Catholics, the internet, and evangelization: A response to the “cesspool of hatred.”

The internet is a fickle and challenging entity of our time. We are still in an age where internet users are both technological immigrants and technological natives. A whole generation has grown up consuming and contributing to content that is on the internet. The vast reach of the web and the ease of publishing information has become a very useful tool for Catholics. We are now able to share, distribute, collaborate, and engage as never before with other Catholics and non-believers alike. This near universal access to information can aid us in our faith development. However, it can also cause confusion and concern.

Earlier today, Father Thomas Rosica released a statement reflecting on the nature of the information that is distributed by Catholic bloggers. In this post from Crux, Father Rosica’s statement is very straightforward,

“Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners!” (Crux, 2016)

Now, as I do not necessarily disagree entirely, I do question the methodology of the discussion. Father Rosica, as it seems, is calling out members of the faithful to be cautious of how they are approaching specific issues. However, he does so in a way that, in my humble opinion, is very condescending to what is mostly a group of people who wish to defend the Faith and the Holy Mother Church.

Being fairly young myself, I can only speculate as to the former protocols to deal with members of the Church inquiring or making statements about theology, the pontiff, or other church related matters. I do not think that it would be incorrect to say that this was once done so in a private or semi-private environment. If someone made a claim that was heretical, or contrary to Church teaching, then it would be dealt with by the pastor of the church, the bishop, a small group of the laity, or a friend within. Today however, because information is so public and available through the internet, it has changed the way that we deal with these situations. It was not long ago that a Jesuit priest referred to the Holy Spirit as “her” in a post on Twitter. There were responses of approval, concern, and yes very strongly worded replies that could be interpreted as vitriol. However, Holy Scripture, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the Holy Spirit solely as He. Therefore, are people really wrong in making this correction? I would hope that the majority of the faithful would say no. I would suggest that we consider the medium in which that correction comes. In all honesty, public embarrassment is not fun, no matter how well deserved it may be. There are other channels that can be taken other than the public post on social media. Usually, private messages or email may be a more appropriate way to discuss such events with the person involved if we do not know them personally. Often times it is here that we can convey our intentions of being charitable in the correction, and we are doing so as humble servants of Our Lord, and not out of pride in thinking that we know better. When all is said and done though, the correction must be made.

Referring back to Father Rosica’s statements,

“If we judged our identity based on certain ‘Catholic’ websites and blogs, we would be known as the people who are against everyone and everything!” he said. ” If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture.” (Crux, 2016)

Along with accessing the proper channels of charitable and fruitful debate, we also must restrain ourselves from posting anything contrary to Catholic teaching, and passing it off as “what the Church believes.” Whether that is the intent or not, people are going to read these statements, and they will associate them with those of Catholic beliefs. In other words, if you call yourself a Catholic, then please be a Catholic in full. We must be careful not to fall into a relativistic mindset where we think we can pick and choose what we want to follow, and what we choose to ignore in the teaching of the Church.

It is important that we, the faithful protect the Faith. Sometimes we can do this in some more appropriate, productive, and charitable ways, but the task lies with us, nonetheless. There are a number of articles circulating about Lady Gaga and her message about the Eucharist right now (Aleteia,  Catholic Link). Once again, the story was met with a diversity of perspectives, some very critical. Is it wrong for Catholics to be cautious about a person of influence in society sharing something about the Faith? Especially, when such a person has not just encouraged, but actively promoted actions that are in direct contrast with the teachings of the Church. It is excellent if this is a genuine testimony of someone coming back to the Faith. However, given that the picture is with a priest that has been known to promote things that would lead a soul into a state of mortal sin, you can’t blame people for being skeptical. If a distorted and, let’s be honest, a flat out incorrect teaching is made public, and taken as fact, then it makes evangelization even more difficult. People are being taught heretical practices, thinking that this is what the Church teaches. Hopefully we can all agree that this is an attack on the Faith that has been given to us by God, Himself.

These corrections are often deemed, as the current liberal society would refer to them, as hate. Is it really hatred to correct someone in a way that may lead to the salvation of the soul for all of eternity? Many would consider this a great act of love. Especially when we face an almost certain violent backlash from the rest of the modernistic world. We can be more charitable in the way this knowledge is conveyed to a person, but ultimately, we need to stop taking these interactions so personally and ask ourselves, “Is this true?” If we continue to focus on how offended we are, rather than the truth that has been revealed to us, then we are more focused on how we feel, rather than what God has asked of us. May the peace and love of Christ, and the knowledge of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.