Musings On The Journey of Lent: Utilizing Social Media In A Good Way
Few weeks ago, Catholics throughout the world celebrated Ash Wednesday signaling the official start of the Lenten season. Based on the teachings of the Catholic Church, Lent is one of the liturgical seasons of the Year, which is being observed for a period of 40 days with almsgiving, fasting, prayer and penitence/repentance as among its pillars. The season of Lent gives us the opportunity to stop and reflect on our relationship with God, what have we done to strengthen said relationship to be able to journey in the presence of the Lord not only for 40 days, but every single day of our lives. Lent paves us the way for the Holy Week, specifically the Three Days or the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday), and eventually the Easter Season which begins during the Easter Vigil and the following day of Easter Sunday.
As followers of Christ, what can we do during this Lenten season to help lessen the heavy burden of our sins carried by our Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Mt. Calvary? Are we willing to change, transform ourselves and make friends with God, for the sake of His sorrowful passion? How can we utilize the period of Lent to check out where we fell short in loving and glorifying God, and to make us realize that our spiritual discipline should focus more on how we can be closer to Him, how can we love Him more and care for others? Well, it is during Lent that we are given an extra special opportunity to reconnect with God and to focus our hearts on Him, and to commemorate His love and sacrifices for us when He was on earth. We are enjoined to avoid those things which pull us away from God. This is the time when we can ask ourselves: Where is my heart? Is my heart still with the Lord, or not?
Lent is included in our Church calendar to primarily remind us what God has done so much for us, about His never-ending and persistent love and compassion for eveyone, regardless of the magnitude and the number of times we have fallen. This kind of love is far greater than human love that we share with our loved ones, friends and neighbors. This is the focal point of God’s message of love, for us to respond to His message, i.e., to share His love for us, which has been set in our hearts, to others even to those who aren’t friendly to us.
Our Lord Jesus Christ says: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Well, this is easier said than done, right? But this is God’s standard on how to treat our neighbors. While this is something that we may not be comfortable doing particularly if the person causes us harm and ill will, however, if we opt to heed His call, we have no other choice but to follow His banner. This is one of the greatest standards set by God on us to live by. You see, God wants us to embrace even our enemies because His love for mankind is for everyone, both saints and sinners here on earth. God wants us to love the person even if the latter dislikes or hates us. Jesus Christ, once said, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” Our Lord does not mean that we have to embrace abuses, bullying and other harmful acts because He also said, “offer no resistance to one who is evil”. This only means that our Lord wants us not to stoop down to the evil person’s level or to demean ourselves to senseless and foolhardy quarrels or arguments. He wants us not to get revenge or to get one’s own back. He wants us to be merciful and forgiving to those who have even greatly maligned and hurt us. And surely, this is not easy to live by, but we have to, even if we have to struggle in order to please God and make Him happy.
At times, we would utter these words, “I promise I will be good from now on” in certain moments of our lives, good or bad times, without deep understanding of what we have just said. The conviction to be good is to follow the righteous path that will lead us to better understand that life in this world does not only involve ours but of others too. When we are able to learn to love and care for other people by sharing what we have especially to those who are in need, those who have gone astray, then we shall be able to encourage and inspire them to do good and change their wayward lives too.
In this age of modern technology where we spend sometime with family and friends using tech gadgets, if not most of the time, in social media (socmed), do we still allocate time for the Lord? Do we practice and follow God’s standards regarding our neighbors especially to those who are not friendly to us? Do we entertain/adopt the “cancel culture” that other people do to their family members or friends who do not share the same beliefs or opinions? Do we use the social media in a nice way? Undoubtedly, we are much aware that there are pluses and minuses in the use of these kinds of communication platforms. While we can source and learn many things, random bits of information, in socmed from people in every spectrum of society, there are also instances where we encounter posts and messages that could affect our personal and spiritual goals in life.
