a class that meets three times per week or a TV show that you have to allocate 30 minutes to on Thursday evenings. It is everywhere, always.
This is exactly where we want to get the truth of the Gospel: back into daily life and back to people for whom it has become irrelevant.
Social media presents us with a great opportunity and a challenge. Dull content will never go viral even if it is true. We must use all the creativity at our disposal to communicate truth in text, image and video in a witty, intriguing way that makes people want to hit the “retweet” and “share” buttons.
D’Ambrosio is co-founder of Crossroads Productions – www.crossroadsinitiative.com – an apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization.[[In-content Ad]]