By Fr Joshan Rodrigues –
A popular joke goes that when asked what he was going to abstain from this Lent, he replied, “I am going to abstain from fasting!” As Lent arrives, people begin giving serious thought as to the Lenten practice they would like to follow. Many families follow the traditional practice of abstaining from meat and sweets during the 40 days of Lent. Others are becoming more creative by adopting a ‘digital fast’, doing volunteer work, etc.
Whatever one chooses, the important thing to remember is that what counts for much is the intention with which we approach the season of Lent. The goal is not solely to deny ourself, but also to reorient ourself in a positive direction, towards God. It is a season to introspect and check whether we are truly living lives of dignity and purpose. And to consider how near or far we are from God.
In his message for Lent this year, Pope Francis exhorts us of becoming aware of the ‘swindlers’ who are fooling us and taking us away from God, like momentary pleasure, disposable relationship, slavery to profit, dishonest gain, a virtual existence, and a panacea of drugs and alcohol. The consequences of these are devastating: loneliness, suicide, countless deaths due to poverty, wrecked relationships, and hearts gone cold. The things that we have and do give us the impression of happiness, but in the long run they leave us alone and empty. As they say, the central void in a person’s heart can only be filled with God, not with an iPhone, alcohol, parties, fame, fashion or social media.
While I’ve advocated doing creative things during Lent like a ‘digital fast’, Pope Francis reminds us that there is a great value in following the traditional method of the Church, i.e. prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Sometimes we invent new penances because we find these too difficult. If you haven’t kept these three in a long time, now would be a good time to get back to the basics. Prayer allows us to be honest with ourself and with God and to confront the guilt and emptiness that is within us. It helps us to stop telling the lies we have been telling ourselves. Almsgiving frees us from greed and reminds us that we have a responsibility towards others. Fasting weakens the violent and greedy tendencies that are within ourselves and revives our desire to obey God, who alone can satisfy our hunger.
Last year I had gone on a digital fast, because I felt that I was spending a disproportionately excessive amount of time on social media. That time was particularly fruitful and out of my penance was born ‘Musings in Catholic Land’ soon after Easter. When I take my youth group for camps, we generally as a rule disallow the use of mobile phones for those three or four days. It hurts a bit at the beginning and they feel anxious and helpless, but eventually they rediscover the joy of being with one another ‘in-person’ without the mediation of technology. A lot of young people today need to take some time off from Snapchat, Whatsapp and Instagram. What would be even better was if we used these platforms solely for sharing our Lenten practices during the 40 days and for nothing else. (For e.g. post a pic of the ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday, post a pic of the veggies you are eating or a family pic after praying the rosary at home.) Make Lent cool again this year!
Some suggestions for a fruitful season of Lent:
- Give up Social Media. It won’t ruin your life.
- Fast, don’t diet. There’s a difference.
- Don’t just give up something, add something positive as well.
- Go to Church.
- Download a Christian app.
- Read a Christian book or listen to a Christian podcast.
- Go for confession.
- Phone long-lost friends. Reconnect.
- Gossip! But share positive things about that person.
- Do couple penance.
- Make Lenten prayer buddies.
- Watch Bp. Robert Barron on Youtube.
- Repair a broken relationship.
This year interestingly, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentines Day. Which is weird and exciting at the same time. Well, for one thing, a certain sex is going to breathe a huge sigh of relief, as this would mean not having to organise any elaborate Valentine’s Day plans for their beloved. One thing is for sure, you can’t celebrate Valentine’s Day on Ash Wednesday. That’s a sacrifice to begin with. But this not stop you from showing your love for your significant other in many different ways. This Valentine’s Day could be a powerful moment when you begin to rediscover the spiritual force of God in your relationship, and to begin living out your love for each other in a more Christ-like way. The best thing would be for couples to follow a common Lenten practice so they could support one another and in this way also strengthen their relationship.
All the best and God speed! I wish you a Holy and Happy Lent!
Fr Joshan Rodrigues is from the Archdiocese of Bombay, India. He is currently studying Institutional and Church Communications at the Pontifical Holy Cross University in Rome. Travelling, reading and social media are his passions. His drive is to make Church teaching more accessible to younger audiences and he holds G.K. Chesterton, Bishop Robert Barron and the Venerable Fulton Sheen among his role models for this task. He analyses different aspects of daily Christian life and culture through catholic lenses in his blog, Musings in Catholic Land.