The arrival of the internet has brought us access to much more information at the touch of a few keys. Anywhere in the world you can be connected to the web with its instant news, ready answers to your questions, unlimited games to play and people to connect with. But there is a darker side to the internet that can be a trap for young people if they are not careful.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Searching for Answers
Anyone and everyone can add information to the world-wideweb. There are millions of wonderful, wholesome and helpful web-sites that help, uplift and nurture young people and the internet can be a useful tool in our work of evangelisation. When our grandparents were young if they had any projects to complete for their school homework they would have to go to the local library and if they were lucky they found a book that could give them a few facts to use. Now all we have to do is log on and search for some key words and we have a choice of thousands of web-sites to select from. But the problem with everyone being able to upload web-pages is that they may not always be correct, we have to be careful to select the facts that we use and verify them from reliable sources.
There is a much greater danger that we should be aware of when we search the Internet and that is because many adults misuse it for their own distorted pleasures and try to draw other people into sin. Hidden in the depth of the thousands of file servers are pictures and videos that are harmful and disturbing to young and innocent minds. This pornographic or violent content is dangerous because it is addictive. Like cigarettes and alcohol, once it stimulates the brain there is a craving for more and more excitement. Then what may have started as an innocent glance at a revealing image may soon become an urge for something more stimulating. Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” (Matthew 6:22) When we allow our eyes to look at unholy images then it will affect our whole body. We know that once we have read or seen something that disturbs us it is then very difficult to get it out of our minds, however hard we try. It is like when you step in some dog dirt, it is very difficult to clean it off and the smell lingers.
Choose Your Entertainment Carefully
A group of experts was set up by the Catholic Church in the Vatican to investigate the issue of violence and pornography in the media and it considered the contents of books, magazines, TV, films, plays and videos. It found that the media now play an important part in shaping the moral values in our society, they were saying that it affects how we think and how we act and the danger is that it can give a deformed outlook on life. One example is the ‘soaps’ on television, which started out by showing the everyday lives of ordinary people but gradually over the years they have had to develop more and more exciting storylines to keep the viewers interested. Now they feature a world of violence, broken families, unhealthy relationships and criminality and portray this as normal family life. The Vatican commission suggested that young people could help to change the content of the media by taking responsibility for their own moral decisions in their choice of entertainment. It was saying that it is up to us to choose what we watch and read very carefully. If the public stopped watching violent or disturbing films and television programmes the production companies would have to stop making them because they would not be making so much money from them.
Swim Against the Tide
Pope Francis in his message for World Youth Day 2014 wrote, “Young people who choose Christ are strong: they are fed by his word and they do not need to ‘stuff themselves’ with other things! Have the courage to swim against the tide. Have the courage to be truly happy! Say no to an ephemeral, superficial and throwaway culture, a culture that assumes that you are incapable of taking on responsibility and facing the great challenges of life!” The Pope is encouraging us to stand up for our faith, to avoid situations where we may be at risk and to strive for holiness because we have chosen to follow Christ.
Slavery to Sin
Unfortunately many young people have already been enticed into patterns of behaviour that they cannot break. They are unable to stop themselves even if they want to. This problem of addiction among young people is one of the many concerns of Pope Francis. In his Lenten Message for 2014 he said, “There is a moral destitution, which consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members – often a young person – is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography. How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope!” Pope Francis is concerned for all our young people and their families whose lives are ruined by addictions that they cannot break out of.
The Good News
But it is not all bad news. Jesus has already paid the price for our sins and he wants to free us from our addictions. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). Jesus knows that we are weak and that it is a struggle not to give in to our body’s desires but he gave us the Holy Spirit to help us in the fight. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” (Romans 8:26) He will strengthen us and lead us back to holiness and wholeness. “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
A Way Out
Some of us may already have a problem and in that case we should remember that there is a way out of the chains of addiction that hold us captive. First we need to recognise that we have sinned and should have a real desire to turn away from it. Then we can be reconciled to God and to the Church through confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This will give us a fresh start in the fight. We will still be tempted by whatever held us captive but with constant prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to help and strengthen us, we can break free. We also have our Blessed Mother who will help us if we ask and many people find that just by saying a “Hail Mary” the temptation will disappear.
The Gospel is the Antidote
At the end of his Lenten message Pope Francis said, “The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution: wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope! It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness.” We can spread the good news to all those who have problems with addictions by praying for them, assuring them of God love for them and encouraging them to ask for the Holy Spirit’s help in their times of weakness. We can also help others to avoid occasions where they may be tempted into sin but we should do it with love and gentleness. “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col. 3:12)