An Examination of Conscience for the Internet

Since it is Advent, and since this is a time for penitence and penance, and since John the Baptist just called us last Sunday to “Repent!,” I thought it worthwhile to consider—and reconsider— how a lot of us spend our time here on the digital continent.

Over the weekend, Pope Francis called on the faithful to use the Internet as a source of hope.  Every click of the mouse, every arrow hovering over a link, can lead us either closer to or further from the Gospel.  As the Holy Father said: “Guided by the Holy Spirit, we will discover valuable opportunities to lead people to the luminous face of the Lord. Among the possibilities offered by digital communication, the most important is the proclamation of the Gospel.”

Are we doing that?  Or are we engaged in something else?

Put another way: are we sinning in cyberspace?

Earlier this year, the USCCB published a helpful Examination of Conscience for those returning to confession.  I thought the Internet could benefit from something similar. Herewith, my own adaptation of the USCCB guideline, based on the 10 commandments and keyed specifically to life online.

We don’t want to admit it, but it’s true: the online universe is one that is often infected with what my pal Elizabeth Scalia calls “dark joy”—sarcasm, mockery, disrespect, spite. We all fall prey to it. And we all feel tempted at one time or another to invite others to join in. Too often in the blogosphere that also means mocking the Church, Her leadership, Her clergy or our fellow Christians who don’t necessarily do things the way we’d like.

So take this for what it’s worth (which, admittedly, may not be much). But I think every one—and that includes, especially, me—can benefit from thinking more deeply about what we do here online, why we do it, and what the consequences might be.

***

I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange Gods before me.  Have I treated people, events or things as more important than God? Have I elevated the Internet to a deity?  Is commenting on Facebook, Twitter, or blogs supplanting my prayer life?

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Have my words, actively or passively put down God, the Church or people?   Have I inflicted wounds on the Body of Christ by showing disrespect, dissent or disdain?  Have I mocked online the leadership of the Church—whether it’s my pope, my bishop or my pastor?

Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day. Do I go to Mass when I should? Do I avoid work that impedes worship to God? Do I spend too much time on Sunday surfing the Internet and chat rooms and forums, when I could be spending time with my family or with God?

Honor your father and your mother. Do I show my parents due respect? Do I maintain good communication with my parents? Do I criticize them to others, or online?

You shall not kill. Have I harmed another through physical, verbal or emotional means, including gossip?  Have I destroyed another’s reputation online?  Have I used comments to mock, disrespect, slander or attack? Have I gleefully ridiculed another person’s failings online and enjoyed their setbacks?  Have I resorted to petty name-calling to score points or make another person feel bad? Have I robbed another of  basic human dignity online?

You shall not commit adultery. Have I respected the physical and sexual dignity of others and of myself? Have I used the Internet to visit porn sites or engage in sinful conversations about sex?

You shall not steal. Have I taken or wasted time or resources that belonged to another?  Have I spent valuable time at my job on the Internet when I should have been working?

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Have I gossiped, spread lies or embellished stories at the expense of another? Have I posted online something I suspect may not be true?

You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse.  Have I honored my spouse with my full affection and exclusive love?   Have I made my life online, and the time I spend there, more important than my life with my husband or wife?

You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods. Am I content with my own means and needs, or do I compare myself to others unnecessarily? Do I surf online shopping sites, wishing I could buy things I don’t need and being jealous or resentful of others?

***

The USCCB site also offers this:

How well do we love God and others?  Do we love as Christ calls us to? In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ gives us two commandments: “He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments’” (Mt 22”37-40.)

Not sure what love is? St. Paul describes it for us. Is this how you love God and others? “Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous. It is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13:4-8.)

That’s surely stood the test of time, and I think it remains an excellent mission statement for love, for life—and for life here online. And it’s one more reminder of how frequently and pitifully I fail at it— and how easily I fall.

Another reason for me to get to confession, and soon.


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