By Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, Ph.D.
For many of us, logging on to social media in the past few months has been an intense experience. Postings and comments are charged with high emotions, sharply divided political opinions and, in some cases, vitriol, sarcasm and ugly mockery.
In an environment like this, it has become difficult to discern what is fact, what is fiction and what is fake news. Often, the story has been riding high on the waves of collective emotions well before the facts of it could be checked, nuanced or elaborated on. How are we to respond, especially as people of faith? According to Pope Francis, with commitment to the Good News and by calling on the Holy Spirit.
In the most recent World Communications Day Message, Pope Francis acknowledges the difficult, charged and often fearful atmosphere of our public communication spaces. Titled “Fear Not I Am with You: Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time,” this brief document calls us to hold fast to Christ as the Good News himself.
“Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them,” Pope Francis writes. “If we change that lens, reality itself appears different. So how can we begin to ‘read’ reality through the right lens? For us Christians, that lens can only be the good news, beginning with the Good News par excellence: ‘the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God’ (Mk 1:1). With these words, Saint Mark opens his Gospel not by relating ‘good news’ about Jesus, but rather the good news that is Jesus himself.”
The beauty of the Good News is that Christ brings hope and new life precisely into the contexts of pain, suffering, injustice that evoke the high emotional responses we see on social media. To engage these stories through the lens of the Good News means to set them in a broader, hopeful, healing and meaningful context.
Without brushing over the real details of suffering and brokenness, the lens of Good News refuses for these to claim the final word. Instead the Good News addresses these with the Word himself, inviting life, hope and possibility even out of the most desperate of situations.
As Catholic Christians, we are born of the font as people of the Good News. Each of us in our own state of life is called to communicate Good News in some fashion, and our social media landscape has presented us with a new context that is starving for this.
While it seems easier to turn away, who else but us would bring the Good News to these broken, painful conversations?
Five online suggestions
Along these lines, here are five disciplines to practice in our online communication:
• Call on the Holy Spirit. All authentic communication of the faith is the work of the Holy Spirit. Whether we are overwhelmed, angry, saddened or joyful, it is time to call on the Holy Spirit to give us the ability to speak the Good News to those who may see or hear our words. It is the Spirit who illuminates the Word, who comforts, who sanctifies. It is also the Spirit who gives us the gifts to live as disciples.
• Listen first. Listening is not just a function of our ears but in fact a spiritual disposition. If we listen, we are open to God’s Word and Spirit, as well as the other person who is communicating with us. Without this openness, we might miss the prompting of the Spirit in a specific conversation.
• Conform to the Word. In order to serve the Good News, it is important to align ourselves closely to God’s Word. This means prayerful engagement with the Word through holy reading and Scripture, and it also means reflection on how God’s Word has addressed God’s people over time. God’s Word is life-giving and calls us always into relationship. How can our words convey this?
• Seek the Truth. We call our world “post-truth” nowadays; yet we as Catholic Christians hold firm that the Truth is the person of Jesus Christ himself. We have a commitment to the Truth, both in the truthfulness of facts and in the authenticity of our encounters with others. To seek the Truth is to seek Christ and view reality through the lens of his Good News.
• Recognize the person. On social media we most often see the words, images and sounds on the screen that call forth our reaction. Rather than reacting to these as digital objects that appear on the screen, we should always keep in mind that these were put there by a person.
Instead of being mere objects, these represent the thoughts and self-expression of another human being. Our interactions with postings can be ways to forge true encounters with others.
The Message of Pope Francis for the 51st World Communications Day “Fear Not I Am with You: Communicating Hope and Trust in Our Time” (Jan. 24, 2017) can be found at vatican.va.
Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, Ph.D., is professor of pastoral theology at Notre Dame Seminary. She can be contacted at .