Pope Asks If Our Digital Profiles Reflect The Gospel


Pope Benedict's 45th World Communications Day message speaks to online daters

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.


Forum chatter

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!






6 Comments

  1. Morgon-654876 March 5, 2011 Reply

    A comment to “a post also can give someone one more reason to leave Christ’s Church”. Really? Is there not a risk here of trivializing such a serious step as leaving the Church? If someone is driven to leave the Church beacuse of something that has happened on an Internet forum, the person has a strange idea of Church membership and is probably already on the way out. The nasty forum comments would better be characterized as triggers, not reasons to leave the Church. It is a bit like when you sometimes read news notices about how someone killed someone beacuse of a quarrel over a remote control, or something equally unimportant. The quarrel was of course only a trigger, and crazy people can be triggered by almost anything.

    It is a good idea to be polite and considerate on Internet forums just as anywhere else but one should not dramatize the consequences of a bad forum behaviour.

    • Roseanne-557920 March 5, 2011 Reply

      I agree with the points you made, Morgon, this takes a strange look at negative responses and the effects of them. It would be triggers to an action already set in motion…
      Also, I highly doubt that one post on the forums could spark interest… several posts maybe, or someone’s posting habits maybe….
      I did enjoy reading about Pope Benedict XVI’s views on internet interactions and his warnings:
      “On the other hand, this is contrasted with the limits typical of digital communication: the one-sidedness of the interaction, the tendency to communicate only some parts of one’s interior world, the risk of constructing a false image of oneself, which can become a form of self-indulgence.”
      “Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world. In the search for sharing, for “friends”, there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself.”
      “It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.”
      “The truth of the Gospel is not something to be consumed or used superficially; rather it is a gift that calls for a free response. Even when it is proclaimed in the virtual space of the web, the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share our daily lives. Direct human relations always remain fundamental for the transmission of the faith!”
      “The proclamation of the Gospel requires a communication which is at once respectful and sensitive, which stimulates the heart and moves the conscience; one which reflects the example of the risen Jesus when he joined the disciples on the way to Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35).”
      “In the final analysis, the truth of Christ is the full and authentic response to that human desire for relationship, communion and meaning which is reflected in the immense popularity of social networks. Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the web from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others. On the contrary, believers encourage everyone to keep alive the eternal human questions which testify to our desire for transcendence and our longing for authentic forms of life, truly worthy of being lived. It is precisely this uniquely human spiritual yearning which inspires our quest for truth and for communion and which impels us to communicate with integrity and honesty.”

      I really should read more of Pope Ben XVI. :P

      • Ann-565079 March 8, 2011 Reply

        Hi, Roseanne. I just wanted to say, it really can happen. I’m in a relationship right now with someone from CM, and it was a single post of mine, (and a very simple one at that – a small thank you to another member for a heartfelt post) that caught his attention. :) So you never know… ;)

  2. Annmarie-644881 March 6, 2011 Reply

    Loved the above article as I felt it was a confirmation of some of my experiences. As a matter of course, I do always pray before entering a website. I ask for His Will for my life, as I too am a ‘seeker’. I have spent a career in Health and Public Services and I have been blessed with and experience has honed my high ‘I’…. Intuitiveness. I then pray for discernment of intuitiveness. Many times, someone will share a painful memory or a negative attitude about life in general or their relationship with the Church. I always promote the Healing Graces of the Eucharist. My e-mail note written in a Christian manner and tone, speaks to either loss, regret, pain, heartache, fear or loneliness. These are the subjects to be brought to prayer for the week. In reminding them, I remind myself also, that we can all intercede for each other. We are to conduct ourselves as children of the King and Temples of the Holy Spirit. We are all on the same journey in many ways which is to obey the only commandment Jesus Christ gave us.”Love one another as I have loved you.” So, in Love, Hope and Faith I continue my journey. Will you take my hand?

  3. Rosalie J. March 8, 2011 Reply

    Yes, it is easy to forget the other side is also real.

  4. Ron-565573 March 8, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for the thought provoking message. Many folks just want to make a connection when writing a profile, a post or a seeking description. We don’t think about speading the gospel, witnessing or setting an example for others. Your question has prompted me to attempt to eliminate the noise and clutter from my future communications.

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