Lent is upon us and Ash Wednesday thrusts us into the midst of things, opening for us the riches of this season of grace.
This day of well-disguised fasting, secret alms, private prayer and bright mourning finds us signed with ashes, recommitting ourselves to the daily work of dying to sin and rising in grace. Lent re-binds us to that old rugged and death-ward facing Cross, while at once awakening us to the God-ward facing Resurrection of Christ who alone makes us free.
Are you ready?
Are your resolutions worthy of a true, lasting and Christ-inspired change?
In the spirit Pope Benedict’s 2013 letter on social media, I highly encourage all to examine their technological habits and cultivate a techno-asceticism that draws technology into the ambit of God the Father’s Icon-made-flesh, Jesus Christ (cf Colossians 1:15).
To encourage virtuous liberty in our use of technology, I propose here the cultivation of Four Freedoms for Lenten observance. Many more could be proposed, but these are the ones that sprang first to mind.
Freedom from inner compulsion that binds me slavishly to haphazard, time-wasting, duty-evading, mind-numbing and frivolous engagement with electronic devices and new media, atrophying my ability to be wholly present and faithful to the just demands of my present state in life.
Freedom from the cyber culture of gossip, slander, vulgarity and calumny that wreaks havoc on truth, justice and charity and cripples the power of our Christ-witness. This includes freedom from recklessly airing the dirty laundry of others, freedom from cursing enemies and employing, in the name of Jesus, the violent power of sardonic humor in order to gleefully skewer those with whom we disagree.
Freedom for the use of technology in service to the God-given demands of my vocational state in life and to the primacy of face to face relationships. Using technology in a manner that builds others up, that discerns with care the ordering of time in daily use of technologies, including a regimen of periodic “fasting” from screen-gazing that manifests and deepens self-discipline and impulse control.
Freedom for creating a cyber culture that is worthy of the mind and heart of Christ; that is cognizant of the creative and destructive power of words; that is committed to cultivating intelligent dialogue in search of truth; that is characterized by thoughtful prudence in posting and forwarding; that promotes the joy of Christ; that does justice to human dignity; that refuses to curse the darkness but instead kindles a light; that reveals to those we disagree with the greatness of a hope that impels us to will the well-being of our enemies.
I’ll never forget the day, seven or eight years ago, when one of my children came up to me one evening when I was working intently on the computer. As he spoke, I continued to type, periodically saying “uh-huh,” or “sure.” He came at me relentlessly, “Dad, Dad, Dad!” Finally, losing my patience, I barked back, “I’M LISTENING!” He replied, without missing a beat, “But your face isn’t.”
I stopped, turned off the screen and looked at his face and he said, “Finally.”
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” – 1 Cor. 13:12
Adendum: Screen-Free Sabbath
I would like to mention here our family’s hallmark and year-round practice — which was my wife’s genius — of the “Screen Free Sunday” (SFS). SFS means that every Sunday we fast from all computers, iDevices and TV, with the exception of certain sporting events or edifying movies (my kids hate the word edifying, so we don’t use that anymore). In place of virtual reality, we engage in the non-virtual world of board games, bike rides, frisbee, drawing, reading, carpentry, beach going, gardening, visiting the sick, working in a soup kitchen or some other hands on and face to face family activity.
Among the many ways my wife and I have tried to bring a family-friendly order to the ubiquitous world of technology, I would say this has been our most cherished and successful. However, I would also say that cultivating a healthy and disciplined approach to technology has been our most difficult sustained challenge as parents. Classmates and culture so often encourage limitless access to the iWorld, but let me say that if we don’t teach our children from the very beginning how to properly utilize technology and remain fully human is absolutely imperative the iWorld will.
It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop on-line friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbours and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation. If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development. — Pope Benedict XVI