by Father Mark Goldasich
As the season of Lent comes to a close, I feel that a confession to readers of this column is in order: I’m turning into a Facebook junkie.
There, I’ve said it.
I don’t remember precisely when or why I first started a Facebook page, but I do know exactly when I got hooked. It was the moment I decided that I not only needed to be connected to Facebook while sitting in front of my computer, I also had to have access to it from my cell phone.
If you’re wondering what in the world Facebook is, let me give you a quick lesson: It’s a free social networking site on the Internet. It was founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes, who were students at Harvard at the time. Gradually it spread from Harvard to other universities and then to high schools. Recently, though, it has been “highjacked” by us older folks. According to Lev Grossman at Time.com, those “between 35 and 54 are the fastest-growing group on Facebook — there are now 7 million of us, up 276 percent in the last half of 2008.”
So, what’s the big attraction to Facebook? For me, it’s the ability to connect easily with people, especially those who have impacted my life over the years. Users of Facebook “friend” others (who are free to confirm or deny the “friend” request), allowing them access to their personal page. My list of friends includes people I went to high school, college and seminary with; former students from my days at Marymount International School in Rome and Hayden High in Topeka; colleagues in the Catholic press; couples whose wedding Mass I celebrated; and even an author whose mystery novels I enjoy. Often I never had the chance (or didn’t realize it until later) to tell these people how they helped form me into the person I am today. Facebook helps me to get that job done. I’ve had an opportunity to not only send friends written messages, but to chat live online and even more extensively by phone offline.
More, though, than just reliving the past, Facebook opens doors into what’s presently happening in my friends’ lives. I’ve had a number of faith discussions online; I’ve received requests to pray for particular intentions; I’ve been able to communicate with friends in the Catholic press about pressing issues; I’ve gotten to wish people something as simple as a happy birthday on their special day; and I’ve been able to express sympathy when learning of tragedies that sneak into people’s lives. In short, Facebook is a place for connecting with friends, new and old, near and far. It’s a place to relive old memories and to make new ones. It’s a place to share joys (and old photos), experience support and healing, and give encouragement and guidance.
If those positive aspects of Facebook sound familiar to you, they should. Facebook tries to capture in a virtual way online something that we humans do naturally in the real world: Gather together and share our stories. And, isn’t that what we do sacramentally in the Mass? We come together from many places, share memories (through the Scripture readings and the commemoration of the Last Supper), and ask for healing, support and guidance.
Naturally, not everything about Facebook is positive and healthy. Like anything where human beings are involved, it can be misused. It’s here that I let my faith guide me: In dealing with others — in the real world or the virtual one — I’m to model compassion, understanding, respect and courtesy. I’m to treat the heart of another with the same care that God treats my heart. This principle helps me to navigate life — and Facebook — more confidently.
One last lesson (before I check my Facebook page): As nice as Facebook can be, it’s no substitute for a face-to- face meeting. The same can be said for our faith. With Holy Week upon us, don’t settle for a virtual celebration of these most holy days. Plan to be there face-to-face with your fellow parishioners and your Lord.