A pastoral letter from a British bishop to his faithful for Lent calls upon Catholics to consider their online interactions and to use social media for good rather than to hurt others.
In moral decisions, including the decision about what to post online, “we cannot choose simply on the basis of what gives us pleasure and what causes us pain,” wrote Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth in a pastoral letter released March 19.
Instead, in the letter titled “Sin, Lent, Redemption," he said people should focus on “what is right and what is wrong, recognizing that often, to do the right thing involves self-sacrifice.”
Bishop Egan asked Catholics to pay attention to their interactions on the internet. “How do I use Facebook or Twitter? Am I charitable when blogging?" he asked. "Do I revel in other people’s failings?”
“All this is grave matter,” Bishop Egan taught in his letter, which will be read at parishes of the Portsmouth diocese March 23. Grave matter – something that directly contradicts one of the Ten Commandments – is one of the three necessary conditions for a mortal sin, he noted.
The question of how people act online is "very serious," and useful to consider during Lent, a “time of Christian warfare” and a time to reflect on "serious things, our choices, our sins, our redemption.”
He urged that people should avoiding “calumny, that is, slurring and damaging people, and not spread abroad their sins and failings.”
Instead, taking to mind the Eighth Commandment, which commands people to tell the truth instead of falsities, Bishop Egan asked the faithful to “exercise discretion, respect others and their privacy, and not engage in slander, gossip and rash judgment."
Popular culture, he said, seems to thrive "on breaking this Commandment," promoting a culture in which “fallen celebrities are pilloried, reputations shredded and people’s sins exposed."
The bishop counseled people to turn to prayer and Confession to help break away from sin and a lack of charity. In order “to purify our desires, to be happy in life, to be psychologically healthy, we must be people of prayer.” Thus people “cannot be saved unless we pray.”
Bishop Egan also stressed the importance of Confession – “I urge you to find time to celebrate this therapeutic Sacrament now," he said.
“There is no better way to effect Lenten renewal than to meet Jesus One to one, Face to face, in the Sacrament of Penance, burying our sins in Him and rising with Him to new life.”
He continued, saying “this Sacrament is the only means of being forgiven a mortal sin and a huge support in dealing with venial sins and bad habits. The ‘secret’ of a good confession is a careful examination of conscience, which is why reflecting in prayer on the Ten Commandments is a great help.”
“Indeed, on our Lenten journey with Christ in the desert, we will not reach Jerusalem unless we make a good confession.”