By Clarissa V. Aljentera - OSV Newsweekly, 2/24/2013
For some, Lent is the time when a list of sacrifices resurfaces. It may seem the list is constantly the same: giving up chocolate or swearing for 40 days. Others may be hoping to use Lent as an attempt to revive New Year’s resolutions. Some may choose to log off Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, citing that social media wastes too much of their time.
Giving things up for 40 days can help us tune our heart toward God. Without distractions to divert us, encountering God through relationships or prayer could become much easier. However, in the case of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, what could be considered a distraction can also be used to deepen one’s prayer life.
Facebook and its social media colleagues do not always deserve their bad reputations as “black holes” of technology that so many often consider them to be. While it is true that, between friends’ updates and searching for pictures from last weekend, one could get lost in Facebook, social networking can also enhance one’s prayer life by providing Scripture references, daily prayers or insightful discussions.
Perhaps some Catholics will commit to using Facebook or Twitter to enhance their faith over the 40 days of Lent, rather than ignoring it completely.
Pope’s social media legacy
On Jan. 26 Pope Benedict XVI released the message for World Communications Day 2013. In it, he underlined the importance for social networks and addressed them as a place for diverse dialogue and debate. The pope also called users to be their authentic selves and to make a commitment to building relationships and friends. He addressed being inclusive on social networks, noting that it can be a challenge for some to understand how evangelization works in the digital world.
In the papal message, the importance of these networks’ roles in facilitating the sharing of spiritual and liturgical resources as a way to help people pray was revealed. These prayers and resources found through social media can help some feel like they are included in a global community of believers. Social media ceases as a distraction, and becomes a way for Catholics to grow deeper in prayer.
Pope Benedict’s commitment to social media will be one of the many legacies of his pontificate. He officially joined Twitter late last year and regularly tweets on everything from liturgies to prayer prompts in relation to current world events. Last month, the Vatican launched “Pope App,” which features live streaming of events and the pontiff’s homilies and messages, among other features. The papal Twitter account, @Pontifex, opens up the possibility of future popes tweeting advice and encouragement.
Ways to use social media to strengthen the faith could include downloading podcasts for daily readings or participating in an e-retreat. Social media and technology have evolved in ways where they can help facilitate our prayer lives instead of being a distraction from it. From receiving Tweets about today’s Gospel to daily inspiration updates via Facebook, using technology as a faith tool is simple.
Many organizations now maintain a Web page and a Facebook page as ways to communicate with people. With the fluidity of social networking pages, updating information and photographs is less cumbersome than a traditional Web page. Social network pages also allow many people to become part of a conversation, instead of having it be one-sided.
Jesuit Father James Martin said he uses technology in his own prayer life, as well as using Facebook and Twitter as an evangelization tool to spread the Gospel message. Father Martin, who is editor-at-large at America magazine and author of the e-retreat, “Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer” (HarperCollins, $7.99) said he can point to various sites that can offer daily inspiration.
“Find one or two good sites and stick with them,” he said. “Otherwise you have a tendency to jump all over the place.” Father Martin recommended “Pray As You Go”, which offers daily podcasts and other resources, “Sacred Space”, a site that offers daily prayer and reflection, and the daily readings on the website for U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.
One idea that Sister Mary Ann Walsh, USCCB spokeswoman, suggested for Lent was for Catholics to sanctify how they interact with friends on social networking. Walsh suggested fasting from negativity by posting a positive comment on a friend’s page or praying for people who do post negative comments. She also added that social media users could give alms to the causes or charities via networks.
Sister Walsh advised social media users to visit the USCCB Facebook page to find resources or the Center for Action and Contemplation’s website. It is important to find sites where users are comfortable and will find the time to make a commitment to their own prayer life, she said.
One example of staying positive on a site like Instagram might be to post photographs on a regular basis during Lent that show beauty in all of God’s creation. Someone might also take the time to research and post inspirational quotes from Scripture on their Twitter feed to help their followers reflect and find God in their day. Users could also help organize volunteers for a favorite charity by posting events on Facebook or tweeting out information.
Peace in community
In his papal message, Pope Benedict also said that people will make an initial connection online and then want a direct encounter, an experience of community and pilgrimage. This speaks to the importance of living in the present and real-time connections that we find in our relationships with family, friends and fellow parishioners. It is not just encountering and finding God through social media, but it soon becomes how that one connection can influence what people seek on a daily basis.
The opportunities to give into social media instead of giving up on it can open the doors to a richer, more fulfilling Lenten experience. The creativity and depth have reached new levels, allowing anyone to easily access social media for prayer at any time.
Related section: Your Guide to a Catholic Lent
Clarissa V. Aljentera writes from Illinois.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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