Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
I recently came across an excerpt in Finding God’s Will for You by St. Francis de Sales that is startlingly appropriate to modern life. He warns the reader of those who think they’re doing God’s work but are actually listening to inspiration that is not of God at all:
God’s servants who have had the highest and most exalted inspirations have been the gentlest and most peaceable men in all the world. Such were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses is called “a man exceedingly meek above all men.” David is praised for his mildness.
On the contrary, the evil spirit is turbulent, bitter, and restless. Those who follow his hellish suggestions in the belief that they are heavenly inspirations can usually be recognized because they are unsettled, headstrong, haughty, and ready to undertake or meddle in affairs. Under the pretext of zeal, they subvert everything, criticize everyone, rebuke everyone, and find fault with everything. They are men without self-control and without consideration, who put up with nothing. In the name of zeal for God’s honor, they indulge in the passions of self-love.
Let’s face it: There’s something about the Internet that tempts us toward the latter behavior. The Christian conduct that you see in online forums, comboxes, and social media sites is not usually the best that the Church has to offer. And if you’ve never been tempted to use your keyboard to say things on the Web out of anger, frustration or self-righteousness that you would never, ever say to anyone in person, you’re a better person than I am.
Based on St. Francis de Sales’ uncannily appropriate words of wisdom, I offer this handy quiz for all of us to post on our computer monitors and complete before we hit Submit on our next blog or social media updates:
1. When I consider what I am about to type, I feel:
A. Peaceable and meek
B. Unsettled, haughty or headstrong
2. How do I feel right now about undertaking or meddling in affairs?
A. Not Ready
3. Based on my past few Facebook/Twitter/blog updates, people would describe me as:
A. “A (wo)man exceedingly meek above all men”
B. “Turbulent,” “bitter” or “restless”
4. Does what I’m about to write subvert, criticize, rebuke or find fault with something?
B. Umm, yes
5. I am in the mood to put up with:
A. Some things
6. Let’s be real: What is the true motivation behind what I’m about to post?
A. Zeal for God’s honor
Give yourself 2 points for every A answer, and 0 points for every time you answered B.
If you scored over 10 points: Congratulations! You are like a fire hose of the Holy Spirit with your online activity. What you’re about to write is undoubtedly going to bless people’s socks off. You may want to consider printing it as an aid to your future cause for canonization.
If you scored 6 - 10 points: Well, nobody’s perfect. You’ve probably used the words “Facebook” or “blog” in the confessional before, so the priest won’t be surprised when you mention it again. Go have a glass of wine and watch a little EWTN, and see if your update still seems worth posting in an hour.
If you scored 0 - 4 points: Step aaaawwwaaaaaay from the computer. You’ve probably been banned from most blog comboxes and blocked from everyone’s Facebook walls, so you wouldn’t have much of an audience for your updates anyway. Say a prayer to St. Francis de Sales, specifically asking that he intercede to have your internet connection shut down and your computer break for a couple of weeks. Use that time to go to confession, say a bunch of Hail Mary’s, and promise God that you’ll stop being an Internet jerk.