It just sounds strange, doesn’t it? Like the bishop of Rome is outside my window, tweeting along with the birds. But it’s not the sound of birds: it’s the voice of Peter, echoing down the millennia, and finding a new wineskin for the new wine of the gospel.
The news is all over the net today, so you’ve probably already had a chance to check out his initial message and his answers to questions posted on the #askpontifex hashtag. For a man who’s written thousands of pages, compressing his message into 140 characters without sounding like a fortune cookie will be a challenge, but he seems to be rising to it. His first question and answer:
How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?
By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need
Short and to the point. That’s about all he can do with the format, and that’s enough. See, it was never about what he said on his Twitter stream: it was about him being there. He just needs to be in a place where the gospel message can be preached and heard, and Twitter is such a place.
As the old media yields to the new, the Church has an opportunity to better control her message, and social media is essential to that process. When the pope’s words pass through the mass media, they are inevitably misunderstood and sensationalized. Most recently, there were headlines such as “Pope Cancels Christmas” because he made some routine observations about the dating of Jesus’ birth in his most recent book. The pope does best when people directly experience his words, warmth, charity, wisdom and immense humanity free from the distorting effect of secondhand reporting.
There is, of course, risk in this. The hashtag #askpontifex was quickly hijacked by people spewing astonishing levels of ignorance, bigotry, and hatred before the man had even tweeted a single letter. This is nothing we need to fear. The first popes met violent deaths at the hands of persecutors, so a few keyboard commandos are pretty small beans by comparison. The Church needs to be wherever the people are to bring them the gospel message. The message isn’t reserved for the faithful, but for every human being on the face of this earth. Right now, many of them are plugged into social media such as Twitter. This is exactly where he needs to be.
Just do yourself a favor: don’t hit the “expand” box on his Tweets. @pontifex and #askpontifex are being swamped with juvenile haters. It’s a potent reminder that the world is full of dead-eyed people consumed by their own venom and stupidity. Yet at the same time, these very people are being exposed to a man whose is saying nothing to them but message of hope, peace, love, and charity.
When you tell the world to hope, pray, and look for Jesus in the faces of the needy, and they respond with “f*ck you you child molesting old queen,” that doesn’t say a thing about the pope or his message. It says volumes about the demonic forces unleashed in our world. It’s nice for Catholics to see a tweet from the pope, but it’s important for the haters to see one.
And you know what? Whatever their reply–however minimal their level of comprehension–they are hearing the message. Sometimes you have to cast a lot of mustard seeds into the dirt before one finds a good purchase.