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Lent in the digital age

Isabelle Gagnon

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
This year, in his Ash Wednesday homily, the pope said something very evocative: "The journey of Lent is an exodus, an exodus from slavery to freedom." What kind of slavery does he mean? The answer lies with certain hidden servitudes, certain subtle trends of our times that affect us all to some degree. If the digital age has brought great progress, it has also had dire consequences for our contact with God and His Creation.
Digital temptations
If we invest all our time getting closer to God, avoiding all forms of distraction, we would be able to taste more deeply the experience of His unconditional love. Already, being marked by sin, we have all kinds of temptations that naturally lead us away from this privileged relationship. We fall into many excesses of pride, gluttony, greed, avarice, etc., which are not always easy to deal with.
There are, however, sources of distraction that are specific to our times, which stimulate our sense of instant gratification: smart phones, electronic games, and social media. Having emerged as tools to facilitate communication and entertainment, these technologies have quickly proven to be bottomless sources of distraction that absorb every ounce of attention we possess.
In addition, social media particularly affects the personal image of teenagers. At the time of the biggest physical transformation of their lives, they find millions of people to compare themselves to and who are likely to judge their appearance. Social networks offer the illusion of a quantified value of one's body and personal image. In reality, the number of "likes" and the number of subscribers is just another call to the sin of pride.
In other words, the digital age seems to be an age of judgment and entertainment. Where is the place for conversion, for a return to Christ?
Fasting the digital way
The Lenten fast is well known. Since the beginnings of the Church, a set of fasting practices have been maintained by the faithful. Today, they have become considerably softer, true fasting being required by the Church only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and this excludes children, adolescents, and the elderly. During Lent, a softer form of fasting is encouraged in addition to almsgiving and prayer. This is why some people stop eating chocolate or drinking alcohol.
Fundamentally, fasting relates to food, but by analogy we can think of all kinds of fasts. The principle is that of conversion. In Lent we seek to turn to God, to improve our relationship with Him. We can hardly do this if we are always distracted by social networks, television, and electronic games.
A digital fast is perhaps the most beneficial fast for many of us. Obviously, the pandemic does not allow for total digital fasting, but we can still try to reduce our screen time to get closer to God and offer Him our moments of silence.
A Return to God
The Latin origin of diversion is diverto, to turn away from, which expresses the opposite of converto, to turn towards, the root of the word conversion. These two very simple movements allow us to understand the pope's teaching, which states that Lent is a journey back to God at the same time as being an exodus from slavery to freedom.
We can even see that the passage from slavery to freedom is a journey to God because only God can make us truly free. As we move closer to Him, our understanding of freedom becomes sharper and gives us a more complete and precise definition of it. No longer as the "freedom" to do anything but rather as our ability to seek and do good.
What then is our slavery? Slavery is certainly that of sin, but it takes many forms for everyone. For my part, the digital life, and social networks more generally, often steer me away from God. That is why I myself am beginning a digital fast. Although Christ or the Fathers of the Church did not foretell the arrival of our virtual world, they had already given us the principles to detect its inherent vice.
Keeping in touch
There is another form of communication that is very useful to our faith: prayer. It involves things that we tend to run away from: silence and pause. Occupying every second with noise or images is dangerous because we miss every opportunity to listen to the Holy Spirit and to give thanks to God. Lent is thus an extraordinary opportunity to face silence, to leave aside our gadgets and offer our time of "boredom" to God so that, transfigured with Him, we may live each moment in all its beauty and strength.

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