Bill McGarvey is the editor-in-chief of BustedHalo.com, an online magazine for spiritual seekers, as well as a musician. His latest album is
First it was chocolate. Then came foul language. And, finally, there was the earnest commitment to abstain from any "off-color" humor. The litany of things I've personally tried to "give up" for Lent is a long and undistinguished list of near misses and outright failures.
But then again, personal piety was never my strong suit. I can vividly recall, as a 10-year old, my 12-year-old neighbor telling me that she had given up television for Lent. Television! I remember standing in her house in awe and slightly unsure of whether I should be admiring her saintliness or horrified by her apparent insanity. Perhaps this was some sort of spiritual maturity beyond my 10-year-old soul? Some religious discipline only understood by much older and wiser 12-year-olds?
If fasting from TV was enough to bring me to my knees back when there were only three networks and a smattering of VHF channels, the recent news out of Italy should have finished me off for good. A number of Italian bishops are suggesting that Catholics go on a high-tech fast this lent. They are urging their flock to wean themselves from e-mail, turn off cell phones and refrain from texting on Fridays.
On its face, this might appear to be yet another ill-conceived message from the same people who brought us the "Ten Commandments For Drivers" back in June 2007 or, more recently, "Holocaust-Denying Bishop Welcomed Back." It is no secret that the Catholic Church often has issues in terms of communicating its message and can seem out of touch with the rest of the world at times. But they're on to something with this latest missive.
The truth is many of us — myself included — spend much of our waking hours sending and receiving electronic messages. We now consider it inconvenient to not be able to speak to someone — or at the very least exchange texts with them — at a moment's notice. We are endlessly communicating, but rarely connecting. Technology has no doubt made many of our lives easier, but they are not necessarily richer, more personal or more human. Technicians and engineers can't do that — it is up to us.
Christians traditionally practice the spiritual disciplines of Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving during Lent. Like the exercise we do for our physical health, the belief is that our consistent participation in these disciplines helps purify us. It improves our spiritual well-being by stripping away all that is unnecessary and by becoming more mindful of our ultimate dependence on God in our lives. Rather than serving as yet another sign of being out of touch, church officials in Italy may be challenging people in ways that are far more relevant to our lives than we care to admit.
Bill McGarvey is the editor-in-chief of BustedHalo.com, an online magazine for spiritual seekers, as well as a musician. His latest album is Beautiful Mess.
For an alternative approach to traditional Lenten practices go to Busted Halo's Fast, Pray, Give calender.