I ain’t a smart phone addict, so I don’t usually access my socmed accounts via phones. Instead, I do it on a PC or an ipad when browsing socmed updates. I noticed that when using a smart phone, the propensity to access socmed and other stuffs is greater vis-a-vis using a PC. Thus, my use of the platform is limited to posting some thoughts on the web and commenting on relevant issues about the faith, current events and a small chunk of it on politics. However, based on my observations and even those of socmed users, discourses on politics elicit hostile emotions, hateful speech and comments which can incite violence against people and can even provoke off-line hate crimes in certain cases. The use of ad-hominem and character attacks is rampant and is one of the causes of polarization and divisiveness among socmed users, families and even in the Church community. What is sad and disappointing is that family members and friends have been in conflict with each other, ignoring and losing the love and respect, all because of political differences. I have a good friend based abroad who has been receiving messages from one of her “best friends” convincing her not to vote this particular Presidentiable labeling the latter as evil, thief, liar, etc.. When she responded negatively and told her that she is good rooting for the said candidate, this friend of hers automatically “cancelled” her, shutting her down from her communication lines. What are best friends for, then? Even among clergymen, there was one post I have seen where a priest made harsh/rash comment on some parishioners (“kung di kayo buboto sa matinong kandidato,wag na kayong magsimba”) just because they support a certain presidentiable different from his. What happened to his evangelization and pastoral obligations?
What have we become? We are Catholic Christians. Why can’t we simply understand and respect each other’s beliefs and opinions instead of flinging mud at each other? No matter how different our political beliefs and opinions are, since we are all Christians, we are supposed to maintain the dignity of each other’s friendly relationship, by being more considerate, forgiving, respectful and understanding, apart of course from reminding each other about what the Lord Jesus Christ did when He was on earth. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in His words, teaches us to find what is good in other people, even if they seem “not okay” to make friends with. Even if there are other people who doesn’t like us but , instead of abandoning them, we can make it as an opportunity for us to explore if there is any “goodness” in the person. Social Media can be useful to us, there are a lot of good things to do in there which won’t put our time to waste. We can utilize it to spread anything that is true and not fake news, that will have positive effects on other people’s lives. It can serve as a venue to inspire others to lead a good life, to be better students, to be good citizens of our country. We should not be easily tempted to flare up or to fling right back whenever a person flings mud at us. We should always be reminded about God’s standards of LOVE.
Pope Francis, in his 2022 Lenten message, suggested that the 40 days of Lent be a time to confront addiction to digital media and focus instead on encountering those in need, face to face. He further stated that “The arrogance of the time of the clock must be converted into the beauty of the rhythms of life. This is the reform we must make in our hearts, in the family, and in society”. He mentioned that we should be more concerned and sensitive to other people’s needs. particularly the elderly, the unwanted children, and the sick in hospitals who are being cast aside and that should be our focus during this 40 days of Lent.
The Holy Father may be right in his perception that digital and social media may have adverse consequences on us. However and as mentioned earlier, it can be useful as well in spreading positive things, including the Church teachings and the Word of God. It is on how we balance our time for family, our personal work and for God. Our Lord Jesus Christ is compassionate and merciful; He freed us from sin because of His death on the Cross, and with the many chances and opportunities He has given us to renew our lives, we have the option to become better and be perfect, if we will. With self-awareness and self-imposed boundaries, we can properly schedule our conversation with God either in solitude or spend a quality time for and prayer with our family, attending to other people’s needs and a few hours for social media, and in that way we can better harness every aspect of our lives for the good and betterment of all.
Our loving and generous God, we pray that this Lent be truly blessed and fruitful for all of us. Teach us dear Lord to walk in your presence everyday and to make You the center of our lives. Help us dear Lord and grant us the courage and humility to be forgiving and merciful, even to our enemies. Jesus, King of Mercy, we trust in You. A blessed and meaningful Lenten Season to you all. Amen.
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(a modified version from the same article (same author) published in a catholic magazine abroad)