If you inhabit Facebook, you know that memes are all the rage – these images with phrases or captions, often humorous, sarcastic, or inspirational, that spread like wildfire through social media. They can be great fun and they can also be a powerful tool for communication. There was a proliferation of these during the papal conclave, most of them very funny. Here’s one of my favorites:
Occasionally, however, I come across some Catholic memes that, while well-intentioned, contain very bad theology or catechesis. Here’s one I came across this morning.
While it has a nice thought – that Jesus is preparing a place for you in heaven – the bad theology is that he is “gone.” This bad theology is not just limited to this meme, it unfortunately tends to be our understanding of the Ascension of Jesus: that he is gone – off to heaven, far away, some day to return. The significance of the Ascension of Jesus is the complete opposite: Jesus is not gone but now reigns at the “right hand of the Father” which means that he is where the Father is. So where is the Father? According to the Lord’s Prayer, he “art” in heaven. The mistake is to think of heaven as a place that is outside of the earth’s atmosphere. Heaven is not a place. Scholar N.T. Wright reminds us that “heaven is not a place within our universe at all, but God’s place, intersecting with our world in all sorts of ways.” (When God Became King, Harper One) Heaven is wherever God is and God is everywhere. God transcends all of creation. Jesus’ Ascension enables him to be everywhere. To be at the “right hand of the Father” means that Jesus reigns over the whole world. The Ascension is not about Jesus’ absence, but about his “universal presence and sovereign rule.” (Wright)
Here’s another that not only appears as a meme but also rears its head at wakes and funerals as well-intentioned consolation.
I get the notion that this is trying to bring comfort to someone who has lost both of their parents. Variations of this are expressed at wakes and funerals to try to help grieving people come to grips with their loss: “your child is an angel now” and so on. The problem is, when we die, we do not become angels. If you want to console someone who has lost a loved one, tell them that their loved one is now a saint. We believe in the Communion of Saints which is the Church of heaven and earth. Our communion with those who have died is not interrupted by death but rather, “is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods.” (CCC955) Through them, we actually become closer to Christ.
So, the bottom line is, memes can be fun, helpful, inspiring, etc., but be sure to check your theology because they also catechize!
What’s your favorite Catholic meme? Share a link with us.