Monday, April 19, 2021

Social Media and the "Mystical Body of Christ"?

People move all over the world in this era (well, they did until COVID, and they will do it again in the future), yet that doesn't mean that they disappear entirely from our lives. Genuine friends remain vitally connected even "at a distance" by virtue of the crucial experiences we have shared together, our ongoing interpersonal commitment, and an enduring common bond of mutual concern. Underlying all these particulars is our essential unity as members of the human family.

There are many levels to the bonds that unite people in various ways, and friendship actualizes itself on all those levels. It is a fundamental human experience that has always found ways to endure separation and even grow deeper from long distances. Techniques and methods of communications media have developed since ancient times: not only for the conveyance of instruction and information, or for commercial transactions, but also to sustain interpersonal relationships between human beings. The "personal letter" (and a postal service that delivers it) is almost as old as writing itself. Then, in the early stages of the technological revolution, the telephone bridged time and space, and brought together the voices of people far from each other. And in the last few decades we have seen an explosion of instantaneous audiovisual communications media on a global scale.

Even with the complex problems and superficiality that have arisen in the "new media" culture, it certainly testifies to the fundamental human desire for connection, rooted in our basic perception of our common humanity and aspiring to grow through interpersonal relationships. Social media has lots of problems, but it can also foster and maintain bonds between people.

There is still more to say regarding human intercommunication and human fraternity. This realm, in a particular way and with a special significance, is being transformed and brought to fulfillment by that singular event in history and its enduring presence that call us - as individuals, as friends, as communities - to the fullness of life for which we have been created.

The whole human experience has an ultimate and concrete purpose; it has been taken entirely into a Greater Love. The Mystery beyond all things, the Infinite One who is the Source of everything, has embraced our humanity within a human Heart that He has made His own: He who shapes the destiny of every human person has chosen to accompany each of us from before our first heartbeat to our final heartbeat and beyond... with a human Heart of His own. His living Heart draws from within - in countless, untold, mysterious ways - the desire of every human heart. He draws each of us to the only destiny that can fulfill our real selves, which is to share His victory and His glory. This is Jesus Christ, who died and who has risen from the dead.

The miracle we celebrate in these days of Easter is the new foundation of human history, revealing the mystery of the Father's plan from the beginning: to put all things under the headship of Christ His Son (see Ephesians 1:10). Every facet of human experience, human interaction, and human life has been transformed and given a new meaning by the Person who has transformed our humanity by making it His own, by dwelling with us, by living with us a truly human life, by dying for us and rising for us.

As members of Christ's body, our friendships with one another are more meaningful that we ever would have imagined. We are "given to one another" for a reason, to strengthen the vitality of Christ's visible presence in this world. His grace and the purpose of His wisdom already pervade our friendship in all its human details, no matter how mundane. Though we so often forget this, it remains true that our relationships are encompassed within the flame of charity that rises from the Easter candle.

Jesus also encompasses our friendships with non-Christians: in our faithful witness to Him and the whole truth of His redeeming love, in the sharing of our common humanity (which is His humanity), in the mutual enrichment of an honest and open dialogue, and also in many hidden and mysterious ways which I will address in another blog post. The point I want to stress, in any case, is that connection-between-human-beings has been redeemed and consecrated by the healing and transforming love of the Risen Jesus.

This is something we must remember when we use social media. Saint Paul used the "social media" of his day - letters - to communicate with people in the communities he knew, where he had once lived. He even sent letters to communities he had never met, to places he had not yet visited (e.g. his letter to the Romans, written before he went to Rome). He had no doubt that through this media he was sharing his own person with other persons, joined together by the humanity of the Risen Jesus and the hope of eternal life. And the particular circumstances in people's lives mattered: they were the stuff of human relationships in Christ: he asks after the health of friends, praises others, recalls details of their past companionship together that have earned his enduring trust, and even advises Timothy to take "a little wine" for his stomach troubles. (I'm not going to cite all these references; most often they are near the conclusion of his letters).

Christians who belong to one another in Christ can, in a similar way, see value in the social media of today. It is true that it so easily becomes a distraction, but if we bring it every day to Jesus, entrusting it to Him and beginning again with the determination to remember Him in our use of social media, we will grow in our capacity to focus on what matters within the context of our day and all of our particular responsibilities.

What a blessing this can be for friends who no longer live in proximity to one another (or who can't see each other for a period of time due to constraints like those we've seen with COVID). We can all still share our joys and pains, and encourage and pray for one another even as we grow in new ways. 

Social media can actually be used by Jesus to help us remember that we are not alone in this world. We are together in Christ, in his Mystical Body. We can use the human tools of social media to help us remember that friendship in Christ never ends, that we carry one another into new places and continue to help one another in witness and suffering. This extends "down" to the details of ordinary daily life, which we can "share" - in some measure - in honesty and sincerity by means of our verbal and audiovisual communication.

Let us therefore be grateful to hear about and see pics of new things. We have opportunities here to stay in touch in a rich way. Even as God calls us to new things, old friendships will grow as we seek to grow in Him. This is a mystery, and it does not need social media to happen, but these are tools we can use to help us remember that the "Mystical Body" is not an abstraction.

Our friendship, our support for one another, and the witness it gives are good reasons not to give up on social media, in spite of its limitations or the flaws of various media platforms. Jesus Christ has won the victory in all things, and our confidence and strength are in Him.