Jonathan here. Six of my Illustrated Guides are part of FOCUS’ Lentsanity Campaign. I designed these to help you have a great Lent. Check ’em out:
There’s some hand wringing going on about #ashtag. Some see the #ashtag trend taking a sacred ritual designed to remind us of our mortality and twisting it into a self-centered exercise that profanes the sacred and misses the point of the day entirely. I disagree.
And as one of the people who helped bring #ashtag into popular usage (I wrote a very popular blog post encouraging its use for the FOCUS blog last year), I believe I have a unique perspective on this whole thing, and a small scrap of authority in regards to it all.
I’ll share my thoughts on some of the main arguments against #ashtag, then share some thoughts on the positives of #ashtag.
Argument Against 1: It’s Self-Centered, and Lent’s All About Dying to Self
I chalk this one up to the unfortunate connotation of the word “selfie.” Taking a selfie, no matter what the day, does not necessarily mean the one taking it is all into themselves. It means they’re taking a picture of themselves, probably to save a memory of what they’re up to. And with the convenience of smartphones, it’s easy (and fun) to take a picture of yourself. Could the person be taking a picture of themselves because they’re all wrapped up in themselves? Certainly, but it would be a mistake to assume such a motive is behind every selfie.
Argument Against 2: It’s Makes Our Fasting and Prayers Public, and Jesus Says To Not Do That
So do ashes on our foreheads. Or a crucifix on our necklace. Or saying grace before eating at a restaurant. Or priests and sisters wearing their habits or clerics in public. Or having a Mary statue in your yard. I would never skip going to the gas station on Ash Wednesday because I didn’t want people to see my ashes and end up “showing off.” In a similar way that I live part of my life at the gas station, I live part of my life online, and showing my ashes there is just sharing a part of me.
Why #Ashtag is a Good Thing
As we increasingly live online, our faith comes with us. Social media, at its best, connects people, forms communities, and encourages us. The beauty of twitter isn’t seeing how many retweets your timely joke gets, but is instead in the creative expression of ideas in such a short format. Facebook serves the user best not when used to quantify social standing and self-worth by counting how many likes a post received, but instead when it connects the user to other people, real people, who offer encouragement and companionship in life.
#Ashtag doesn’t say, “Look at ME! See how holy I AM?! Don’t you love ME?” It says, “I’m Catholic. I’m a sinner. None of us can do this alone. We need Jesus and each other.” It’s no different from filling your car at the gas station or saying hello to a neighbor at the mailbox on Ash Wednesday.
I think the #ashtag conversation is a referendum either on how people view Lent or how people view social media, maybe both.
Yes, Lent is a season of penance and fasting, but throughout the season we are encouraged by the Church to approach our sacrifice and penance with joy. We can rejoice, and even boast our weakness, because it is our strength in God.
Our use of social media reflects how we live our lives. Both Pope Francis and Benedict XVI have called the Church to embrace social networks and the opportunity they provide to bring connection to the human family. Posting an #ashtag picture is an exercise in joining with others in the family on the journey to Easter.
If anyone out there wants to post their #ashtag picture because they want to get a lot of likes or they hope it will increase their status in the eyes of certain people, then you might want to examine your motives. If you want to join in the Lenten conversation online and come together with your brothers and sisters, then post away. And if anyone out there doesn’t want to post an #ashtag picture, then by all means, go ahead and don’t post one. I’m not trying to convince anyone to post one, just adding to the conversation by saying, “I think it’s totally fine to post these pics.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
So this post is a little overdue! Since getting back into the states from Rome, Jonathan and I have been quite busy. We had our trip to Nashville the week we got back to the United States. We were super blessed to make it back actually…it was the weekend that Super Storm Sandy hit the east coast and we made it back with mere hours before the whole eastern coast airports shut down!
Shortly afterwards we made a trip to Omaha, Nebraska for Thanksgiving and had a great time visiting family and a few friends. We even went Black Friday Shopping…and the mattress pad we wanted was gone within minutes after arriving at Walmart. All we found were shards of cardboard leftover. We are still sleeping on an old RV mattress we got for free and are doing just fine!
This past month has been a serious month of a LOT of work, as we prepare for the FOCUS SEEK 2013 event in Orlando, Florida January 2-6th. Jonathan and I both have various responsibilities at SEEK with FOCUS Greek and the Digital Campus…keep tuned for blog posts about that once the event wraps up.
Enough about our crazy schedule…it’s time though to post about our AWESOME trip to ROME!!!!!
Why did we go to Rome?
Our Catholic Church is at a critical juncture. Many of the baptized are not living out their Catholic faith in the Western world. We have all experienced this situation with family, friends, and in our parishes. Many Catholics want to know, “What is the Church doing about this?” Pope John Paul II called for a New Evangelization or a re-evangelization of those who had the faith but have lost it. Pope Benedict has renewed this call and gone even further. He created a new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization and has called for a Synod for the New Evangelization. This is a think-tank of bishops who considered the New Evangelization in Rome this past October.
