Prepare the (digital) way of the Lord

Sister Gabriela Luna Diaz, a member of the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Teresa, chats on a cellphone in this undated photo. This Advent, when there is no public square to gather in, we are being called to enter into the digital world, and prepare the way of the Lord. (CNS photo/courtesy Sister Gabriela Luna Diaz)

Multiple times in the past few months, when discussing the horrors of this year, a friend has half-jokingly said, “If Jesus is going to come back, now would be a great time!”

In a year that has seen a pandemic, a societal reckoning with systemic racism and many natural disasters, it’s not a stretch to think about the second coming.

Although it does not appear that the world is ending yet, the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent remind us that Jesus will be coming back. We are extolled to prepare the way of the Lord, and we are given the example of John the Baptist, the voice crying out in the wilderness.

This Advent we are likely busy with our preparations for a Christmas that will look different this year.

How do we manage all of that? How can we be the voice crying out in the wilderness when we can’t even leave our homes? Put simply: What can we do to prepare this Advent?

The answer: We take to the (digital) streets.

At the start of this pandemic, people flooded social media as a way to connect with others and to occupy their time. In March, social media became a place to rally around our first responders and essential workers, to start fun trends and learn how to bake bread or whipped coffee.

But as society realized we were in this for the long haul, our discourse on social media began to deteriorate into partisan bickering at its best and poisonous, threatening rhetoric at its worst.

Catholics are not only not exempt from this, but in my experience, have been some of the worst offenders of it. That coupled with the practice of “doomscrolling” (scrolling before bed obsessively on social media and bracing for bad news), has led many to abandon social media entirely.

But this Advent, when there is no public square to gather in, we are being called to enter back into that social media world and prepare the way of the Lord.

Perhaps you are reading this article to find out the specific Advent “things” you can do digitally.

I could easily list the many ways you can enter into this season online: You could participate in a digital rosary, attend a prayer group on Zoom or sign up for eucharistic adoration in one of the late night hours when no one is there.

You can make your creche the centerpiece of your Christmas decorations instead of your tree, you might even try a “reverse Advent calendar” for Catholic Charities. You can do all these things — and they would be fulfilling and an important way to prepare for Christmas.

But when looking at the readings for the Second Week of Advent, one can’t help but be struck by the exhortation to go and prepare the way of the Lord.

I can think of no place that needs that more than social media.

We start by changing the way we react and talk to one another on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and beyond. Remember the person on the other end of that comment is in fact, a person, with a family, with dreams, with fears.

Assume good intentions instead of acting on the impulse to attack. The best way we can prepare for Christ’s coming is by making the only space we can gather in as safe and loving as possible. We must start there, because people are watching.

Catholics can and should be the model for welcoming behavior on social media, but right now, we aren’t. Instead, the secular world looks at how we treat each other online and snickers at our alleged hypocrisy.

If we do nothing else this Advent, we are being told, loud and clear: “In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”

This year, that highway is digital and that desert is Facebook. Let us prepare for Christmas by showing the world, who is watching now more than ever, what it means to be a Christian.

We can do better, and there is no time like this Advent to try.

John Grosso is director of digital media for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., and a communications consultant.

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