I recently read a post on social media which disturbed me. The writer was responding – critically and, I felt, with more than a hint of arrogance – to something someone else had written. He said this – “Catholicism is a set of doctrines”. It seemed to me that the writer had entirely missed the point of the faith we profess.
Catholicism holds up a set of doctrines which flow from our faith and which support it, and to which we are required to give our assent in order to properly be part of the Catholic Church. But that is very different to stating that Catholicism is a set of doctrines. It is far, far more. And above all else – it is relationship. It is our relationship with the God Who loves us, and Whom we love in return. It is a way of life based on that loving relationship. But love is the basis of it – not knowledge of doctrines.
This is how the Catechism describes it –
“Those who with God’s help have welcomed Christ’s call and freely responded to it are urged on by love of Christ to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world. This treasure, received from the Apostles, has been faithfully guarded by their successors. All Christ’s faithful are called to hand it on from generation to generation, by professing the faith, by living it in fraternal sharing, and by celebrating it in liturgy and prayer.”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, para.3)
The Saints describe it in similar terms. St John of the Cross, for example, told us that “in the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone”. There are many similar quotations from the Saints and from the Holy Fathers over the centuries. But I have not yet seen one who tells us that at our particular judgement, there will be an examination we must sit to test our knowledge of the doctrines of the Church, a test we must pass before reaching Heaven. Love alone will be the test; on that, we will either fail or succeed.
Social media is not the best place to judge Catholicism – at least, I hope it is not, and I hope it is not representative of the broader Church. Presently, I find social media terribly frustrating and disappointing and – often – a real challenge to my patience and my charity, such that I am beginning to avoid it more and more. I am greatly limiting time spent on it, how much I write – and how much I read. So many accounts – often with Latin names, I notice – seem to have the intention either of signalling their own sense of virtue, or of extolling their knowledge of religion. But there is difference between knowledge of religion and practice of the faith, shown through the love of God and of neighbour; Satan is a great example of one who knows much about religion and about God – but who has no love for Him. We, on the other hand, are invited to know God rather than simply to know about God, There is a marked difference between the two.
Something else I notice is that I am now very carefully curating those accounts I follow – there are, for example, no ‘celebrity priests’, as it often seems to me that the cult of celebrity brings it’s own issues. There are not really too many accounts I follow who have inordinately large followings, for broadly similar reasons. And neither are there any organisations – far too often, these tend to be partisan in outlook or else they stray into politics. While I have a great interest in politics, I am very careful never to confuse politics and religious belief. It goes without saying that any accounts which are overtly “left” or “right” or who feel the need to qualify their Catholicism with prefixes or suffixes, do not make it onto my list either. Previously, I had two social media accounts with corresponding websites, each with large followings. Recognising, as time wore on, that they were beginning to present dangers to my faith and to my spiritual life, I ditched both of them. Now, there is one simple account with a far, far smaller following – and this suits me well, not least of all because it limits the time I spend on social media when I could be doing something more productive and worthwhile.
I don’t intend any of this to sound judgemental with regard to particular persons or organisations or anything else. But the bottom line for me is this – I intend to use social media to support and to enhance the living of my faith, to encourage me when it is hard, to challenge me when I am lax, and to give me a means to identify needs in others for which I can then pray. If I find that social media does not do these things, or if I find that my relationship with it threatens my interior peace or leaves me unsettled, then I have no place for it.