The Weirdly #Ashtag “Look-at-Me” Lent of 2014

Seriously, guys, this is no hardship!

Maybe it’s me but there seem to be a lot of “oh no! It’s Lent! We’re going meatless for a day and how shall we endure it!” sorts of posts showing up on the ‘net this year, and I’m puzzled about it.

I mean, it’s one meatless day. I’m betting many of us experience them at least once a week, without thinking about it. We might get up and have cereal or waffles in the morning, and then an egg-salad or tuna sandwich for lunch, and then decide on a veggie pizza for supper, without stopping for a moment to think, “Gosh, I haven’t had meat today! How dramatic!”

We don’t think it because going meatless for a day is not particularly dramatic, at least not until it becomes a religious obligation, and a sacrifice. Then it’s all, “Woe! Meatlessness! What shall we do!”

“Do without” is the simple answer. Let’s be real; pasta with garlic and broccoli — a humble, filling, and inexpensive Lenten meal — is no penance.

Perhaps some of this is about needing community, with blog posts and selfies taking the place of old-fashioned parish Fish Fries, because that is how community is done online.

Maybe so, but I’m a little wary of it. On Ash-Wednesday our timelines were clogged with thousands of snapshots of people wearing ashes, and that seemed strange to me: “look at me, I’m being penitential and wearing a reminder of my mortality! Let’s see your penitential reminder!”

On one hand, it was great to see so many people engaged and excited about their faith and about the great hope we bring to a season of discipline and denial that we hope will bear great fruit. On the other hand, there was just something unseemly about it that threatened to imbue Ash Wednesday with the shallowness of worldly trendiness.

And now, on this First Friday of Lent, lots of posts advising us on how to “handle” meatlessness; how to “cope”; how to “make it through.”

So much focus on ourselves, and this very small, not-arduous deprivation. It seems counter-productive to the season, when the self is the thing we’re supposed to be letting go of, or at least considering less.

As long as we’re saying “look at me and my ashes! Look at you and the sad face you’re making over your tuna melt!” we’re not looking at Christ Jesus. We’re not looking at where we have fallen short of our callings. We’re not decreasing, so he may increase.

The paradox of social media is that it is a profound tool for evangelization, and because that is true, it is also the devil’s own playground, where we are tempted to egoism-unto-occasion-of-sin, if we are not careful. Eight years of blogging speaking; I’ve fallen into the trap enough to tell.

It’s human nature to want to be “seen” as we do things — somehow when we are seen, we feel affirmed, and that makes what we do seem more meaningful and real to us. But are we a little too-into the “look at me!” this Lent? Jesus makes a specific point of counseling us not to make a big deal of our fastings and sacrifices.

Maybe we’re over-conscious of our sacrifices in Lent because we don’t have many asked of us in Ordinary Time. For that reason, even if the genie can’t be put back into the bottle, I really do think it was a good idea for the Bishops of England and Wales to suggest a return to Meatless Fridays throughout the year.

My mother was such a dreadful cook that our Fridays, with or without meat, were as penitential as any other day of the week, but as a child I had always liked the cultural commonality that set Fridays aside and made them feel oddly, wonderfully safe and homey. In our working-class neighborhood the Sunday dinners might vary widely from roast beef to braciola , but on Fridays we were all taking cozily meatless meals. If my mother was heating up cans of tuna and cream of mushroom soup, my neighbors were having home-made pizza or scrambled eggs.

There was something comforting about these less-than-formal suppers where the modesty of the meal meant that food became incidental to the companionship and conversation which was brought to the fore. If company was coming, all the better — the sense of unity was broadened as our guest dug into the same simple fare as the rest of us. [. . .] Forty years after the quasi-autonomy of “do your own thing” we are flung far from our spiritual origins, many of us languishing in unintended isolation. Perhaps a reacquaintance with the concept of common obedience, begun in this very small way, may help rekindle in Catholics the shared sense of identity and unity. . .

A shared sense of identity and unity that could eventually render our social media excesses unnecessary to our sense of being and doing.

Perhaps if we were more pentitentially-minded throughout the year, we wouldn’t need to look at ourselves with such fascination during Lent, when we’re supposed to be doing precisely the opposite.

Seriously, a meatless Friday, it’s no big whoop. Throw the cost of a steak into the rice-bowl and enjoy the cheese pizza. Add veggies and you’ll be in heaven.

Even add a penitential bit of anchovy, just in case you like it too much!

UPDATED:
Seems I’m not alone in being a little wary

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