I am a repeat Facebook deleter. Since I was allowed to have my first Facebook account as a teenager, I have deleted it multiple times. Now, there are days that I am still tempted to remove myself from the social media platform, but then I am reminded of the benefits it provides.
The Roses and Thorns of Social Media
Facebook has brought me to tears by friends sharing about vulnerable challenges they are working through in their life yet continuing to place their trust in God (things like infertility, miscarriages, depression, cancer diagnoses, etc.).
It’s a great place to find out about local events like our library’s story time for kids, concerts in the park, farmer’s markets, and food truck festivals!
I also love it for the ways it helps me to take a peek into the lives of my sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews who live a state away! Seeing them in person is always better, but it brightens my day to see my family enjoying the amusement park I grew up going to as a kid, or even seeing them eating popsicles in their backyards!
At the same time, the use of social media can be isolating and destructive. We must be vigilant lest we fall into the internet becoming our primary means of socialization and, as Pope Francis says, become “social hermits.” It can be destructive to ourselves by enabling us to so easily compare our lives to others. It can be destructive to our neighbor if we use our online perusing to be a source of gossip or fail to be respectful in our comments or posts.
Direction from Dorothy Day
The internet allows for anonymity, and this anonymity can be the fuel one needs to make nasty comments online (or maybe honest comments, but made without prudence and charity). There are countless virtual “fights” between people who have never met each other before. This lack of personal encounter makes it easy to cross the line from respect into mockery. Without knowing the background of the brothers and sisters we engage with online, it is crucial to tread lightly. Lead with patience and openness. Give it a few hours or even a couple of days before firing off a post at lightning bolt speed, creating a word storm potentially wreaking havoc. If that comment is still burning inside of you after allowing an appropriate amount of time to pass, pray about how you can offer your opinion with a merciful heart and words inspired by the Holy Spirit.
As Dorothy Day said:
Everything a baptized person does every day should be directly or indirectly related to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
These Works of Mercy are our guide to help us serve our neighbor both spiritually and physically. They can also be our roadmap for growing in relationship with others beyond the facade of our screens.
Corporal Works of Mercy
The Corporal Works of Mercy call us to tend to the basic needs of our neighbor. The Catechism states that these works include feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, burying the dead, and giving alms to the poor. Here are some concrete ways to live out these acts of charity and justice!
Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, and Give Alms to the Poor
Have you recently seen one of the friends you follow post on social media about serving at a local food shelter or pantry? Consider reaching out to them to find out how you can volunteer your time in the same way.
Maybe you could create a Facebook event where you invite others to donate needed items and bring them to your house so that you could drop them off at the pantry or go together for an afternoon of volunteering.
Another option is setting up a Meal Train for a friend in need and sharing it (with their permission) on social media!
Sheltering the Homeless
Similar to the first point, look up nearby homeless shelters and set up a time to go serve and invite some of your friends on social media to join. Or ask your parish if they could create an event on Facebook that you could share on your wall, inviting others into.
Another option would be to find a homeless shelter that you would like others to donate to in place of a birthday gift.
Visiting the Sick and Burying the Dead
Have you seen one of your friends post online about an illness or death in their family? Give them a call to see how they’re doing or write them a note letting them know you are praying for them.
Visiting the Imprisoned
Around Christmas time, use your Facebook search under “Events” to see if there is somewhere that you can buy and donate gifts for children whose parent/s are incarcerated. Angel Tree is a great place to start.
Spiritual Works of Mercy
The Spiritual Works of Mercy call us to meet our neighbor’s spiritual needs. “Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently” (CCC 2447).
Instructing and Advising
People are often asking for guidance on social media. When it comes to those looking for direction, say a prayer for the person you are reaching out to before answering. Then, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words to say.
Consoling and Comforting
Instead of just typing, “I’m sorry,” and hitting “send” to the person you see in your life who is going through a hard time, send them a handwritten note via snail mail to let them know you are praying for them and ask them if there is anything you can do to help.
Forgiving and Bearing Wrongs Patiently
There are many times in our lives when we may feel wronged. Sometimes through the words we read on one of our social media accounts. The next time you find yourself stewing by a comment online, take a moment to pray for patience.
As mentioned earlier, hit pause and refrain from posting a reply until at least a few hours have passed. Then go before the Lord and ask Him if he wants you to respond, and if he does, then ask Him how.
Which work of mercy has you excited to serve?