The existence of this website attests to the Ignitum Today team’s belief in evangelizing power of the Internet. Like all other means of communication, the Internet is useful for transmitting the word of God. The call for Catholics to place Christ at the summit of all human activities covers both offline and online activities.
As an evangelizing medium, the Internet has the following specific strengths:
1. It has a wide reach. It breaks barriers of time and distance, and can transmit a message to a broader audience. Thus, it can help plant the seed of the Gospel in the souls of those who would otherwise not be reached by the traditional means of evangelization, and can serve as a channel of God’s grace to many end-users.
2. It facilitates the mobilization of off-line activities. Rallies and meetings can be organized efficiently through the social networks, and the social networks are also great places to advertise retreats, seminars, and other activities that are beneficial spiritually.
3. Its capacity to connect like-minded people with each other makes the communion of saints more real. This strengthens the faith of believers and assures those who are still considering the Catholic faith that they will never be alone in their journey to God. On a practical level, the Internet is useful for locating churches and Sunday Mass schedules while planning a trip abroad.
5. It enables quick, up-to-date commentary on current events, thus allowing Catholics to timely communicate the perspective of reason enlightened by Faith on these events.
At the same time, there are things that the Internet cannot do and ways in which the Internet can even hinder evangelization efforts.
1. The Internet cannot, by itself, effect conversions. Conversions are the response of human freedom to God’s grace. All that online evangelization can do is provide a channel for God’s grace, or at least not hinder the working of grace.
2. The Internet is not always conducive to an exposition of the truths of the Faith with the thoroughness they deserve. Not all questions about the Faith can be answered in a short Facebook comment and not all online content allows itself to be read with the degree of reflection needed to grasp the truths of the Faith.
3. Neither is the Internet the best venue for giving and receiving personalized spiritual advice. Evangelizing always involves “shepherding”, that is, personally guiding people according to their specific spiritual needs. This is because God deals with souls individually and not en masse. Facebook threads are not the best places to address the specific concerns of souls – especially their spiritual concerns. Online evangelization can never replace what St. Josemaria Escriva calls “the apostolate of friendship”.
4. In relation to the last item, the Internet is no substitute for the sacraments. One cannot post one’s sins online to obtain absolution – and the Internet is not protected by the sacramental seal, either.
5. Just as the Internet can make the communion of saints more real, it also, unfortunately, showcases the worst behaviour of people, including believers. In one of his hardest-hitting quotes, St. Josemaria Escriva, in #263 of The Furrow, lists some signs of lack of humility. I am sure I have, at one time or another, displayed some of them in my own online behaviour – “always wanting to get your own way”; “arguing when you are not right or – when you are – insisting stubbornly or with bad manners”; “giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so;” “despising the point of view of others”. Indeed, the line between assertiveness and arrogance, between candor and tactlessness, can be blurred online. Because of the anonymity that the Internet provides, as well as the way it facilitates publishing one’s views without thinking first, online discussions on even Catholic topics can degenerate into “ad hominem-fests” that do more harm than good to people following them.
6. Finally, active online evangelization can give one a false sense of effectiveness and can take up time that can be used for more meaningful offline works of charity. One can easily get sucked into never-ending online discussions with like-minded people and feel flattered by the “likes” that one’s comments get, without realizing that the time could have been used by giving a listening ear to someone offline who needs it or saying a decade of the rosary for another person’s conversion.
The key to maximizing the potentials of the Internet as a means of evangelization, and to minimizing the harms inherent in the medium, is to practice prudence. Prudence in Internet evangelization means deciding on and using the best online tools for one’s apostolate (this article may help). It also means balancing one’s time online with offline apostolates that include bringing people to the sacraments. With regard to blog and Facebook comments, it means prayerfully deciding when and how to continue a discussion with a sincere questioner, or to drop a discussion with a troll. It means asking oneself before typing and clicking the “Post” button, “Is my motive to defend Christ and His Church, or to vindicate my bruised ego?”
Finally, online evangelization is no different from offline evangelization in that both are useless without prayer. It is a good habit to pray for those whom we encounter and those who will encounter us online. This will be more effective in bringing them to Christ than the wittiest ripostes we can think of during the heat of online debates.