One is hard-pressed to find people who speak positively about social media. A quick Google search of the term “social media” brings about doom-and-gloom articles discussing how social media have brought about the ruin of institutions, turned us into antisocial scrollers and are the source of depression and anxiety.

Social media, especially Catholic social media, can be a difficult, hostile place. These days, we often see discussion devolve into debate, and debate devolve into fighting, and fighting devolve into mudslinging. The current climate in the Catholic Church has supercharged this phenomenon in an ugly way.

It is for these very reasons that faithful Catholics must take our message of love of and trust in Jesus Christ to social media. Now is the time to show the world what it means to be a Catholic, to love our neighbor, to advocate for life in all of its forms and to be in awe of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

Social media allow us to communicate with hundreds of thousands of people with one click — so what better place to spread this message of hope and love than Facebook (or Twitter or Instagram)?

Using social media to witness to Christ, and hopefully, to evangelize in his name, starts by treating social media as an end in itself, not just a means to an end. Pope Francis, in his 2016 message for World Communications Day, alluded to this: “Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication.

It is not technology that determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.”

It is extremely important to use our social media outlets to invite people to Mass, adoration, confession and Catholic events, but we can’t only use social media in this way. Rather, we must acknowledge that our Facebook friends, or the accounts following our parish’s Twitter account, are communities themselves.

We must use social media to minister to and feed these communities by offering them content that will help them encounter Jesus. Whether it is a Scripture quote, live streaming Masses, or catechetical videos, we need to offer something of substance to friends and followers.

We can use social media to bring people into an encounter with Christ every single day.

Meaningful content is authentic and vulnerable. In a world where we are bombarded with advertisements and noise, people crave authenticity. They desire something stable and comforting, that helps them make sense of their crazy lives. That something is actually someone, and His name is Jesus Christ.

Parishes that use social media to highlight parishioners, share words of wisdom from their pastor and provide prayer and reflection resources are all authentically using social media.

Many people live their lives on social media. They open themselves up to constant vulnerability that comes from putting their hopes, dreams, emotions, opinions and day-to-day experiences out on display for all to see. Since they live their lives this way, they expect the institutions they follow to live this way too. It’s important for parishes, schools and Dioceses to have fun on social media, to use informal language and to show people “the behind the scenes” of the institution. This allows us to show that the Church is made up of people, with all of their triumphs and tribulations, all trying to serve God as best they can.

We cannot resign ourselves to indifference or cynicism simply because social media sites can be desolate places. Rather, if we bring a spirit of love and joy, rooted in Christ, to everything we do on social media, we can provide an incredibly compelling example to a searching world. There is nothing more authentic, no narrative more powerful and no message more challenging than the Gospel. Let us strive to share it through our example of loving witness on social media.

—Originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.