Headline: Shades of Witnessing

Posted on: 2017-09-26

On Social Media

I have always been an advocate of positive social media use. I strongly believe that the user of social media is the one who determines more what messages the media emanate. I have come across hilarious but useful messages on these media which qualify as gospel in humorous ways. Consider this one I found: “I want to be so full of Christ that if a mosquito bites me it flies away singing: ‘There is power in the blood of Jesus’”. Such expressions can powerfully communicate the positive message of the Bible to Christians who must be the light of the world and salt of the earth in their task of witnessing to Jesus Christ” in a funny but meaningful way. Another one explains Facebook thus: “Face God and Read his Book”. In our modern age of soundbites and abbreviations whereby attention span is very short, such pithy messages, if well crafted, can deliver good gospel to the least attentive of peoples.

The Church went ahead

In 1989 the Universal Catholic Church anticipated this phenomenon. The Pontifical Council for Social Communication at that time gathered, from all over the world, Bishops who were involved in Communications to discuss the new media facilities. The 3-day meeting in the Vatican recommended that Church communication personnel should make allies of the young people who clearly were showing themselves to be the protagonists of the Social Media so that they become agents and apostles of the Gospel and of the Church’s mission. Nearly 20 years later the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, a few weeks ago, took up the same theme in its latest communique after the Second Plenary Conference in Jalingo. The communique reads: “We observe that modern media, especially the social media can be effective means information, education and evangelization. We however, note that rather than tap their great potential benefits for expanding knowledge, many, especially our youth, have become exposed to such negative dimensions of the social media  as organs for crime, the dissemination of hate speeches, slander, for peddling outright falsehood and misinformation. In these difficult times, we appeal to our people to be more circumspect and positive in the use of information obtained from and disseminated through the modern media”.

Agents of evangelization took heed                                                          

Fortunately, many priests and religious have subscribed to this good counsel and they deserve to be commended. Some, like Fr Mike Umoh of Lagos. Fr John Olayiwola and Fr. Martin Badejo of Oyo now even invite the youth to actively participate in the work of evangelization through and with the same social tools. Rev Fr. Victor Ogunyemi from Osogbo diocese, working in Abuja, only last week sent out this message on his Facebook page “My dear friends, let’s do mobile and online preaching. Represent your Church and your parish by telling us what the teaching of today in your parish Church was”. The effect of that gentle invitation will be that prospective participants pay greater attention to the homilies in order to gather material for becoming become multipliers of the message. More of this kind of initiative is certainly necessary.

Christ must be glorified

Such a challenge is not meant only for priests and consecrated people. In the liturgy of last Sunday, Saint Paul declared his commitment to making the glory of Christ manifest in his life. He said: Brethren, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20). Making such a confident declaration presupposes that the speaker be closely united to Jesus. In fact if this were not the case witnessing cannot be truly be authentic. This is a standard Biblical recommendation. It is for this that the Prophet Isaiah called on God’s people: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is still near; let the wicked abandon his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord that he may have mercy on him, and to our God for he will abundantly pardon”. (Is. 55:6-7) Given that the psalmist affirms that the Lord is close to all who call him, it is clear that only those who do call on God will have him glorified in their lives. 

Lay people have work to do

Saint Paul, through his epistle to the Corinthians, addresses all: “People should think of us as Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. In such a matter, what is expected of stewards is that each one should be found worthy” (1Cor. 4:1-2). In other words, all who believe in Christ must play their part in the task of witnessing and with all and every available tool. It is for this reason that CBCN called on all the lay faithful to intensify their effort in bringing the light of Christ to those places which only they can reach. Its last communique again read: “The lay faithful… are expected and encouraged to bear witness to the Gospel in their private, public and political lives.  In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, ‘The Mission of the lay faithful is… to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competence and fulfilling their own responsibility”. In bearing the likeness of Christ, the lay people by their vocation “are to challenge government policies that negate fundamental human rights and their individual and collective rights as Christians. But how many Christians engage in such witnessing today and by how many means?