TAMING OUR BAD HABITS IN LENT – Giving up Social Media

– Fr Leonard Dollentas

I recently encountered a churchgoer who was baptized in the Catholic Church four years ago. As churches in Macao had gradually been reopened, after being closed due to the COVID-19 health precautions, she was at the Cathedral to pray the stations of the cross. She shared with me her bliss and excitement in observing the Catholic customs and practices as she journeys trying her best to be a devout Catholic. This Lent, she has been deepening her devotion to understanding the suffering of the Savior by abstaining from her use of social media.

She told me: “When I give up something for Lent, my approach is to stay away from it entirely.”  In her determination and resolve to let go of her bad habits of spending too much time on Facebook, she changed the password (without looking at the new password or saving it) so that there is no way for her to log in. She then deleted her Instagram account entirely and now avowed to check Twitter only once a month or less as it no longer captures her attention. The result:  more time for prayer, enough time to rest, in-person conversation with friends and family members, and precious time to read the Bible.

Moderating the use of gadgets 

Most of us will admit that we spend too much time ogling our phones. We allow them to take priority over the presence of the persons around us. The buzz or ring of our smartphones distracts us during meetings, conversations, family gatherings and even during the Mass or at prayer time.

As we enter the season of Lent, we may ponder that it is often easier to abstain from something entirely than to moderate its use. However, there are some things we cannot simply abstain from, and learning to moderate them is an important virtue to cultivate.

The churchgoer above has given up using Facebook for Lent and the use of her other gadgets. She admitted, however, that it was arduously challenging for her to do so. Certainly, it may appear to be punishing and even heavy, but for most of us disconnecting our smartphones during Lent can be a significant source of mortification and grace.

Mortification in Lent

The word “mortification” comes from the Latin words mors and mortis which means “death.” Hence, mortification refers to voluntary actions by which we gradually “put to death” all of our vices, bad habits, and all other self-centered tendencies. St Paul emphasized this in his letter to the Ephesians:

“You were to put aside [we could say “put to death] your old self, which belongs to your old way of life and is corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind was to be renewed in spirit so that you could put on the New Man that has been created on God’s principles, in the uprightness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

We carry this out by freely denying ourselves certain pleasures that are not in themselves sinful, but nevertheless lead us to spiritual distractions. Thus, when we deny ourselves the use of social media we gradually learn to control our tendencies to loquacity and egocentric tendencies. Along with other alternatives for mortifications in Lent, we tame our urges and desires so that they are fruitful and not distractive. The self-deprivation involved leads to self-discipline that helps create interior order and peace in us. In doing so, we can responsibly focus ourselves to God to hear and respond to His action in our lives and become better followers of Christ.

Set limits for yourself

Here are a number of workable measures that can help us in our mortification from social media this season of Lent. Decide how often each day you really need to check your device. One may probably not need to check it as often as one is accustomed to. Set the number at four times a day or you could even just drop social media for the day, but one needs to stick to that with all honesty.  At the designated times, check for messages, emails, and missed calls. Make a few quick follow-ups and updates until the next time. You need an ample amount of discipline to resist the urge to break your rule. In between those times, spend the day as if your device doesn’t even exist. Leave your device and visit the church for your Lenten practices such as praying the Way of the Cross, Rosary or maybe just a short visit to the Blessed sacrament.

The Meaningful Silence of the Lenten Season

To make the mortification more effective, you need to turn off all those alerts on your phone or other gadgets. They don’t just distract you; they annoy others around you and may disrupt your resolve to moderate your usage.

Pope Francis urged Catholics, in his weekly audience on Ash Wednesday, to use the season of Lent to spend less time absorbed in the chatter and noise of the world brought by television and phones, and to spend more time in silence and in conversation with God.

The Pontiff said: “Lent is the right time to make room for the Word of God. It is time to turn off the television and open the Bible. It is the time to disconnect from your cell phone and connect to the Gospel.”

Pope Francis acknowledged that it is not easy to make space for silence in one’s heart. In the above-mentioned audience he invited everyone to imagine themselves in the desert, surrounded by a great silence, with “no noises, apart from the wind and our breath.”

Consider using the “Do not Disturb” function of your phone. This will allow you to set up times during which the phone will not ring, and texts and other messages would not light up for alerts on the screen. For people who might really need to get in touch with you in an emergency, you can set up a list of contacts whose calls/messages will come through at any time.

You should expect that some people will be annoyed that you don’t answer their texts and emails right away. You can inform them beforehand that you will be out of reach for your Lenten observance. You can explain to them your purpose and even invite them to do the same.  Pope Francis pointed out in his Ash Wednesday audience that ‘desert’ of Lent, where we can be in conversation with the Lord, becomes a life-giving place. “It is the absence of words to make room for another Word, the Word of God,” he said.

I would be grateful if our readers would apply the suggestions mentioned as regards a meaningful mortification of the use of smartphones and other social media gadgets. Lent is a proper time to work on moderation. It is a lot harder than abstinence, but it’s a necessary skill to acquire. It requires a profound commitment to abide by the limits you set for yourself.

May our 40-day journey this Lent 2020 usher us to a simpler life by giving up superfluous, vain things and lead us to a life of humility and simplicity.