CATHOLICS around Australia have used the liturgical season of Lent to restrict their use of social media applications like Facebook.
The traditional custom of giving up something for Lent is voluntary; but during his 2019 Lenten message Pope Francis urged the faithful to consider it a gift.
“The celebration of the Paschal Triduum of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, the culmination of the liturgical year, calls us yearly to undertake a journey of preparation, in the knowledge that our being conformed to Christ is a priceless gift of God’s mercy,” he wrote.
Brisbane Catholic Joseph Grogan has made some dramatic changes to his social media consumption during Lent.
“I didn’t realise how instinctively my fingers routinely check my Facebook app, so I deleted my social media apps at the start of Lent,” Mr Grogan said.
“I’ve been involved in communications for different church groups for nearly 10 years.
“So I’m accustomed to daily social media use.
“Social media helps people to stay in touch, stay up to date and encourages positive social justice advocacy; however, it also shapes disparate echo chambers.
“It creates a disconnect between social awareness and personal social interaction pivotal for meaningful friendships and relationships.”
Mr Grogan, who is doing his doctorate in Film and Screenwriting, said Lent reminded him of the importance to step outside the social media bubble.
“Instead of checking my social media, I can read a verse from The Bible. Psalms are a favourite,” he said.
“Taking a sabbatical from the social media bubble, I am more attentive to my father, sisters and friends, and it restores my planning and academic productivity.
“Above all, I feel my prayer reflections journey longer and deeper when I step out of the rush of daily social media and perpetual updates.”
Another fired up young Catholic who is fighting the insidiousness of social media is Marie van Rensburg, a missionary with the The Culture Project in Sydney.
Ms van Rensburg (pictured) said she was addicted to social media apps like Facebook, and understood of the destructive nature of it all.
“I realised I was addicted,” Ms van Rensburg said.
“I was picking up my phone at any moment that I was the slightest bit bored, hungry, frustrated.
“I was consistently checking and going through the same routine.
“Flicking through the same pages, going onto the apps, and just wasting so much time just swimming in the newsfeeds of the intimate details of everyone’s life without even living my own life.”
She said she was absorbed in other people’s realities, “or at least what they depicted as their realities”.
“I’m sitting there in a public environment and I’m totally wrapped up in someone else’s environment without living my immediate life or engaging with the people in my immediate circle,” she said.
I realised this was such a poor way to live.”
Since beginning her Lenten fast Ms van Rensburg said she had been less concerned about trivial things.
“Since quitting it, I find myself a lot less concerned with the matters of the world,” Ms van Rensburg said.
“I have less need to be on my phone because there’s nothing for me to check.
“In the absence of having the absence of those apps I realised how often I was hooked on looking for some sort of external validation or affirmation from some distant, random person on my social media.”
Brisbane Catholic Clare Burns has “logged off for Lent” in previous years, saying the experience gave her greater peace.
“For a number of years I have to be on social media for work and volunteer roles in communication and could use this as an excuse,” Ms Burns said.
“Two years ago I didn’t have any communication commitments and I wanted to see if I could disconnect – Lent was the perfect time to go back to basics.”
Ms Burns said she was aware of trappings of such external sources like Facebook.
“I was aware that there was an element of habit, perhaps addiction, forming around my use which I was not comfortable with,” she said.
“So this was an opportunity to regain a sense of not being reliant on an external source to fill my needs.
“Like most people, there is a lot of excess ‘noise’ in my day.
“I wanted to spend more time being quiet and mediating on God, rather being easily distracted from unnecessary observations of friends, trends, or external drivers that cannot satisfy internal needs.”
Ms Burns said a greater sense of inner peace and tranquility were the ensuing benefits of her decision to “disconnect”.
“Coming off social media bought greater peace – less clutter to my mind, particularly at the end of the day,” she said.
“There have been a few flow-on effects from that Lenten fast.
“I now fast from social media one day a week (similar to fasting from meat on Fridays) all through the year – this helps with self-discipline.”
Disconnecting from social media platforms during Lent has become a popular practice among many Catholics, and its righteousness can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“The means of social communication (especially the mass media) can give rise to a certain passivity among users, making them less than vigilant consumers of what is said or shown,” it says.
“Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media.
“They will want to form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences.”