There are four major components of Christian life in which we train the catechumens: word, community, worship, and witness through works of mercy (see RCIA 75).
Today, we have to ask how these areas of Christian life translate in the digital culture. (Click here to read my previous article on evangelization and catechesis in a digital culture.)
In Connected Toward Communion, Daniella Zsupan-Jerome writes about the traditions of the digital culture. Her description of digital cultural traditions is based on her conversation with then Monsignior Paul Tighe who was the secretary for the Pontifical Council for Social Communication. (Tighe has since been ordained a bishop and is now the Adjunct Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture.)
Tighe describes four traditions: following, friending, searching, and sharing. These four traditions can be somewhat aligned with the four areas of Christian life identified in the RCIA. To the extent they are aligned, those of us who are digital immigrants can learn how to inculturate Christian values in the digital world.
A suitable catechesis is provided … planned to be gradual and complete in its coverage, accommodated to the liturgical year, and solidly supported by celebrations of the word. This catechesis leads the catechumens not only to an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate. (RCIA 75.1)
In the digital world, we might explore the disciplines related to the Word component of formation by engaging in the practice of following. Digital natives are sometimes obsessed with the number of followers they have for their online presence. This can become an unhealthy obsession that objectifies the person at the other end of the “like” button. But conversely, following someone online can be an invitation to hospitality, receptivity, dialogue, and discipleship.
Non-native evangelists can begin following select blogs, websites, and social media platforms as a way of immersing themselves in digital culture. If you are not regularly following anyone, I would suggest these as a place to begin:
As you begin to learn the conventions of posting online, you might begin your own social media site and thereby attract your own followers.
As they become familiar with the Christian way of life and are helped by the example and support of sponsors, godparents, and the entire Christian community, the catechumens learn to turn more readily to God in prayer, to bear witness to the faith, in all things to keep their hopes set on Christ, to follow supernatural inspiration in their deeds, and to practice love of neighbor, even at the cost of self-renunciation. Thus formed, the newly converted set out on a spiritual journey…. (RCIA 75.2)
A cultural driver for the digital world is friending. Evangelists can engage in the discipline of community life online through friending. A hallmark of Jesus’s ministry was his ability to friend others, especially those who were different and outcast. Recall the story of the Good Samaritan, which began with a scribe — a communications expert — asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29). Today, he might have asked, “Who is my online friend?” Friending — creating networks of meaning and relationship — is a tradition we can easily adopt in the digital world. Some places you can find or create online communities and friends include:
- Flickr.com (photo sharing)
- GoodReads.com (book lovers)
- LinkedIn.com (professional networking)
- Reddit.com (social news)
- Twitter.com (micro blogging)
The Church, like a mother, helps the catechumens on their journey by means of suitable liturgical rites, which purify the catechumens little by little and strengthen them with God’s blessing. Celebrations of the word of God are arranged for their benefit, and at Mass they may also take part with the faithful in the liturgy of the word, thus better preparing themselves for their eventual participation in the liturgy of the eucharist. Ordinarily, however, when they are present in the assembly of the faithful they should be kindly dismissed before the liturgy of the eucharist begins. (RCIA 75.3)
Worship in the digital world is difficult from a Catholic perspective because of our need to physically gather together to pray as the Body of Christ.
The closest analogy a non-native evangelist might find for the discipline of worship in the digital world is the practice of searching. If our physical worship and prayer is ultimately a search for union with the Creator, evangelists can begin to understand the passion for searching that occurs among digital natives. The Internet exists to facilitate search. Digital natives browse, surf, research, and gather information almost incessantly. It is a small step for us to connect this need to search with the search for truth and the search for peace.
Google is the premier search engine online, and here are some others you might explore:
- SlideShare.com (slide presentations)
- Blinkx.com (video)
Witness through works of mercy
Since the Church’s life is apostolic, catechumens should also learn how to work actively with others to spread the Gospel and build up the Church by the witness of their lives and by professing their faith. (75.4)
Most digital natives believe in open-source. That is, everything is “in the cloud,” open and available to anyone. If I have a helpful snippet of code or the answer to a frustrating computer error, I upload it to a public server for the benefit of all. This is so clearly connected with the ethos of the community of disciples in Acts, who shared all things in common, that it should seem an easy practice for us to adopt the online practice of sharing. The ultimate goal of this culture of sharing is sharing ourselves, especially with those who are in need.
As a way of learning the language of sharing in the digital world, I would encourage you to share an online comment, an idea, a resource, or a review at least once a week. These can be spiritual in nature, but they don’t have to be. Just the practice of sharing, in whatever form, can sow the seeds of witness. Some places to practice sharing include:
- Yelp.com (local business reviews — including churches)
- TripAdvisor.com (travel)
- Pinterest.com (creative pin board)
Share your thoughts
And of course, you can begin the discipline of sharing right now. Please share your thoughts about evangelizing in the digital culture in the comments box below.