Friday, March 4, 2011

A Social Media Lent? What's Missing?

Just found this nifty site: Living Lent from the Catholic Young Adult Ministry of the Diocese of Tulsa.   It promises to assist users to keep their Lenten commitments by sending daily reminders of their sacrifices, sending reminders on Fridays to abstain from meat, notifying users of special feast days and Sundays, and displaying a community of users who are recommitting to their promises so others are encouraged to follow.  In effect, it’s a social media Lent. You journey with a community of accountability, with reminders along the way to keep you on track.

Using social media as a kind of support group  is an interesting option in terms of Lent.  Lent, by its very nature, should be a communal activity. Lent is really a time for the parish community to recall what it means to be a baptized disciple of Jesus Christ as they accompany those to be baptized to the Easter sacraments. The Pope has noted the connection to baptism in his Statement for Lent 2011.  However, so many people are ignorant of this core theology of Lent.  Most, following what they remember being taught as children, at best treat it as a private 40-day personal meditation on sin, not really sharing their journey with others, besides the traditional off-handed comments about “What I am Giving Up for Lent.” Others simply go through the motions of giving something up, out of habit.

The idea behind the site is, at its heart, good.  However, the only links on the site are to an examination of conscience, act of contrition and Stations of the Cross.  If all the site does is provide accountability for the disciplines of Lent, without catechesis on their purpose, it misses a golden opportunity.  This means it is about the disciplines of Lent without describing the tradition: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  It is about chronicling the actions without doing much to change the heart.  A connection is lost when all that is present is the external action and an invitation to contrition and to meditate on the Crucified Christ – without the great big “why” of it all. 

We are not only baptized into Christ’s death, but his life as well.  In the Rite of Infant Baptism we are anointed “priest, prophet and king” according to the model of Jesus.  (See Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 897ff)  We receive a baptismal call to grow into mature disciples – people of prayer, witness, and hope, who consider what God wants before acting, and who practice love of neighbor at the cost of self (see the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, paragraph 75.)  Lent is a time to recover this meaning, to reconnect with our baptismal call… and we do most deeply it within community.

Unfortunately, the developers of this website are missing the bigger picture. What they are doing is reinforcing an old misunderstanding of Lent as a time only of self-mortification and reflection on the plight of Jesus on the Cross with the purpose of somehow cleansing us to celebrate Easter. The reality is that it is much greater than making a commitment to a chosen discipline. Lent is a time to recover our identity as baptized disciples, to let go of all that keeps us from living out our baptismal call well.  That requires a journey of conversion that we undertake hand in hand with our faith community, and no, there really is not an app for that.

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