ROME – As the Church’s Lenten season approaches, offering Christians a time to do good and overcome habits and attitudes that represent stumbling blocks in their relationship with God, Pope Francis has pointed to digital media as a temptation to be avoided.
In his annual Lenten message, the pope urged Catholics to never tire of uprooting evil from their lives, and to never grow weary of “fighting against concupiscence, that weakness which induces to selfishness and all evil, and finds in the course of history a variety of ways to lure men and women into sin.”
One of these avenues “is addiction to the digital media, which impoverishes human relationships,” he said, saying Lent is an ideal time “to resist these temptations and to cultivate instead a more integral form of human communication made up of authentic encounters, face-to-face and in person.”
This caution against the dangers of the digital world is a familiar refrain for Francis, who currently has over 50 million followers on Twitter and 8.7 million followers on Instagram alone, not to mention the millions who follow the Vatican’s YouTube channels and Facebook pages.
He has frequently warned against the slippery slope that engagement on digital social platforms can be, saying in past remarks that social networks encourage people “to hurl adjectives” at each other and thus create a “culture of insults” in which people, especially youth, increasingly become “social hermits” cut off from authentic human relationships.
In his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti, the pope warned that “Social aggression has found unparalleled room for expansion through computers and mobile devices,” and insisted that the toxic banter that is so often characteristic on social platforms has “given free rein to ideologies” and misinformation.
He has, however, also praised the role digital media can play in helping people stay connected and in creating a sense of global fraternity, if used correctly, without replacing real, personal friendships.
Pope Francis’s new jab at digital media came as part of this year’s Lenten message, titled, “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all.”
In his message, the pope urged faithful to spend the Lenten season, which begins next week on March 2, which is Ash Wednesday, doing good and learning to be patient with God’s plans.
He stressed the importance of doing good not for oneself, but for others, because “When we sow for the benefit of others, we share in God’s own benevolent love.”
“Sowing goodness for the benefit of others frees us from narrow self-interest, infuses our actions with gratuitousness, and makes us part of the magnificent horizon of God’s benevolent plan,” he said.
Lent, while dedicated to penance, is a time of hope, he said, noting that “Bitter disappointment at shattered dreams, deep concern for the challenges ahead and discouragement at the poverty of our resources, can make us tempted to seek refuge in self-centeredness and indifference to the suffering of others.”
Yet amid life’s trials, God “gives strength to the weary, he strengthens the powerless,” he said, saying, “The Lenten season calls us to place our faith and hope in the Lord.”
Francis urged Christians to be consistent with prayer and to avail themselves of the Sacrament of confession throughout the Lenten season, saying prayer is essential because as human beings, “we need God.”
“Thinking that we need nothing other than ourselves is a dangerous illusion,” he said, adding, “If the pandemic has heightened the awareness of our own personal and social fragility, may this Lent allow us to experience the consolation provided by faith in God, without whom we cannot stand firm.”
While faith does not spare anyone the difficulties and burdens life can bring, “it does allow us to face them in union with God in Christ, with the great hope that does not disappoint,” Pope Francis said.
He also stressed the importance performing works of charity for others, saying caring for and reaching out to those in need is a life-long task, but is especially important during Lent.
“Lent is a favorable time to seek out – and not to avoid – those in need; to reach out – and not to ignore – those who need a sympathetic ear and a good word; to visit – and not to abandon – those who are lonely,” he said, and urged Catholics “put into practice our call to do good to all, and take time to love the poor and needy, those abandoned and rejected, those discriminated against and marginalized.”
Drawing on the image of a farmer awaiting the harvest, Pope Francis reminded believers that the fruits of their good works are not necessarily immediate, but take time, and often go unseen.
“Each year during Lent we are reminded that goodness, together with love, justice and solidarity, are not achieved once and for all; they have to be realized each day,” he said, and encouraged faithful to pray for patience and the ability “to persevere in doing good, one step at a time.”
“If we fall, let us stretch out our hand to the Father, who always lifts us up. If we are lost, if we are misled by the enticements of the evil one, let us not hesitate to return to God,” who is eager to forgive, he said.
As the Lenten season beings, “let us not grow tired of doing good. The soil is prepared by fasting, watered by prayer and enriched by charity,” he said, insisting that by showing fraternal care for others, “we are united to Christ, who gave his life for our sake, and we are granted a foretaste of the joy of the kingdom of heaven.”
Francis closed his message asking for Mary’s protection and “the gift of patience” throughout the Lenten season and beyond.
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