Picture yourself in Athens, circa 50 A.D. St. Paul, in the midst of his second great missionary journey, stands in the center of the Areopagus, defending the Christian faith to the people of Athens and providing for us one of the first examples of the Christian apologetic method (Acts 17:19-31).Return to the present. A young adult, amidst potato chip bags and empty Coke cans, sits in his easy chair before a much more global medium, defending the Christian faith to people all over the world, continuing in the example that Paul gave us so long ago.
What is this global medium that allows us to spread the Gospel so profusely?
The Internet "is the Areopagus of our time, the instrument to spread the Christian message," Archbishop John Foley tells us in "Internet and the Catholic Church in Europe." The Internet is shaping the way young adults learn, defend and live their faith.
It is no surprise that young adults flock to the Internet. They have grown with it. As such, it is not a novel invention but instead something that has always been a part of their lives. They embrace it because it allows them to transcend the boundaries that confine them and to connect with other young adults of like mind and interest.
What is novel is the overwhelming number of young adults who use the Internet to fulfill a purpose that before was only reserved to priests, teachers, authors and missionaries: learning, explaining and defending the Catholic faith.
Defending what we believe out in "the real world" can be intimidating for teenagers and young adults. Surrounded by a group of friends at the lunch table or confronted with contradictory views by their teachers, they are pressured to make a defense based solely on their acquired knowledge—what they were able to retain from CCD classes and Sunday sermons. Often times all eyes are on them, judging them harshly for what they have to say. This is disconcerting for those who fear talking in front of crowds or being the center of attention.
The Internet relieves these stressors. Of course, the need will always exist for formally educated individuals in the areas of theology, apologetics and catechesis, as well as for individuals who can make a public defense of their faith. However, with the Internet, your average high school or college student can give a defense to thousands of people with relative anonymity. This is important for novice apologists.
They are also no longer confined to what they can remember. Hundreds of faithful Catholic Web sites provide extensive libraries of information and an outlet with which to share what they learn. The answer to any question or rebuttal is just a click away.
Which Web sites are providing this amazing opportunity? Go to the Life Teen Web site (www.lifeteen.org) and you can ask the "Bible Geek" a question. Visit Catholic Answers (www.catholic.com) and you can "Ask an Apologist." Phatmass (www.phatmass.com) — “phat” stands for Preaching Holy Apostolic Truth—has a very popular reference section that contains thousands of articles on Catholic doctrine arranged by topic.
More importantly, all three Web sites have bustling online forums where Christians can come together to discuss their faith.
As a result of these and similar sites, young adults are not only learning more about their faith and how to present it to others, they are increasing in love and devotion to the Church. Their faith is being presented to them in a way that they naturally accept, and through this medium they are building the courage necessary to be a soldier for Christ—not only on the Internet, but in their daily lives.
The Church is taking notice. Starting in the early 90¹s Pope John Paul II and the U.S. bishops devoted a number of encyclicals and speeches to the role of mass media and the Internet in continuing the mission of the church to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:19).
First, they addressed the need to guide our use of these mediums with the ethics and orthodoxy of the Church. With the abundance of good information, there is also much misinformation, and there is content on the Internet that can be harmful to our youth.
They also stressed the importance of transitioning individuals from the virtual world to the visible Church. The Internet can certainly never replace the ways in which our faith is tangibly experienced, such as through the Mass, Eucharistic adoration, and personal interaction with other Christians. However, it can inspire us to seek out these more profound experiences, and to make the Church an integral part of our lives.
The Internet, when approached in this way, ignites a fervor within young people that compels them to live and defend their faith. When they do this, they are all like Paul, and they are faithful to his command to "preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching" (2 Tim 4:2).
This article was also published in the July issue of The Record.