“From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? … This is what will make the internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man.” —Pope St. John Paul II
Being a bad Catholic is easy. Seeking holiness lives just alongside noticing how much holier you are compared to others. It’s easy to see evil in the culture, yet, that is its own minefield — loving the sinner but not the sin while also not being deaf, dumb and blind to it.
Frequenting Catholic websites should encourage union with Catholic teaching and loving God and others, but some sites actually encourage sin. There are some sites with a Catholic facade pushing false information, pride, anger and character assassination. Given the recent scandals in our Church, we are all cynics now to one degree or another. How can we not be? The danger, however, lies in getting led astray by those who make a sport of pride and unchristian behavior.
Deepening our love for God and neighbor will help us to see clearly when a website or author encourages the opposite. Here are things to look for when evaluating a site.
- What good are they doing? Do they primarily tear down or are they building up the Church and souls? I’m not against reporting bad news, but I’m against reveling in it or having it dominate.
- “No comment” does not equal guilt. Not commenting might be due to guilt, but we cannot assume that. Sometimes giving a statement is not possible due to company or Church policy, ongoing investigations and legal restrictions including canon law, or going against a code of ethics. Cardinal Sarah, in a reflection quoted in the Magnificat said, “Silence and prayer are not a form of defection. They are the strongest weapons against evil. Man wants to ‘do; but above all else he must ‘be.’”
- Beware of adjectives. Emotionally laden or condemning adjectives do not belong in news stories. Are the facts being reported or emotions being manipulated?
- Watch out for headlines. Headlines sometimes sensationalize and do not accurately represent the story. They often get shared on social media and spread misleading information since many people don’t read the article.
- Pay attention to the comments. Trolls can show up anywhere, but if the mean-spirited comments are dominant, the site is attracting a bad crowd.
- Beware of gossip and calumny. Tabloids love it; Catholics should shun it. Our human nature is attracted to bad news but consider if it is either lifting up the faith or informing us on important matters. Regarding sexual and financial scandals in the Church, those are sad realities that I think the laity should know about. But is the site reveling in those stories and stuck in that topic, or do they also include positive material?
- Check out their sources. When I see a dramatic story, I look to see if it’s verified anywhere and what their sources are. Bad sites sometimes make statements without citing sources. Consider also if the sources are reputable.
- Is prayer included? Does this site encourage prayer or do they like to trash people and organizations? But be leery of someone who writes an unchristian article full of gossip and then asks us to pray for the subject, as if that exonerates the author.
- Guilt is not by association. Some sites assume guilt based on working with or simply knowing a guilty person. It’s not unusual to think you know someone and end up shocked by scandalous revelations, so don’t make such assumptions with others.
- Sin of omission: If something doesn't fit into the outlet’s agenda, do they leave it out?
- Constant negativity. The phrase “if it bleeds it leads” directs newsrooms because fear, horror and anger attract attention. If a site you visit is stuck in a negative universe, get out and recalibrate. We are all called to preach the Good News.
To inoculate yourself from getting off the Christian path, read the words of Jesus in Scripture. Also read good books such as the classic The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis. One I’m reading now is 60 Days to Becoming a Missionary Disciple by Father John Bartunek. “Followers of Christ are called not only to know and love God more and more,” he wrote, “but also to be God’s partner in bringing others to do the same, thereby lovingly helping them discover the ‘pearl of great price’ (Matthew 13:46). Those two loves — love for God and love for neighbor — constitute the only path of true lasting fulfillment. In these commandments lies the meaning of our very existence.”
Seeking holiness will always tempt us to notice the unholy ones. We cannot completely stop it and I’m not even saying we should. And it’s often a matter of opinion to what extent we should call out bad behavior. In the end, we can only seek love, pray for others and at least not make a sport of attacking others.