We must read the “signs of the times” and strategically rebuild with an eye to true freedom.
“It was a bright, cold day in January, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” to borrow a line from 1984. After spending a glorious weekend offline, I checked in Monday morning to an Orwellian reality where my every article, blog post and YouTube video is scanned by an algorithm approved by the powers that be. You see, I use the same servers and depend on the same giants that took down Parler: Google, Apple and Amazon.
Reading commentary, I thought about the hundreds of other small businesses run by Catholic families on social media to spread the joy and articulate the truths of our faith. There is a very real feeling of vulnerability and dependence on a vast monolithic power against which we have no recourse should they decide we are “haters” or inciting violence. How can our little family of eight or our parish of 400 families hope to challenge the raw exercise of power we saw this weekend?
To say the least, I did not feel much like homeschooling my kids this morning or working on our small online business. If the boot will be stamping on our faces forever (to allude again to Orwell), what is the point?
But doublethink and despair are not the last word for Catholic parents.
Our duty in this brave new world is the same as it has been for Catholic parents for 2,000 years: to strengthen our children with the truth that Big Tech, republics, empires and political ideologies “would have no power over [us] had it not been given to them from above” (John 19:11).
I always picture a smile on Christ’s face as he spoke these words to Pilate, because he knew he had just turned the Roman Empire — and all empires that had been and ever will be — upside down.
In this moment, we must strengthen our parishes and families, because together they stand between the powers of the world and the individual. We must read the “signs of the times” and strategically rebuild with an eye to true freedom. Families and small communities have the power to form “zones of freedom,” where children can grow up in the conviction that their value and dignity comes directly from God, that two plus two is four, and that freedom is our inheritance.
Forty years ago this spring, Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio, “History is not simply a fixed progression towards what is better, but rather an event of freedom, and even a struggle between freedoms that are in mutual conflict, that is, according to the well-known expression of St. Augustine, a conflict between two loves: the love of God to the point of disregarding self, and the love of self to the point of disregarding God.”
Just as God permits Big Tech to hold temporal power in our day, he creates every human person to love him in freedom and truth. Our happiness and our capacity for heroic virtue do not depend on temporal power. They depend on loving God to the point of losing ourselves. The family and the Church are the “zones of freedom” in which children (and adults) can learn this love of God. It is very difficult to disregard yourself out in the vast sea of social media, marketing ploys, “movements” and “identities.” It is simpler to do so in the day-to-day sacrifices and joys of family life.
As parents in the world of Big Tech, we can give our children that freedom first by teaching them the stories of our family, which is the Catholic Church. True legends of men and women like St. Margaret Clitherow, Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, the Virgin Martyrs of Rome, and St. Thomas Becket should live in our family living rooms, be proclaimed from our Church pulpits, and re-told to the world on social media. Exercise your freedom to do so now, so that if it is taken away you will have the courage to continue to tell the history of their heroism even at great expense.
But telling the stories is not enough — we must also imitate their lives. Bring your children to the sacraments often. Only in the Holy Eucharist and in the confessional will they come to know true power: the authority and power of divine life. If the sacraments are not available, pray as a family. Enter that conversation with God where heart speaks to heart and defeats the noise of tweets, posts, likes and dislikes that confuse and depress the spirit.
Begin to build times and spaces in your home and parish that are free of screens and “connectivity.” Disconnect more often from the internet and begin to depend on prayer, creation, games, great literature and beautiful music for your “down time.” If we depend on the true, the good and the beautiful for our strength, we shall never be betrayed.
This historical moment that we have been given is not one I wished for, but since we are here and find ourselves at the mercy of hostile powers, we can offer our children an alternative to servitude. History is on our side, because the alternative, which is Christ on the Cross, has already conquered. Our hearts are free indeed, and no power can touch them if we remain in him.
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