Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is such an interesting thing in this era of social media and technology.
Back when I was young, Ash Wednesday was a big deal to us because, well, we are Catholic AND we went to Catholic school. Other than McDonald’s offering fish sandwiches on the menu, the rest of the world didn’t seem too clued in to what we over in our Alabama 1% Catholic community were doing.
When we would show up places after school, we were looked at funny or asked what was on our head. I don’t even really remember there being a lot of Ash Wednesday services at all the Protestant churches like there seem to be today.
But, now, social media is exploding with reminders of the beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday. The hashtag #AshTag is trending on Twitter. There’s blogs upon blogs upon blogs suggesting ways to make the most of your Lenten season. There’s Instagrams left and right of people’s ashy foreheads (guilty!). There are even a few new and very cool apps out there that are specifically for meditation and reminders to pray daily and not to eat meat on Fridays during Lent.
It’s an incredibly interesting time to live.
I have to laugh a little about it all, though. All this tech and social media are making Lent a big, shiny, interactive deal (which, of course, it is in the very life and culture of the Church). But, if you stop and think about it, the Church itself doesn’t ask too much of us…
There’s only TWO actual, required days of fasting – Ash Wednesday & Good Friday.
Only TWO days.
*As far as abstinence goes, all the Church asks of us on Fridays during Lent is to give up meat. That’s it. Just meat.
* Heck, Ash Wednesday, one of the top 3 most well attended Mass days of the year IS NOT a Holy Day of Obligation. You don’t HAVE to go.
The Church doesn’t require much of us during Lent (though she obviously strongly encourages and suggests that we do what we can to make the most of the season.)
Who actually asks the most of us during Lent, though? God Himself. Just listen to the Ash Wednesday readings:
“Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.”
It mentions fasting, yes, but what God is asking of us is OUR HEARTS. That’s what He wants. God doesn’t say “Give things up” or “Make a big deal about what your doing this Lent.” In fact, Jesus says quite the opposite to the apostles:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
…when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret
…when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret
…when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting…”
(See Mt. 6:1-6, 16-18)
As much fun as it is to interact with others on social media and “Show Off Our Ashes” and as important as it is to make note of our actions and sometimes our failures when it comes to our Lenten sacrifices, it’s not about a score card or a tally sheet. It’s not about letting everyone know that we have given up Facebook or that we’re making some drastic change or sacrifice or that we want a hamburger.
It’s about our hearts.
God wants US, and US with our hearts turned towards Him. We make sacrifices or do more praying or almsgiving because it’s making our hearts more generous, more open, more prepared to understand all that Christ did for us in His Passion and to fully receive and experience the joy of Him winning our salvation at Easter.
it’s about allowing our hearts and lives to fully enter into the life of Christ, walking with Him through His Passion to the Cross, and then celebrating the reality that our salvation has been won.
The journey has begun…