This is a question we have been dealing with quite extensively in my course on the very topic. If we are the summarize it succinctly, we could simply call it as a preaching of the Gospel to Christians who have not yet had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus. The New Evangelization, then, is first and foremost ecclesio-centric: it focuses first and foremost on the Church and those who are already within her loving embrace.
By bringing the faithful to a real, living encounter with Jesus, it would follow with the Church’s missionary activity which, according to the Second Vatican Council, is the very purpose of the Church. In theology and philosophy, the purpose of a thing is what defines it as what it is. Thus, if the purpose of the Church is to be missionary, then she is missionary in her very nature.
That, in a nutshell, is what the New Evangelization is. Yet, many people misunderstand or misconstrue the real essence of the New Evangelization and presuppose that the adjective “new” entails different methods of evangelization. There is, therefore, many people who think that the New Evangelization is all about using what is ‘new’ in the world, especially in the realm of technology. The proponents of such a view, when speaking of the New Evangelization, also in the same breath use words such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Mobile Communications, etc.
Such a mentality is blatantly contrary to the mission and purpose of the New Evangelization. If one were to glance at the Lineamenta (the working document for the upcoming synod on the New Evangelization), one would read, under the section “Areas In Need of the New Evangelization“, the following quote:
The fifth sector is scientific and technological research. We are living at a moment when people still marvel at the wonders resulting from continual advances in scientific and technological research. All of us experience the benefits of this progress in our daily lives, benefits on which we are becoming increasingly dependent. As a result, science and technology are in danger of becoming today’s new idols. In a digitalized and globalized world, science can easily be considered a new religion, to which we turn with questions concerning truth and meaning, even though we know that the responses provided are only partial and not totally satisfying. New forms of “gnosis” are emerging where technology itself becomes a kind of philosophy in which knowledge and meaning are derived from an unreal structuring of life. These new cults, increasing each day, ultimately end up by turning religious practice into a clinical form of seeking prosperity and instant gratification.
This is not much of a supportive mindset in regards to social media. Nor is it, though, a condemnation of social media and technology in general. Yet, it asks for a detailed reflection on the nature of technology, its positive and negative impacts, etc. One must be cautious and discerning with all things. We cannot presume that because it is new that it is good. This is a danger of many in North America especially, where technology so influences every aspect of our lives. The warning in regards to the idolatry of technology is a warning we in North America must especially heed.
Furthermore, the call to having a discerning mind in regards to technology is also a call to enter into these areas. It is not because these areas are necessarily a good in themselves – they may in fact be harmful to our psychological development! However, we are called to enter them because, increasingly, it is where people interact with each other. Unfortunately, people depend less and less on personal encounter. Even talking to people over the phone is becoming an increasingly foreign thing with the advent of text messaging.
We must imitate our Lord Who would go into places that were perhaps taboo, even engage in social interactions that were taboo (I am thinking especially the Samaritan woman). We must go into these places not to use them as ends in themselves, but rather as places where we can bring the Light of Christ. By encountering that light, things begin to seem to be as nothing in comparison with the gift of Christ to our lives. In short, we enter them not to stay within them – we don’t get a twitter account in order to stay there and communicate there. Rather, we enter there so that we can introduce others to the grace of Christ’s loving gaze that will draw them out of these areas. If we believe – as many scientific studies have shown – that many technological advances have adverse psychological effects on us, then we ought to be doing what we can to help people come out of these spaces. Yet, we can only do it by first going where they are going.
I can speak simply from personal experience. Growing up – especially in high school – the computer was everything to me, so much so that I decided to study Computer Science at UVic so as to further engage in my passion. I found Computer Science boring and uninteresting, but my obsession with the technological did not cease. Yet, since my conversion, since my encounter with the face of Christ, I have been drawn to a Person Who is real – more real than any reality of this earth! My purpose now is to act on that reality with greater devotion and conviction each and every day. Thus I finally gave up my Facebook account because I found that I was giving too much time to technology. Now, frankly, because I don’t use Facebook, I am barely on my computer – though this is at times a detriment as I forget to answer e-mails and renew library books.
Yet, it still is a struggle, and I battle with this struggle daily. I find myself continually enraptured by the latest technological advances. It is not helpful, furthermore, when most people around you are buying the latest advances and so you see them being used. I think there is something to this enrapturing quality of technology that is worthy of another post, but what I wish to say is that I still struggle, but I do see progress in my life. Despite how cool I think having an iPad would be, of being on all these social networks – of ‘feeling’ connected, I am starting to learn that there is a Presence more important than anything else and that my yearning towards these innovations is simply my deeper yearning for Him.
In the end, then, our purpose in using social communication is not to use the means as an end in itself. We must take seriously Marshall Mcluhan’s famous statement: “the medium is the message”. This is not the statement of an optimist, but one who is discerning towards the reality of things. The medium becomes confused as the message, thus obscuring the message. We must be discerning and use these communications wisely, yet always demonstrating that, ultimately, our use of social communication is an expression of communicating in a social and real with an Other.