Lent is a season of sacrifice and repentance. Most commonly, the discussion of Lenten commitments revolves around our obesity problem, sounding like a recommitment to already dissolved New Year's resolutions about a better diet or more exercise. Sometimes, we can sound like we're more focused on Jenny Craig than Jesus Christ.
Christians are supposed to concentrate on denying themselves in some smaller way that resembles the sacrifice of the Savior's death on the cross. This is a part of religion that can easily caricatured by the cultural elite. The search for self-loathing and mortification easily transforms into the psychosis of Silas the albino monk/murderer of "The DaVinci Code."
Just as pizza sales must soar during football season, they probably plummet during Lent. That and sweets and soda -- these are the regular Lenten sacrifices at the Bozell household.
But the Catholic bishops of Italy asked their flock for a more contemporary challenge: Give up text messaging, social networking websites and computer games in the weeks before Easter. They're asking believers to put down the iPhones and iPods and give up the hours on Facebook, at least on Fridays. In effect, bishops want believers to come out of their electronic caves and interact in a simpler, more direct way.
The request is unprecedented and evolved from Pope Benedict XVI's recent warning to the young not to substitute "virtual friendship" for real human relationships. On his YouTube site -- find your flock where they gather! -- the Holy Father warned "obsessive" use of mobile phones or computers "may isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development."
People whose fingers are Super-glued to their electronic devices -- as in people who call their BlackBerry a "CrackBerry" -- sometimes don't realize how incredibly boorish they are, playing with their gadgets while talking to others in person. Reporting on the Italian bishops' challenge, the London Times recounted that even Pope Benedict has experienced the distractions of obsessive texting. President Nicholas Sarkozy of France was flagged by many for rudeness for checking his mobile device for text messages during a personal audience with the pontiff.