Blanca Alicia Sanchez is a sister of the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity in Mexico City. She received early formation and education in Guadalajara, Mexico, a licentiate in Rome, and other courses in the Philippines, Portugal, Mexico, and England. A teacher of dogmatic theology and a spiritual director, she has worked in vocations, retreats, and novitiate formation. She was a formator in the International Centre of Missionary formation in Spain and in novitiates in the Isle of Wight, United Kingdom, and Cebu, Philippines.
From your experience using the internet and social media, what advice would you give sisters in formation and beyond about its positive and negative potential in living a healthy spiritual life and nurturing relationships in your own community or congregation?
Strolling through a park in Mexico City, lost in contemplating the setting sun and beautiful surroundings, I am rudely interrupted by my cellphone. Answering, I discover it's someone at loose ends waiting for a bus, ringing because they "don't have anything else to do."
Oh, how I long to be able to go out without taking my cellphone along to enjoy the peace and quiet of the park, to have time and space to be with myself and God. And why not? What's stopping me?
Still, pondering this, I remember my first impressions of social media: What an incredible gift to be able to communicate with missionary brothers and sisters across the globe — in Africa, Asia, and Australia — as if they were all right here with me. I felt so connected and up to date with what was going on in the world. And how useful to have a virtual platform from which to share my Gospel reflections!
I experienced the benefits of social media but also suffered its negative side on a personal level. Constant alerts and notifications affected my concentration and focus, making profound reflection almost impossible. To facilitate an atmosphere of silence, I decided to turn off the notifications on my cellphone and computer.
Better able to concentrate and focus, I enjoyed my missionary work again. Preparing Gospel reflections allowed me to be in touch with my feelings and inner self. Connected to this wellspring inside, I feel truly myself. This is the genuine source of my communion and connection with others.
My advice to missionaries in formation: Be aware of what's driving your use of social media. Why do you want to be connected? True, humans are naturally social beings. We need to have friendships and to live in communion with others. Social media is helpful, but virtual relationships are a poor substitute for real-life friendships.
My own life and vocation have been deeply enriched by time spent with community sisters; it fosters true friendships, helps me feel loved for who I am and not for my virtual self. Time to reflect and pray about my needs, boredom, joys, and pains allows me to become more aware of my inner world and the needs of my sisters of community, particularly those who are experiencing greater loneliness and isolation because of the pandemic and could do with a listening ear.
In my community, the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity, we dedicate ourselves to prayer and the preaching of the Gospel and are expanding our evangelizing presence on social media. It's wonderful that each day, Gospel reflections shared on social media are reaching people all over the world.
However, my self-worth and value are not dependent on the amount of likes these reflections receive. I am loved by God, my real friends, and my community; I do not need to go looking for the attention and love of virtual people who do not know me as I am. The joy I experienced seeing my friends at the end of the COVID-19 lockdown, being able to look them in the eye and enjoy their company, is incomparable to that of connecting with them via a screen.
Of course, sometimes we can foster friendships through social media. But nothing can replace the wellspring of love and happiness inside of each one of us and the friendships built upon the daily sharing of life in all its glory: the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is no need to hide ourselves in a virtual world.