Witnessing to the faith in a digital world

February 27, 2018

Nine hours a day — that’s the average time a teenager spends consuming various digital media sources. This includes the various social media platforms and streaming music, movies and shows. Over a third of the day is lived with at least one foot in a digital world. This forces us to ask an important question: Is the faith we express in the physical world a part of our digital world?

When Christ commissioned his Apostles, none of them could have imagined the concept of a digital world or the personas we would adapt to interact there.

In Acts of the Apostles, Jesus’ last words spoken before ascending include the exhortation “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witness… to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Today the ends of the earth include the digital world, so how can we be authentic witnesses of the faith in that arena?

Blessed Pope Paul VI tells us in his Encyclical on Evangelii Nuntiandi that “above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness… through this Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see their lives” (21). In the faceless digital world, our witness radiates the face of Christ which is full of compassion, mercy and tenderness. Paul VI goes on to tell us that the two primary modes of witness are words and deeds. As disciples of Christ, what we say and do has the power to draw others into the heart of Christ or push them away from it.

I encourage you to reflect on your own digital persona. Does the way you speak and act in the digital world reflect the tenets of your faith? Often we say and do things we never would in the real world. In doing so, our Christian witness fails to speak the truth which resonates in our hearts. We need to be better at this.

Here are four suggestions to help you become a better digital witness:

1. Take a deep breath and pray: Before posting or sharing, pray and ask yourself if this is something that might feel good or be funny in the moment, but ultimately might negatively impact the way others see Christ and His Church.
2. Cultivate conversations: Most people who post or share something, especially negative comments, are usually looking for a place to vent and run; they are not looking for an in-depth honest conversation. If you seek to cultivate conversations in your digital world, open up dialogue which can lead to discipleship.
3. Practice empathy: Rather than degrading a person or group that holds a different opinion than you, seek to ask why they hold that opinion. Are they seeking to live a good life? Are they wounded in some unseen way?
4. Apologize when needed: A sincere apology can go a long way towards healing wounds and building bridges.

When you fail at being a good witness, have the courage to apologize. It might be just the type of witness that person needed.

Brian Henritze is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.