So, the big news this morning is the rollout of Pope Benedict XVI’s new twitter handle, which is @Pontifex.
You can also follow feeds using the hashtags #HabemusPapam and even #AskPontifex, because His Holiness will be taking the occasional question. The man has written bajillions of brilliant, instructive, eye-opening and mind-blowing words, and now he is going to tackle the 140 character theology challenge of twitter!
Huzzah, sez I! This is the logical and savvy next step in the Vatican’s outreach to the denizens of cyberspace. In my remarks at the Vatican/Blogger meet-up of 2011, I had said, “The church needs us to be where the sheep are grazing, so that we may help them find the better pastures.” And in the recent Bishops-to-Bloggers meetup in Baltimore, Mary DeTurris Poust spelled it out: “Like it or not, Facebook is the new Parish Hall.”
The church has always been quick to identify mission territory and to send forth eager workers. Online outreach is a very different sort of mission; material and corporeal needs are almost besides the point. On the internet the church is missioning in the ether — the exact spot where light and dark are constantly waging the war that so readily spills into our realities. The ether (and the ethernet) is a place of random chaos (consider the fits-and-stops, the dark-and-light at odds within your own soul of a single day, and then magnify it times the square footage of every planet in the universe, and the sun!) and the instantaneous reach of cyberspace contributes to the chaos — so much sound and fury, usually signifying nothing — but it also has the power to penetrate it with a spear-tipped accuracy. Just as one well-timed and pithy blogpost, or one virally-shared chart can often shift a a national conversation and a mood, 140 well-chosen characters can be used by the Holy Spirit to tweak a conscience, pierce a heart and open a mind.
The flip side to that, of course, is that the Evil can use these same tools to anesthetize a conscience, and close a heart– the internet is a place of simultaneously visible and invisible energy, simultaneously positive and negative effect and that is precisely why the Vicar of Christ needs to be engaged within it, particularly this Vicar, who is all-too-familiar with how easily mobs can be swayed to embrace their worst devils instead of their better angels. He knows very well that, ultimately, the mob wants something, but they are not cognizant of what that something is, and that within that dissatisfied, searching state, the Dictatorship of Relativism wields its power. It was around sowing discontent within the mob the desert (“in Egypt we had melons and meat!”) and amid the confused the mob in Jerusalem (“we have no king but Caesar! Give us Barabbas!”)
What does the crowd want? I’ve always wondered about the name of Barabbas. If Bar means “son of” and “Abbas” is translated as “father”, then Pilate was offering the mob a choice between Jesus, the man (ecce homo) and the Son of the Father. He was offering the choice between the flesh and the material over the spiritual and the ethereal; the earth or the ether?
And hey, the people chose the Son of the Father. They chose the ether. Now they need to be helped to find him, there.
So, the Vicar of Christ is coming before the cybermob, where he will be greeted by many who love, and also by many who hate. Some haters have already started.
I personally would love it if the Holy Father’s first tweet was:
What you gonna do? Haters gonna hate! I have a mustard seed and am not afraid to use it. Let’s talk about the Son of the Father! @Pontifex
In all seriousness, his first tweet will probably be “Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!”
Benedict will launch his first tweet on December 12, feastday of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and of the unborn.
Pray for His Holiness as he steps into the teeming crowd that thinks it knows what it wants, but does not even realize what it is they are seeking, or for whom they are crying out.
Tom McDonald with more.
Antonio Spadaro, SJ: Cybertheology: Thinking about Christianity in the Era of the ‘Net