On today's post, Father Steve talks about the role of the social media, not to mention Providence, in what he likes to call, "unintentional evangelization." His reflection serves as a wonderful reminder for each of us to do what we can do wherever we are, for we can never predict how God will use our efforts for His purposes.
Last week, two articles on the Word on Fire blog generated a great deal of interest. The first was a post concerning science and religion written by Robert Mixa, the second was by Father Barron concerning novelist Anne Rice’s repudiation of Christianity, while at the same time testifying to continuing her relationship with Christ. Both posts drew a lot of new people to our website, many of whom would not have considered visiting on their own.
Robert Mixa’s article was a commentary on a piece written by Lawrence Krauss in the August issue of Scientific American. Krauss is a secularist and a materialist. In his essay, he takes issue with religion in general and Christianity in particular for its alleged deficiencies, not only in terms of what Krauss believes to be the truths of science, but in terms of the failure of religion/Christianity before the expectations of the secular worldview. Mixa debated the insufficiencies of Krauss’ position, and for this he received a great deal both positive and negative appraisal. The comments section of this blog post were buzzing for days as folks went back and forth arguing the Church’s position in regards to the relationship of faith and reason, religion and science, even venturing into the claims of atheism. In an act of intentional evangelization, Robert Mixa linked his blog post to the Scientific American website which, as a result, extended the invitation to its readers to visit our website. This had the effect of not only increasing traffic on our site, but exposing many new people to the work of Father Barron and Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.
Sometimes evangelization can be as easy as a link to an article posted on a website. Yes, it’s that easy.
The other article concerning Anne Rice involved a similar strategy. Father Barron wrote the piece, which was linked to Anne Rice’s Facebook page. Ms. Rice reviewed the article and chose to present it to her friends on Facebook- some 90,000 people. Granted, Anne Rice did not agree with Father’s assessment of her position, but was gracious enough to post it anyway. This gesture on her part brought an unprecedented number of people to the Word on Fire website, and as I said earlier, many of these folks never would have visited our site had they not been afforded this opportunity. This demonstrates the power of social media as a form of communication. But it also displays something else. What Ms. Rice did could perhaps best be described as an act of unintentional evangelization. Many people came to the Word on Fire site to read and review Father Barron’s piece, but in doing so, they were exposed to the Word on Fire site itself, which includes a treasury of information about the Catholic Faith, videos, articles, sermons. A whole world was opened up that perhaps the visitor never knew existed, and this world is the world of the Church. To enter that world, even in the most tangential way, is to be invited to be a part of it. Ms. Rice did not intend to evangelize, but ended up doing so anyway.
All this made me consider not just the genius of social media and its efficacy for the Church’s evangelical efforts, but the uncanny movements of Providence which draw people into relationship with the Lord. Father Barron has cited the remarkable and surprising fact that one of the first evangelists was Pontius Pilate, who proclaimed the good news of salvation by affixing to Christ’s cross the placard that read in three languages, “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” Pilate did not realize it, but he was announcing to the world a truth that would change everything and ultimately bring the empire that he served to its knees. Pilate had intended to mock the Lord. Providence had something else in mind, which made Pilate’s action an unintentional act of evangelization.
We shouldn’t wait for that unintentional evangelization to happen. Christ has given all the baptized the mission of sharing the Gospel with the world. No one gets a pass to sit on the sideline in this endeavor. The question is how to do it. Opportunities to proclaim the Gospel are all around us, and the internet in general and social media in particular have increased our capacity to let others know what the Church believes and why. It also enables us to venture into territory where the Faith is not an ordinary part of the conversation. Evangelization does not mean that you have to paddle down the Amazon in a canoe. We can extend the invitation to so many to know the Lord and share in the life of his Church in so many ways, and we can do so as easily as a link shared with friends from a website. It is that easy. And, one of the truths that we have all learned at Word on Fire is that it really works!
Fr. Steve Grunow is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.