Usually on this Sunday (formerly Septuagesima) I begin a series of posts about preparing for Lent. I’ll probably still write something over the coming weeks, but there is a lot of material already on this blog. If interested, please do a search using such terms as ‘penance’, ‘Lent’, ‘prayer’, ‘almsgiving’, ‘fasting’, ‘Lent books’ and so on. I’ll let you know our plans for sharing Lenten reading a little later. This morning, however, I want to make a very simple plea, addressed in the first place to my fellow Catholics but applicable to all persons of goodwill.
Please, please, please THINK before launching attacks on others in social media and elsewhere. Debate is good and often leads to fresh insights; wit and humour can lighten the mood; but name-calling, condemning others because they hold views we don’t share (as opposed to challenging those views with careful argument), hurling insults and threats, these have no place in our life online or off. They diminish us, they make a mockery of what we profess to believe and ultimately, I think, they increase the store of anger and evil in the world.
Recently, there has been an explosion of bad-tempered comments on Twitter and Facebook that have left me wondering whether people really believe what they say they believe. I had thought that the exodus of some people from both platforms following the inauguration of President Biden would lead to a calmer, more thoughtful exchange of views, but I have been disappointed in my hope. Neither ‘Catholic Twitter’ nor ‘Catholic Facebook’ is a very pleasant place to be at times.
I daresay some will regard my plea for more considerate behaviour as akin to the bleating of a well-meaning sheep, but when one’s expected lifespan is short, one realises that some of our so-called values can be turned on their head. Many of us will never achieve anything very great in this life. We will certainly never batter others into believing as we do or acting as we think they ought, but the way in which we engage with other people will be remembered and may have a profound effect. Jesus could be straight-talking, but he was never rude, never dismissive. He was always ready to explain and encourage. Even when he drove the money-changers out of the temple or questioned the motives of those setting a trap for him, he turned such events into an opportunity for teaching. We are not Jesus, but perhaps if we saw Jesus in other people as we profess to do, we would be more like him and act accordingly. And that, I maintain, really would change the world.