How do we, as individuals and as an ecclesial community, live in the digital world “loving our neighbour”, genuinely present and attentive to each other on our common journey along the “digital highways”?
“Towards Full Presence” is the title of a document released by the Dicastery for Communication that offers a pastoral reflection on people’s engagement in the digital world. The publication aims to generate a dialogue on how to make this ecosystem more human. #FullyPresent
Not the ‘Why’ but the ‘How’?
The question is no longer whether to engage with the digital world, but rather how to engage? Over the last two decades, our relationship with digital platforms has undergone an irreversible transformation.
Many Christians are asking for inspiration and guidance since social media, which is one expression of digital culture, has had a profound impact on both our faith communities and our individual spiritual journeys.
Examples of faithful and creative engagement on social media abound around the world, from both local communities as well as individuals who give witness to their faith on these platforms. There are also numerous pastoral and educational initiatives developed by local Churches, movements, communities, congregations, universities, and individuals. Since 1967, for example, the universal Church has also addressed the digital reality through its yearly World Communications Day messages, offering reflections on the topic.
In addition to these reflections, the Church’s practical engagement with social media has also been effective, through traditional media and digital technology, the Pope’s prayer reached the homes and touched the lives of people all over the world.
This document “Towards Full Presence” is the result of a reflection involving experts, teachers, young professionals and leaders, lay persons, clergy, and religious. The aim is to address some of the main questions involving how Christians should engage social media. They are not meant to be precise “guidelines” for pastoral ministry in this area. The hope, instead, is to promote a common reflection about our digital experiences, encouraging both individuals and communities to take a creative and constructive approach that can foster a culture of neighbourliness.
Something to think about
What kind of humanity is reflected in our presence in digital environments?
How much of our digital relationships is the fruit of deep and truthful communication, and how much is merely shaped by unquestioned opinions and passionate reactions?
How much of our faith finds living and refreshing digital expressions?
And who is my “neighbour” on social media?
This document explores potential answers to these and other questions under four main headings:
- Watching out for pitfalls on the digital highways
Learning to see from the perspective of the one who fell into the hands of robbers (cf. Lk 10:36).
- From Awareness to True Encounter
Learning from the one who had compassion (cf. Lk 10:33).
- From Encounter to Community
“Look after him” (cf. Lk 10:35) – extending the healing process to others.
- A Distinctive Style
Love … and you will live (cf. Lk 10:27-28).
We should remember that whatever we share in our posts, comments, and likes, in spoken or written words, in film or animated images, should align with the style that we learn from Christ. He transmitted his message not only in speech but in the whole manner of his life, revealing that communication, at its most profound level, is the giving of self in love.
Loving our neighbour in a digital world
Therefore, how we say something is just as important as what we say. All creativity lies in ensuring that the’how’ corresponds to the ‘what’. In other words, we can only communicate well if we “love well”.
We must make sure that we are a trusted source. To communicate goodness, we need quality content, a message that is oriented to help, not to harm; to promote positive action, not to waste time in useless discussions.
We travel the digital highways alongside friends and complete strangers, striving to avoid many pitfalls along the way, and we find ourselves becoming aware of the wounded on the side of the road. At times, these wounded may be other people. Sometimes we are the wounded ones.
In either case, what might have begun as a chance meeting or distracted presence on social media platforms has the potential to become people present to one another in an encounter filled with mercy. This mercy allows us to taste, already now, the Kingdom of God, and the communion that has its origin in the Holy Trinity: the true “promised land.”
It may be, that from our loving, genuine presence in these digital spheres of human life, a pathway can be opened to that which Saint John and Saint Paul longed for in their letters: the face-to-face encounter of every wounded person with the Lord’s Body, the Church, so that in a personal, heart-to-heart encounter, their wounds and ours may be healed and “our joy may be complete” (2 Jn 12).
The document concludes with this prayer:
May the image of the Good Samaritan,
who tended to the wounds of the injured man
by pouring oil and wine over them,
be our inspiration.
Let our communication be a balm
that relieves pain
and a fine wine that gladdens hearts.
May the light we bring to others
not be the result of cosmetics or special effects,
but rather of our being loving and merciful “neighbours”
to those wounded and left on the side of the road.