As Catholics, we are rooted in the incarnation – God became flesh to redeem a people, a people that went on to redeem an empire, and an empire that became a Church to redeem the world. The redemption of the temporal order is core to who we are and what we practice. We touch God sacramentally and commune with Him in the Holy Eucharist. We go forth to build the Kingdom by taking territory for God: sanctifying our homes in marriage, our workplaces in prayer and friendship, and the very land we walk by our presence as Christians.
Canon law structures the Church around geographic territories – the parish, the diocese, etc. As laity, we are under the pastoral care of Bishops who are given authority over territory, responsible for the souls of the people within their geographic boundaries. In short, God is the God of the Heavens and the Earth, and He incarnated in the material world to give us a Church tasked with restoring order in creation – to reunify Heaven and Earth. We pray this at every Mass, ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.’
In light of the fact that the Church is structured to save souls who sanctify physical territory, how should the Church approach digital? Its very structure is incongruous with the digital realm, which is non-territorial. And yet, at this moment in time, we are forced to operate digitally. The mission must progress despite a global pandemic, laity dispensed from the sacraments, separated from the communities that root us in our Christian identity and relegated to online masses, conferences and events. There is no ecclesiological precedent for what the Church is supposed to do today. We are largely in the dark. But, the world remains far from Christ and we must still gain ground.
Perhaps the next territory the Lord is asking us to take is the internet itself. We can not forget that all things – even the internet – are under the Church’s power and authority given by Jesus.
I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-29)
We know that digital has great power for good, but up to this point it has largely been a force for evil. From the desecration of the human person through pornography to its effects in breaking down families, to the disruption of economies, to the very disruption of the nation state as we know it, the internet has been an agent of chaos and division, not unification.
Ephesians 2:2 names Satan as the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” We see this title exemplified in his rule over our airwaves and the work he is doing to foment revolution and disobedience in our nation and in our world at this very moment. But, we know that the gates of hell cannot prevail against a Church on the move.
In my seven years working for the Church on digital initiatives, I have seen the power of a Church that isn’t afraid to wield these tools to build the kingdom. I’ve met a woman who was saved from suicide after a Facebook post came through her feed at just the right moment, I’ve heard too many conversion stories to count because of content discovered online, I’ve been thanked by a woman who was released from years of self-hatred and gender confusion after she received an invitation to a Catholic event online. The list goes on.
So, how exactly do we continue this work to sanctify the digital realm?
First, in all things we must pray. We need to cry out to God for the powers that govern the airwaves and digital world to be bound and broken. In this, we must ask Mary and the Angels for particular assistance and we need to ask the Bishops, who have special authority in these matters to take up this prayer.
Second, we need to support the great work of organizations that are doing everything they can to pivot to provide the Faith digitally when we can’t get together physically. Support the upcoming Napa digital conference, share it with your friends, host a watch party. Support the Augustine Institute, Ignatius Press, Word on Fire, OSV, EWTN and so many others who are doing their best to wade into this new world and these new technologies.
Third, we have to use our influence to build collaboration among the Bishops, apostolates and organizations doing this work. Unfortunately, many are entering digital with a material mindset. It is important that we only support the organizations that are willing to work together, willing to share data, and willing to share resources. The Church is fully equipped for this effort if we are able to work together, but woefully under-resourced when we are more concerned with building our own kingdoms than the Kingdom of God.
Fourth, If you want to unite heaven and earth including the digital realm, do it first in yourself. Have integrity in how you live your Catholicism and share your Catholicism. Don’t be afraid to be the voice crying out in the wilderness online. And, don’t forget that your voice must carry love.
I look forward to joining you all digitally on August 14-15 at the Napa Virtual Conference and to uniting with you in prayer for our effort to claim the world, including the internet for Jesus.
Matt Meeks is the CEO of Catholic Ventures, a technology company working to develop a unifying Catholic platform through strategic investments and initiatives in software, data and online communities. He was previously Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer of the Augustine Institute overseeing FORMED and Chief Digital and Marketing Officer of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Prior to working in the Church, he held executive positions at leading advertising agencies and Hollywood studios. He is married with two sons, living in Denver, CO.
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