I was struck when I read Pope Benedict’s recent letter for the 45th World Communications Day entitled “Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.” While there are a number of great points in the pope’s letter, I want to focus on one that I instantly knew would speak to CatholicMatch members, especially those who are frequent contributors to the CatholicMatch message forums.
The Holy Father writes that Christians must engage in social networks:
“When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals. It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others.
To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgments that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically.”
I believe Pope Benedict’s words have a very practical application for CatholicMatch members. When we’re contacting or responding to someone who is a potential romantic interest, are we fully considering that there is a real person behind the profile?
She is not just someone who selected information from check boxes or drop down menus. He is not simply a person who can be fully defined or judged because of the way he responded to seven questions on faith and morals. No, they are full, real people with a heart, mind and soul, each of whom should be afforded the full dignity of being a child of God.
While the technology itself can encourage, if not require, a certain style or etiquette when communicating within social networks, we as Catholics have a duty to always consider charity when responding.
Beyond the individual communication between CatholicMatch members interested in finding a future spouse is the community interaction constantly buzzing on our 40 message forums. These forum “rooms” are a place where many ideas and thoughts are exchanged, sometimes about specifically religious items but often just about life or hobbies – from upcoming trips to computer viruses.
It’s always disheartening for a staff member to see forum exchanges that are clearly lacking any kind of charity and even contain outright meanness towards another person or group. By their nature, message forums seem to bring out this behavior, especially if the subject matter is contentious, such as religion or politics.
Anyone who has participated in message forums has likely regretted one or more posts – either the words they chose or the tone with which it was written.
That’s why, in light of the pope’s letter, this is as good a time as any to reflect on how we behave in message forums and how we can change to better answer his call to “… to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel…”
The power of one post
A single message on CatholicMatch can lead to the first step of one of the most wonderful things two people can share: a marriage. It can also lead to a person feeling worse about herself or about the Church. A single post in the message forums can lead to the first step of someone coming back to the Church, healing from divorce or correcting a deviation in life.
However, a post also can give someone one more reason to leave Christ’s Church or confirm a growing sense that everyone is against him (maybe even God Himself).
We have to ask ourselves hard questions. Are we writing things because we truly want to help the person draw closer to God? Or are we saying something out of pride because we want to feel better about ourselves?
Just because we are right in a discussion doesn’t mean we have won over the heart of that person — and many of us lose sight of that in daily interactions with the people closest to us, let alone online daters who we have never met. As we reflect on what the Holy Father wrote, may we all remember: Every time we hit that enter key, which first step are we helping another person take?
St. Raphael, patron of happy meetings and healing, pray for us!