Shepherd's Voice

ARCHBISHOP LUCAS: Disconnect from media, reconnect with God this Lent

In this month’s discussion, Archbishop George J. Lucas expresses to communications manager David Hazen his great desire that the faithful of the archdiocese disconnect from political controversies, news feeds and social media this Lent, and instead reconnect with their parishes by taking advantage of various opportunities for spiritual enrichment.

Q: You have recently said that this Lent, you see a need among the faithful and our larger society to “disconnect” – to fast from certain forms of media consumption. Can you tell us more about what you have seen and why you recommend this?

It is my experience that both inside the Church and in society, we have become overwrought by some of the controversies that have been before us through the presidential campaign and the election, and since.

In the best of times, people with different or opposing ideas can have reasonable arguments and discussions, and maybe come to a point of greater understanding. But very little of that is being offered today. In fact, it seems to me that there are a fair number of people who make their living in the news media by stoking controversy and division and anger among people.

I run into this all the time. There is a level of anxiety, and it seems so many of us are poised to disagree with someone, or even worse, to think less of someone or to even think of someone as the enemy because he or she has an idea that is different from my own.

This is not to say that everybody should think the same way so we can all be nice to one another, or that we should just agree with wrong ideas so that we do not have any controversy. But the level of anxiety is not healthy; the anger, the disrespect and the division – which I always read as somehow the work of the devil – is not good for us individually. It’s not good for us in the Church.

I am going to try during the season of Lent – and encourage others also – to fast from politics, to fast from the controversy, to fast from some of the media which is really set up to stoke controversy and anxiety in us.

Q:Regarding the media-saturated age we live in, and particularly when it comes to digital media, it seems we need to ask the question, “Am I using the tool, or is the tool using me?”

It is a little bit like a drug, I think, and there are those who are interested in pushing this drug on us so that we become more attached to it. We feel we have to have more, or we have to know something, or we have to know it before somebody else, or we have to get our opinion out without really thinking or reflecting. It is a question that we often ask at the beginning of Lent about our possessions or about other practices: “Do I possess my things, or do my things possess me?” This is why at the beginning of the Lenten season, we are encouraged to fast or to give up some things which may not be bad in themselves, but that have a bad effect by their overuse.

Fasting helps us to be able to know more about ourselves, to acknowledge, “Well, I know how to use social media. I know how to take in a lot of information from the news and from other places. Do I know how to not do those things? Can I live without them?” In other words, am I incapable of doing without these things, to my spiritual detriment?

It is a moment to ask ourselves, “Is this really healthy? Is a steady diet of controversy helping me to have a good influence on others and to bring the light and the love of Jesus Christ to the relationships that are important to me?”

Q:But this is not the same as saying, “Put your head in the sand and just ignore the world,” is it?

No, but fast. Give it up for a while. I don’t mean to be flippant, but if there’s something really important going on that I need to know or run from or whatever, somebody will tell me. So I really don’t have to have the television on, have some news channel going all the time, or be continually checking a blog or social media. There’s just a lot of bad news there, or at least it’s expressed that way. Too much bad news is depressing, is aggravating. It’s been intensified more in recent months by the toxic campaign and time of the election.

It is not that I don’t care about the country, but I care more about our flourishing in God’s design for us. Those who push news and controversies at us would like us to think that the only thing that makes up our life is politics; if that’s the case, we are in a very impoverished culture.

As a matter of fact, we have families, we have relationships, we have our local communities, we have music, we have art, we have education, we have faith, we have any number of good things that we can participate in and actually bring something of ourselves to be an influence for good. Politics is important, but it’s not the only thing.

Q: You have also said that you and your brother bishops in Nebraska want to invite people to reconnect to their parishes and the sacraments this Lent.

This is the positive side, you might say, of our Lenten practice. We fast and empty ourselves a little, come before the Lord a little humble and impoverished, and then allow him to fill us with what only he can give. We can “indulge” in reading the Scripture, in studying our faith, or in being part of a small group where we can discuss our faith in Jesus Christ with others. We can put our confidence in the one who is given to us by our Heavenly Father as our Savior. We are not saved by a political party. We are not saved by a political theory, no matter how good it might be. We are saved by Jesus Christ only, and we meet him in our life in the Church.

I had a conversation recently with the Bishop Hanefeldt and Bishop Conley about the situation we find ourselves in at the beginning of Lent. We still are somewhat restricted in terms of the effects of the pandemic and do not currently have an obligation binding the faithful of the Church to participate in Mass on Sundays.

We decided it would be good during Lent to invite all our Catholic people to take a step in the direction of their parish churches. Many people have not been celebrating Mass on the weekends. So, I am issuing the invitation at the beginning of the season of Lent for all our Catholic people to reconnect with our parishes in an important way during the coming days of Lent.

Even though there is not currently an obligation to attend Mass on Sunday, I really encourage everyone to go to church for something: silent prayer, confession, adoration, Stations of the Cross or some other devotion. I am encouraging us to fast and remove some things from our lives, and also to allow ourselves to be enriched by some opportunities that are right before us. It is a temptation for any of us to take our faith for granted.

For many of our people, it has been almost a year since they have regularly been at Mass. I encourage everyone to think about how they might come back safely to the parish during the coming weeks, to turn away from the clutter and the noise of the world, from the things that cannot save us, and to consciously choose Jesus – to consciously choose to listen to him and to receive what he is offering.

There have been good reasons why a number of people have not been able to come regularly to Mass or to the sacraments, but I, as a pastor, begin to worry that some of us may be starving and that our faith and zeal might be petering out even without our noticing.
Christianity is not meant to be a solo project, and for any of us, our zeal, our energy to live as disciples of Jesus fades if we do not have the encouragement of the community, if we do not have the encouragement of the Scriptures, of the sacraments.

The Lord has invited us to a challenging life as his followers and his friends, and then he gives us everything that we need to be able to do it, in the community of the Church.
This is the acceptable time for us to turn away from the things that won’t save us and to turn to the Lord. He is waiting. He is giving us all the grace that we need for a fruitful Lent. Let us pray for one another and move together towards the joy of Easter.