When I was in college, a classmate posted on Ash Wednesday that she was giving up Facebook for Lent. Thursday, she joined Twitter. Funny? Yes. Inconceivable? No.
This begs the question, What was she hoping to get out of giving up Facebook for Lent?
When I was younger, it seemed like everyone gave up chocolate for Lent. Now the popular thing seems to be giving up your social media platform of choice. Perhaps that's merely a reflection of my aging and maturing, or a reflection of the social media dominated "millennial era," of which I find myself right in the middle.
Just as we can ask the question, why give up Facebook? we could ask the same of sweets. Are we giving up those things because we want to lose weight in time for the summer? Are we giving up Facebook or candy because they are the easy and popular thing to do? What's the point?
Lent is a time of growing closer in our relationship with Christ through purification from sin. Giving up candy could be a good way to build up self-discipline in avoiding more serious or debilitating temptations. Giving up social media could help you to reprioritize your relationship with God in your life.
In turning away from sin, we are called to seek virtue. Part of the problem with our societal dependence on - or dare I say, addiction to - social media is that it blinds us from the virtue we should be seeking, humility.
Social media has a tendency to force us into broadcasting ourselves. Our laptops and cellphones become very expensive self-promoting bullhorns.
Humility is the opposite. It seeks to put others first and ourselves last. For the Christian, it is about putting Christ first.
Humility recognizes that same sinfulness in need of purification during Lent, whereas social media recognizes our accomplishments worth posting for the world to see.
While various social media platforms haven't been around all that long, it's safe to say they are here to stay. The particular names might rise and fall (Remember Vine and Myspace?), but the phenomenon is permanent.
So what are we to do? How can we grow in humility in the social media era?
Fleeing social media completely neglects the exhortations of both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. We must figure out how to embrace and use social media for good, for Christ.
How can we still grow in virtue in an ever- developing and changing social media landscape? Here are some ideas to help you get started growing in humility - on and off your favorite electronic device.
Away from your device:
- Prayer and confession:
In seminary, our rector, now Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey, used to ask us, "Are you spending more time on Facebook or in the chapel?"
Christ desires to enter into relationship with us; we must spend time with him in prayer. How do we prioritize our time? Do we spend it all consumed by ourselves on social media? Or do we give time to Christ?
Is it easy for us to shout our accomplishments and accolades on social media, but when it comes to confessing our sins, is it too hard? Just as we make a regular habit of checking social media, we should make a regular habit of going to confession to help us grow in humility and holiness.
Spend time serving those who are in need, those on the "peripheries" as Pope Francis likes to say. Encountering the face of Christ in the poor is a transformative experience. It should teach us to be grateful for things we have, and out of that gratitude should sprout humility.
When we encounter those who are poor, yet still full of joy, we realize that our happiness or self-worth should not be tied to how many followers or likes we have.
On your device:
When we encounter greatness, it changes us. Shouldn't we want to share that with others?
The next time you read a great article or watch an informative video, share it so others can appreciate it too. Then your feed won't be filled exclusively with posts about what great things you have done, but rather what others have done as well.
One of the unfortunate side effects of hiding behind a screen is that it can bring out the worst in us. Unfortunately this vitriol has seeped into the church as well; such pisive, hate-filled speech does nothing to build up the kingdom of God.
What if instead of commenting negatively, we stuck to compliments? How does it make you feel when you put hard work into something and others recognize it with their compliments (and likes)? Shouldn't we want to return the favor to others?
Complimenting others is another way for us to put others first and ourselves last. To use social media in this way helps to build others up instead of tearing them down and bolstering our own egos, and in turn helps us to grow in humility.
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(Father Brooke is a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri. His website is http://padregeoffrey.com and his social media handle is @PadreGeoffrey.)