This blog begins our new series: All Things New. Forest Barnette offers us a fresh, new perspective on social media. During this time of social distancing, quarantines, and isolation, so much of our “communion” is online. This new way of life, as Forest offers, is a beautiful example of the “Catholic both/and.”
There are so many folks online who I want to get to know. They’ve got cool stories, great content, or maybe we’ve had some fun interactions. There are even a few individuals who I’m sure would become fast friends if we ever met.
But sliding into a stranger’s DMs with “plzzzz take a risk & get to know me I wanna be bffffffffsss” is creepy.
The hard reality is that we simply may not develop all the friendships we wish to develop this side of Heaven.
That innocent longing in us for such relationships is good and holy. It’s a built-in clue to our destiny — we were made for community.
C.S. Lewis explains how our desires, properly understood, point us to the Fulfillment of Desires.
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists,” Lewis asserts. “A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water…” (Mere Christianity, p. 136).
And likewise, a human desires infinite friendship beyond the confines of space and time: well, there is such a thing as the Communion of Saints.
While only God can completely satisfy our desire to totally know and be known by another, he lavishes love upon us and takes it a step further: like any loving father, he desires communion among his children.
Just as we were made for communion with God, we were made for communion with saints!
Not just ancient Saints, popular Saints and canonized Saints; we were made to rejoice forever with the little saints, the unknown saints, the saints down the block, and the saints online.
I was recently at a Catholic Twitter meetup in Phoenix, Arizona, organized by the World Wide Web’s Happiest Priest, Fr. Cassidy Stinson. Contrary to all the advice our parents have ever given us, each of us dropped what we were doing to go to a bar and meet strangers from the Internet.
About halfway through the meetup — as we broke bread together — Fr. Cassidy voiced a thought that had been rattling around in the back of my mind.
“I imagine this is what the Communion of Saints will be like in Heaven. We don’t really know each other but we get together and we become friends,” he said.
It’s a desire we all felt as we put faces to username that night and it’s the general motivation, I think, of social media users at large. We seek new connections outside our corner of the world because we were wired to — one day, unconfined by space and time — participate in the ultimate meetup.
After dinner, many of us returned to SLS20, the FOCUS conference that brought us to Phoenix in the first place. We arrived just in time for the night’s keynotes.
Dr. Edward Sri spoke about “loving local” — that is, putting down our phones and investing in those immediately around us. After all, we can’t give the best of ourselves to others when we’re distracted.
And he’s right.
As much as it may seem to contradict everything we’d just experienced at the meetup, it doesn’t.
One of the great beauties of the Church is the way she embraces duality: the Catholic both/and.
It’s wonderful to have real-life community in our lives and that’s so important. It’s also wonderful to have an online community that draws our attention to the wider world. We can have both.
But there is also a time for everything under the sun. A time to scroll the feed, and a time to put down the phone. A time to offer prayers for online intentions and a time to offer Christ’s love fiercely to those offline. A time to long for communion unrestrained by space and a time to foster the communion of saints-in-training that God has place in our here and now.
And all the while, we must thank God that these incomplete relationships only widen the gap of longing within us. They remind us who we were called to be.