How much time do you spend on social media? Maybe it’s very little or maybe it’s more than you’d like to admit. But no matter how much time you spend, the way you interact on social media matters. It can be a great tool and a blessing to your life, or it can be used as a weapon and an occasion of sin. So how should Catholics approach social media?
Father Harrison Ayre, a priest in British Columbia and co-host of the podcast Clerically Speaking, stopped by The Cale Clarke Show to discuss the benefits of social media, and how Catholics should (and shouldn’t) use it.
Fr. Harrison is active on Twitter, with more than 20,000 followers. He shared with Cale how he first got started on Twitter, saying, “For me, it started as a way I got to know other priests. My diocese is really lacking in vocations. There was a period where we didn’t have ordinations for 15 or 20 years. So we need some priests here. And obviously, there are priests here that I know, but I’m an extrovert and I like hanging out and talking to people. But it ended up being a place where I got to know a lot of good priest friends … so Twitter became a place to begin friendships.”
Despite Twitter’s reputation as a place where people go to swipe and snark at others, Fr. Harrison said that he has found his experience on social media to be a positive one.
“As long as we are trying to be virtuous and authentic online, the benefit is outstanding,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of good fruit out of it. It’s not always a positive experience, but evangelization is messy. It’s going to be messy sometimes, but I don’t think we’ve even tapped in fully to the advantages yet.”
For Fr. Harrison, Twitter became a place to build friendships, and friendship is a key part of evangelization. While you may not be able to talk in person with every friend you have every day, social media offers an opportunity to talk to many friends all at once. That kind of accessibility can be a great way to strengthen friendships and give witness to your faith.
“[Social media] is where a lot of people are, just pure and simple,” said Fr. Harrison. “And it’s amazing how you might tweet out or put on Facebook something so insignificant, but because of where a person is in their life that’s exactly what they needed to hear to go and pray for the first time in a long time. Or to reinvestigate going back to Church. Or you’re speaking to questions that are on their heart that make them think this Catholic thing isn’t quite so bad.”
Social media has the potential to bring people together – but it can also tear people apart. Someone on your feed might have a different opinion than you or might post things that go against your beliefs. But rather than letting your outrage get the best of you in the Facebook comments, Fr. Harrison reminded listeners that the best way to evangelize is through your own witness. Winning an argument on social media is not going to be as effective in bringing people to Christ as prayer, penance, and a peaceful witness.
“One of my favorite theologians said, ‘The best apologetic is the saint,'” he said. “The best defense of the faith is the saint. So if we can exude a life of holiness, that will raise questions in their heart. Those questions could take years for people. But continue to propose and pray. I think that’s the most important thing, that we need to pray, to fast, and to do penance for those we want to see grow in their relationship with God.”
So what is the Catholic approach to social media? Fr. Harrison distilled it down to a simple premise: it’s all about the human person, and growing in relationship with people to bring them closer to Christ.
He said, “I think the Catholic approach is that it’s an attempt to have an encounter of persons. In which a relationship and a proposition can be had, whereby we can propose the faith through a relationship that is already established. I think that’s the Catholic approach, and that’s a bit more human.”