- Preparing for Lent -
Lent is coming (sigh). Unlike really holy people, part of me starts to dread Lent as soon as the Christmas season ends. It’s the dark cloud on the horizon, the looming test for which I didn’t study. But once I refocus on the incredible value of sacrificing bourbon, coffee, and other “necessities” of life, some of the pain is assuaged.
The goal of this life is to conform ourselves to Christ, the Christ who gave of himself for our salvation. Voluntary penance conquers our fleshly desires. It prevents them from mastering us so that we are more in control, so that we have possession of ourselves. And that’s the key. As St. John Paul II taught, you have to possess yourself before you can give yourself away. Why? Because you can’t give away what you don’t own. If we’re ruled by our passions, then we aren’t free to give of ourselves completely like Christ. That’s why penance is so powerful. It’s all about freedom and self-gift. The bourbon, coffee, and chocolate we give up in Lent are means to an end, and the end is self-donation.
Ultimately, when we practice penance, we’re giving up something good for something better. We’re sacrificing the temporal goods of this world for the eternal “greats” of the next. By voluntarily taming our own wants and desires, we free our eyes to look to heaven and humbly identify with the actions of Our Lord. That’s the power of penance. It detaches us from the things of this world so that we can act out of heavenly love...even if we don’t yet love Lent.
Matthew Leonard is Vice President at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and host of “The Art of Catholic” podcast on iTunes. His website is MatthewSLeonard.com.
- Observing Lent on the Digital Continent -
Many people enter Lent resolved to give up media entirely. For some, this means a blackout of all activities on Facebook, for others it is a resolution to avoid TV or movies. As Catholics, Lent is a time to renew our witness to be like Christ reflecting on his sacrifice and his evangelical zeal for souls. With more people spending time immersed in the ‘digital continent,’ we can’t let Lent result in a total blackout of our efforts to bring Christ to this new world. To stay present in the conversation online without falling into its pitfalls, I present two saintly models: St. Barnabas and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
St. Barnabas – The First Evangelization
Many logically assume that media consumption has an effect on behavior, but a couple years ago Facebook released a scientific study proving the connection. Facebook showed that it could manipulate the emotions of its users by increasing the negative content in participant’s feeds. Simply put, the more negative content shared, the more negative its users became. In light of this, when it comes to what we share and how we comment online this Lent, I would like to present St. Barnabas as a model. Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement” and it was Barnabas who encouraged the Apostles to accept Saul after his conversion, not focusing on his many sins but instead supporting him on his journey to become an Apostle. When Paul was unsure of Mark, it was Barnabas who saw the good in Mark, leaving Paul to accompany Mark and lift him up. Simply stated, without the encouraging words of Barnabas we would not have the Gospel of Mark or the Letters of Paul – some of the most significant media in human history. And this is due to Barnabas’s habit of focusing on the good in his brothers, elevating them to sanctity.
Our Lady of Guadalupe – The Evangelization of the New World
At perhaps the moment of greatest change for the Church during its 2,000 year history -- In the midst of the discovery of the new world and the middle of the Protestant reformation -- Our Lady chose to renew and preserve the Church using a piece of media. In 1531, she appeared, giving Juan Diego a beautiful snapshot of her image on the canvas of his simple peasant’s cloak. In this one image, we see two worlds (the new and the old) and two peoples (natives and Europeans) joined as one. We see virginity and motherhood and we see time and eternity all laid out for the observer. In short, we glimpse heaven through the gate of heaven: Our Lady. In this one miraculous image, we see the answers for the evangelization of the new world 500 years ago and the path for the new evangelization we are called to today. This lent, let us use this image as the model for the content we choose to create and share. Let’s make a promise to avoid comments that divide instead of sharing content that builds bridges, conveys truth and does so with the maternal love of Our Lady and Our Church.
This is not to state that we should use Lent as an opportunity to jump online without reflection. We need to pray first and for some of us that prayer will result in a prudent decision to abstain from online activity or media for the duration of Lent. But for those of us who choose to practice Lent on the digital continent, like Barnabas we should commit to sacrificing negativity and make an effort to lift our brothers and sisters up. Most importantly, we should reflect on the image of Our Lady before sharing with others so we might reflect her image. Whatever we do, we should offer our Lenten sacrifices for those who need help in their Christian witness on and offline, taking St. Barnabas and Our Lady as guides.
Matt Meeks is the Chief Digital Officer of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and President at the OneWord Group, a strategic consultancy helping the Church elevate her marketing, operations and communications so that “all might be one.”