Why am I, a priest, on Twitter? I ranted once about why I enjoyed being on Twitter to some members of my community and I got various reactions. I must admit some were unpleasant. Many said they still don’t get the point.
For the Church, everything we do must have a reason. Every act has a purpose. Every endeavor should lead towards the praise, honor and glory of God. Why? Because that is who we are, what we are and where we are headed. If things are done from pure instinct or feelings, then carried out without much thought, we cease to be human.
Here are some of the reasons why I am on Twitter.
1. Building a community of believers. On Twitter, I run a virtual campus ministry or parish. It allows me to build a strong network. Most are Catholics. Some belong to other faith traditions while others claim that they are not part of any institutional religion. Needless to say, they are persons also loved by God whether they reciprocate or not. This is enough reason to be in this form of ministry. Think of St. Paul and the first Christians who formed a new community of faith from scratch. Think of the missionaries who sailed to the Pacific centuries ago. The internet is the new mission area.
When people follow me, they connect with me. They are initiated into a universal community. By connecting, they are able to contribute to the conversation; their voices are heard. When we share thoughts, struggles, memories, and prayers with each other, we are able to gather in the Lord’s name. In virtual reality, I am not just the source of content; everyone is.
This is the essence of Twitter. Without followers, we are talking to no one. We are like priests without a community to serve. Ministry is about using our gifts for a specific and concrete group of people. However, it is easy to have followers; you only have to be patient like the first missionaries who initially had one until they were able to convert all. The difference today is that it does not take years to have a convert. Once people know you’re on Twitter, they will add you. Even the lousiest priest has followers. Don’t ask me why.
2. Sanctification. The minister and the community help sanctify each other. On Twitter, I get instant feedback. If my parishioners hear a lousy homily, they tweet. They now have an easy way to remind us that preparing our homily is a charitable act. Twitter is better than a suggestion box. [My homilies. Follow me on Twitter]
Since I am a priest, Twitter has been very beneficial to my ministry. Since my followers are students and parishioners, I am able to ask them about their concerns and needs. Then I write my homilies considering them. Somehow, this dialogue makes you better, if not, holier.
3. To read the signs of the times. To be able to know where the Holy Spirit is leading us, we must know current events. We must know what’s trending. We should know the pulse of the people and what are relevant to them.
Generations ago, you had to listen to the radio, turn on the television and buy newspapers to be updated. We sought out the news. Now, the news finds us before it is on air. For newbies, the first thing to do is follow CNN, Time, Newsweek, Al Jazeera English and/or local news programs like ANC, ABS-CBN, GMA7. You also get them firsthand if you follow reporters. In addition, what happens in Rome reaches the Philippines in real time. Since I followed several Jesuits and institutions on Twitter, I now know what fellow Jesuits are up to halfway around the globe. It is nice to know that you are all working as one.
But knowing the facts quickly is not the end of the line. We have to go further and deeper. The Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas SJ reminds us of our mission of depth. Non multa sed multum: Not many but much. Not quantity of information but depth. Not many bits of knowledge but what matters.
To be able to articulate what satisfies the soul, one’s discernment has to be based on facts, figures and the pulse of the people: you now know where I get it.
4. Tools of the Trade. Like a soldier, we cannot go to war without weapons. We must have all the information we need to become effective. Hours ago, I asked how social media could help in evangelization. Lo and behold! I got instant tweets. They forwarded useful links. They gave me their ideas. They told me about what they would find appealing. If I tweet about mass readings and prayers, will they find them worth their attention? If I send excerpts from the breviary’s Morning and Evening Prayers, will they be grateful or irritated? Should I tweet these excerpts every 15 mins, 30 mins, or an hour? The rate of their response was faster than interviewing, browsing or Googling.
5. Entertainment. I know this sounds so superficial, but we do need a good laugh not just once but most of the time. Humor keeps us sane and healthy. I remember Paolo Coelho responding to me! I am sure the high-brow version of the religious would find following celebrities superficial. If you’re one of them, admit it, you Pharisee! If one of the celebrities befriends you, no matter how disdainful their actions are to your taste, you will be ecstatic!
6. Accessibility. Let me say this first: Nothing beats the face-to-face relationship. But in circumstances when this is challenging, we can settle for the second best: technology. I believe the Church should go to the people. I want the Church to be as accessible as possible to their flock.
Twitter is a good way of shepherding. When people have doubts about the faith or confused with their particular and personal issues, they can tweet me right away. I can guide them when they need me. Likewise, they can also talk to me anytime. I have Twitter in my mobile phone. And this is what is good: I can shepherd without negotiating heavy traffic! Twitter can bring the Church closer to its people.
7. Promotion. I work at the Jesuit Music Ministry of the Jesuit Communications Foundation Inc., the media apostolate of the Philippine Province. We produce religious and inspirational albums. Many songs you hear at mass come from us. We produce television spots, MTVs, documentaries and radio programs. We also have training programs. Twitter is an inexpensive way to promote our products. We believe that the more people use our products, the more we are able to spread the Word of God in different appealing formats.
On Twitter, I also promote vocations, religious activities and events. Or if we want to be product-based, then consider selling the Word of God to a clientele who are not necessarily from within our circle.
Pope Paul VI once said:
“It is unthinkable that a person should believe the Word of God and submit himself to the Kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 24)
So why not use Twitter to proclaim eternity?