Especially in the online world it can be so hard to see others’ humanity, to risk being flamed at by approaching what seems like a scoff as if it were an invitation to a dialogue, to risk seeming like a fool for enagaging a “troll” instead of dismissing him with scornful words. And in Catholic comment boxes you also risk being chided by your fellow Catholics for engaging with such angry hurtful people. “Don’t feed the trolls,” they warn you. But perhaps that’s exactly what we are called to do? To feed them? Couldn’t it be that the troll who regularly hangs out at Catholic sites someone who is hungering for the truth but afraid of rejection so is preemptively rejecting those who he feels have already shut him out?
Mind blown by the sudden new meaning of the term "to feed trolls."
You still have a responsibility not to feed the troll on the property of the person who has the "don't feed trolls" rule, i.e., in their comment box. But you could invite them to your own blog or you could contact them off-blog. And you could certainly engage respectfully (and skillfully) in a manner designed to be peaceful, all light and no heat.
Having started down that line of thinking, how there is a need for the spiritually impoverished to be fed, especially online I began to imagine that some individuals might have the vocation of doing just that. Then as I talked it over with Dom he said, it couldn’t be individuals. It would have to be people living in community. And as we talked I began to envision a new sort of religious community: the Missionaries to the Digital Continent. A cloistered contemplative order who live the Benedictine motto ora et labora whose days are ordered around the monastic hours and Eucharistic adoration and who are dedicated to bringing Christ to all the darkest corners of the internet.
Aw, man, you beat me to it. I've been thinking of this for a long time but haven't written about it here. Instead I wrote it in Dorian Speed's Facebook comments. This is what I wrote after she went on her rant about that Vatican website using Comic Sans:
Dorian, I think you're just the person to take this idea and run with it (when you are done with Electingthepope.net of course): The Church needs a new religious order of blogging and HTML-savvy monks and nuns. We need to set up a cloister with high-speed Internet connection and excellent tech support. In between praying the Liturgy of the Hours, attending daily Mass, and working in the refectory and gardens, they'll do pro bono web design for struggling Comic-Sans-using parishes and church organizations everywhere. They'll also surf the Internet looking for combox discussions into which to inject a note of charity and wisdom. Also they will pray for trolls.
and in another comment, an afterthought:
We can put the adoration chapel in a Faraday cage so they don't get distracted from what really matters.
Anyway, not to get too distracted about it:
Melanie suggests organizing the effort to be "spiritually poor" around the seven traditional Spiritual Works of Mercy. (You can find these enumerated here.) Since we're talking about an analogy anyway, let me list the seven Corporal Works of Mercy first:
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To harbour the harbourless;
- To visit the sick;
- To ransom the captive;
- To bury the dead.
The seven Spiritual Works of Mercy are
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offences willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
- To pray for the living and the dead.
Just as the charism of the Franciscans was to perform works of mercy from a position of being intentionally corporally poor, we are envisioning a charism of performing works of mercy from a position of being intentionally spiritually poor.
The intentional corporal poverty was a means of demonstrating (among other things) that none of us can pat ourselves on the back for acheiving our material riches, because so much of it was out of our control and all of it, our physical life itself, is a gift. We may have had a hand in taking and shaping God's good gifts to our profit, in making good decisions along the way (we do believe in free will after all, and that God lets us participate in the development of our own futures) but in the end we owe it all to God. "No shroud has pockets" indeed.
So the intentional spiritual poverty would be a means of demonstrating (among other things) that none of us can pat ourselves on the back for achieving whatever spiritual riches we have. The intellect with which we absorb the deep theological musings of the doctors of the Church, and craft arguments to defend her teachings? Gift from God. The desire we have to come closer to God? A gift. The gift of emotions, of sorrow at the Passion, of joy at the Resurrection? A gift. True contrition? Gift. Gratitude to God for all his good gifts? A gift in and of itself.
I am not sure how to demonstrate it outwardly except, as I said, by a radical non-judgmentalism of the person. Even the most objectively horrible people must be reached out to with love and compassion and a recognition of "there but for the grace of God go I."
It strikes me that, if the contemplative wing of this order be called to Internet surfing and commenting, that the active wing be called to prison ministry.