The head of the Pontifical Council of the New Evangelization was recently asked, “Where do you see the New Evangelization at work?” The first answer out of his mouth—“FOCUS.” Curtis Martin, the president and founder of FOCUS was named one of 24 consulters for this Council. We are part of Curtis’ posse, so we thought we could tag alongl! 🙂 Actually there were about 100 staff members serving with FOCUS who decided to support the Bishop’s and Curtis in prayer and by our presence in Rome from October 22-28th, 2012.
What did we take away from being in Rome?
Part of the trip was meetings that related directly to the Synod. While the Synod was in session we had some time for visiting and touring.
It was an incredible experience on several levels. The Church’s history is so prevalent in Rome. A few places that really struck us include: The Coliseum where so many Christians were martyred in the early church, the Vatican’s splendor and beauty, attending mass just outside St. Peter’s tomb, praying at the tomb of John Paul II (our patron Saint), the Sistine Chapel, the Holy Stairs that Christ himself walked upon when taken to Pilot, the actual pillar where Jesus was scourged, the Italian Espresso and gelato! YUM. Rome is truly a treasure to our Catholic faith where our history is so well persevered and alive today.
In our meetings with various Cardinals, Bishops, and Archbishops we were greatly encouraged in our ministry. They remarked that Churches in the Western world is battling against individualism, secularism, and materialism. There are other places in the Church facing great persecution and are actually being threatened, even killed, by professing their faith. It was hard to come up with a universal solution for the many obstacles in the New Evangelization facing our world but they stressed two main points. They hope to remind the Church that our faith begins with firm faith in Jesus Christ and a strong personal friendship with him. From that relationship we are called by our baptism to share the hope we have with others in our world. We found encouragement in this message, as this is what FOCUS’ goals have been all along. These spiritual leaders applauded our work and encouraged us to keep pressing forward as we continue answering the call for the New Evangelization.
Our One-Year Wedding anniversary took place the first day we landed in Rome. Too bad I was so delirious from not sleeping on the plan ride over to actually realize it was our anniversary and actually have energy to celebrate! Ask Jonathan for some great stories about how delusional I can be when I am tired. Our favorite memory from our anniversary was definitely getting to pray at the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II. He is a hero to our faith and we love him so much. It felt like we were able to pay homage to a man who has been a spiritual father to each of us individually and as a married couple. Now I can’t wait to meet JP II face to face in Heaven someday!
We had all sorts of adventures. I ate more pizza in one week than I have in an entire six months in America. It was awesome. We also woke up before dawn most days to see as much as we could in the city with the limited time we had. One morning we woke up and went to see the Pope! Getting to the General Audience early paid off…we were in the front row and when he drove past our group, we were literally five feet away! He has very blue eyes and had a gentle presence about him.
Last but not least, my favorite image of Rome…the Vatican. Many nights on our walk back to the hotel (we walked a lot…on very narrow sidewalks) we passed the Vatican. It was all lit up near the dome, was empty since it closes at night, and was just so peaceful. Everytime I saw the Vatican I felt…home. That sounds cliche but that was the overwhelming feeling I had each time I laid eyes on it. One night we had met some people (not in Rome for religious reasons) from California who joined our “walking tour” through Rome’s Piazzas. It ended in front of the Vatican. Jonathan was able to share about Jesus Christ with this couple we met and we prayed with them right then and there. There was nowhere else I could have imagined sharing those truths than just outside St. Peter’s Basilica. I thought of the saints who have looked upon it, the holy popes who have lived there, the world-changing events that have been discussed on Vatican grounds…it’s the home away from home for every Catholic this side of Heaven.
I hope anyone who desires to go has a chance someday!
In less than a week Jonathan and I are heading to Rome alongside other FOCUS staff members for the Synod on the New Evangelization. (For more info on the Synod click on this: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/the-synod-and-the-new-evangelization-why-its-important-for-u.s.-catholics/
This is a wonderful time to be a Catholic and it’s inspiring to see what grace the Holy Spirit will pour out upon the Church at this time. Please join us in prayer and fasting for the Holy Father, Bishops, and all other advisers speaking into these meetings. We will be lifting up any intentions from family and friends, so if you have a prayer request you desire to send our way, please leave it in the comments section below or email them to email@example.com and we will print them out and take them with us!
I won’t go into any detail here in this post about our itinerary and schedule but when we return, expect a full blog with pictures and experiences! If there is ANY city I can associate with truth, goodness, and beauty….it’s definitely ROME! We also land in Rome on our one-year marriage anniversary, so we feel incredibly blessed with this opportunity to attend.