“Priests should use the Internet to evangelize more.” That’s what Pope Benedict’s World Communications Day message says. “But how?” That’s the question many priests have. The Register asked some experts. This is part seven in a series.

The mandate of Christ is clear and unambiguous: proclaim the Gospel to the nations and invite everyone to share Christ’s life in his Church. Contemporary media technologies offer not only priests, but all the faithful, a means to fulfill this mandate in an unprecedented way.

These technologies are not just a novelty or idiosyncratic, but integral to an emerging global culture that offers not just an effective means of communication, but the possibility of new communities that can transcend the limits imposed by geography and national borders. Because of these new technologies, the Church is now able to share the Gospel with many who would never darken the doors of our institutions or who might never meet a Catholic face to face. 

The promise of these new technologies led to the development of my own media apostolate, Word On Fire Catholic Ministries (www.WordOnFire.org). The purpose of this evangelization outreach is to utilize new technologies in creative ways that enhance the rapport between the Faith and the culture and that offer an experience of the Church that is grounded in intelligence and in truth.

I am ready to release a new blog, which I intend to be an online magazine for Word On Fire, that will have as its purpose to advance the dialogue of faith, culture and theology. Through these technologies, we have the opportunity, to not only speak or write about the Faith, but we can show the Faith as well—a fact that I hope to display with stunning effectiveness in a ten part documentary series for TV and DVD—currently being produced by Word On Fire, called “CATHOLICISM.”

The Catholic faith is not only an intelligent and literate religion, it is beautiful, a fact that we should be ready and willing to show to the world.

Of course, like any finite reality, human narrowness and limitation can subvert the good offered to us by the new media technologies. One of the greatest dangers in the Church’s appropriation and application of contemporary media is favoring superficiality over substance.

The Gospel cannot be reduced to a sound bite. We can and should make the Tradition of the Church accessible, but we cannot make it easy. Many of the opportunities afforded by social networking are dreadfully self-referential, which is a sharp contrast to the Lord’s missionary mandate that insists we not proclaim ourselves, but Christ the Lord.

Also there is a temptation to view the identity and relationships mediated by technology as more virtual than real, invented by human willfulness, rather than grounded in truth and in love, a fact that we can see in the cruelty and coarseness that pervades so many Internet conversations.

These limitations can perhaps be overcome if the first step in the Church’s application of new technologies to the work of evangelization is the mastery of older technologies. By this I mean the disciplining of mind and interior life that comes from a serious study of the Church’s great intellectual tradition.

It is not enough for priests to simply bring themselves to the Internet; we have to be accompanied by Augustine, Aquinas, Bonaventure, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux. The impact and influence of the spiritual masters and saints of the Catholic tradition must be evident, and our encounter with these heavenly friends is still best mediated by the encounter with the printed word. We cannot share what we do not know and we will not know the Faith without intense prayer and study.

As I noted earlier, we cannot settle for superficiality. There is already plenty of superficiality on the Internet and the Church should show itself as offering something unique, rather than aspiring to banality. The Church offers an opportunity of profundity and depth, a foundation upon which one can base the whole of one’s life.

What we can deliver through contemporary media is something much greater than the fleeting moment of an email, a Facebook comment or a blog posting; we offer a new way of life, in this world, and in a world that is yet to come. 

Therefore, let’s use all these new media technologies to advance the mission of the Church, but let’s not allow ourselves to be used by them.

Fr. Robert Barron is the founder of WordOnFire.org. He was named Francis Cardinal George Chair of Faith and Culture at The University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois and teaches Systematic Theology there. 

‘Priests Online’ Series

Part 6: ‘Men in Black’ Belong in the Combox   Deacon John Burns
Being a part of online conversations is key to priestly presence on the Internet.

Part 5: ‘Get Rid of the Website: Advice to Ignore  Father Len Plazewski
Keep the website, but get on Facebook too: vocation recruiting in 2010.

Part 4: Social Media Evangelization: 18 Ways  Ana Roca Castro
The horizons for new media evangelization are limitless. This should get you started.

Part 3: Are Priests Afraid of Facebook?  Father Jose de Jesus Palacios
Why aren’t more priests active on social networking sites?

Part 2: Getting Online? Get Help!  Father Leo Patalinghug
The key to a vibrant online ministry isn’t technical savvy, but knowing who to count on for help.

Part 1: Broadcasting and Narrowcasting the Gospel  Father Dwight Longenecker
Sometimes “preaching to the choir” is part of our mission too, but the fruits will surprise you.