VILLARREAL: Social media and the universal call to communion

December 8, 2020

“Today we are living in a world which is growing ever ‘smaller’ and where, as a result, it would seem to be easier for all of us to be neighbors,” said Pope Francis on the 48th World Communications Day in the summer of 2014. “...Communications technology [is] bringing us closer together and making us more connected, even as globalization makes us increasingly interdependent. Nonetheless, divisions, which are sometimes quite deep, continue to exist within our human family...”

These words from our Holy Father point to the deep contrast presented in today’s digital world. We act as citizens of this digital world every day primarily through social media, communicating on platforms that “create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (”

The creation of social media platforms reveals the ache for communion at the center of every human heart. In the Garden of Eden, man dwelt with each other and their Creator
in closeness and intimacy. At the heart of every human person is the longing to go back to the Garden.

You and I are made for this very communion.

The human person, made in the image of their Creator, is called to act as His holy representative here on earth, co-partnering to bring about new life, creation and to invite others back into the Garden where they can become a part of God’s family. Social media becomes a powerful tool under this paradigm. We can not only spread the Gospel message through the explicit content that we share and post but by interacting with other persons on social media platforms across vast distances and even social circumstances.

Here we are actively participating in God’s call and mission to make us one family, with Jesus as our head. Our base desire to connect is inherently good, as we recognize our own dignity by desiring to be known and recognizing another’s by wanting to know them.

Despite these good intentions, this mission is rarely what we find as we scroll through our social media feeds. It seems like division between different groups of people becomes even more distinct via social media.

You are more likely to find Christian accounts that only cater to Christians, as much as certain news sources only cater to those with a particular political ideology. You may find different accounts that tend to be aggressive and incredibly inflammatory in oversharing messages, and accounts that are just as aggressive in contradicting these messages.

As followers of Jesus, we must acknowledge that we are not of this digital world, while we may be called to be in it. This requires that we recognize what is at the heart of social media promotion, and that is algorithms working on trying to tell you what you care about and what you should care about. This should not be a surprise or shock; it is simply the reality of increasingly smart technology.

If I am going to attempt to use social media platforms to further the Gospel message and connect with my brethren across the globe, I have to first understand where my allegiance truly lies.

What I post on social media does not “cover” my Christian mission. If I post a video on social media sponsoring a particular political candidate in order to maintain social justice, I must also be looking for opportunities to serve the poor and marginalized in my own community.

If I share a post about a saint who exemplified true forgiveness, am I intentionally working to deal with the things going on in my heart that make it hard for me to forgive? If I write a long Facebook post about being Pro-Life, how do I interact with the homeless man I drive by every day from work? In the same way, we must understand as Christians that social media is truly only pixels on a screen.

As much as it can be a powerful tool, it cannot be the end.

Social media cannot take precedence over the mission that is before us in every single moment of our lives, which is to love. I am called to love the person that is in front of me more than I am called to make sure I have scrolled through the entirety of my Instagram feed.

I invite us all to re-examine the way we use or rely on social media in our lives and to ask Jesus to come and reconcile with that part of our heart that has become comfortable with separating our social media use from a true charitable, evangelical mission.

May we follow after Jesus and His mission to bring the whole world together in Himself.

Katie Villarreal is the coordinator of youth ministry at St. Faustina Catholic Church in Fulshear.