In honor of the solemnity of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., came up with an idea for a uniquely 21st-century Lenten sacrifice it hopes has already caught on in many dioceses throughout the United States. In February, the archdiocese challenged Catholics with a new campaign, "I Phone Fast! Will u?", to encourage Americans to silence their phones on Ash Wednesday and April 14, Good Friday. Instead, they are asked to pray and focus on the significance of these two holy days.
As of the end of February, the Diocese of Buffalo had not been planning any large scale, official event to encourage people to phone fast. However, Michael Slish of the diocesan Youth and Young Adult Ministry Department said he approved of the idea, especially since phones are "something that are such a part of people's lives" and they are on them so much, often to the detriment of what is going on around them.
"It might be a more meaningful sacrifice for people to not be on their phones, than it would be for them to fast from food. I definitely think it's a good way for people to be more in touch with God, and also to be more in touch with other people and to find God in them," Slish said. "I know I find, for myself, that sometimes I'm on my phone and not paying attention to the people who are actually here."
The campaign was the brainchild of Father Steven Boguslawski, OP, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Archdiocese of Hartford. He was speaking with Father James Shanley, vicar for pastoral and strategic planning in Hartford, in a local rectory. The priests were discussing sorts of practices people undertake during Lent, and trying to think of what a new generation would see as significant for them.
"I think, knowing my nieces and nephews and also ourselves, the fact is we are wedded to our phones all the time," Father Boguslawski said, noting this habit tends to transcend generations. "It's a very significant thing to say, 'For this period of time, I'm not going to use texting or emails, or those kinds of things,' simply to make a little space for actually returning to what Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are all about."
Instead of talking on their phones, Slish suggested people use this time in prayer, whether by going to a church or finding quiet time to pray, wherever they may be, read Scripture or do what works for them. He also suggested that people have an "intentional conversation" with someone, such as an old friend they have not seen in a while, and spend that time focusing on them without a phone serving as a distraction.
Maria Zone, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Hartford, noted the archdiocese actively promoted the phone fast via its Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as through its local radio station. For dioceses that would be interested in participating in the campaign in time for Good Friday, it also issued some promotional materials and bulletins about it for parishes to share with their congregations.
"The campaign should not take the place of the traditional disciplines that the Church observes during Lent, which are fasting from food, almsgiving and prayer. It will supplement these practices," Zone said.
Father Boguslawski said taking a break from phones may seem like an impossible task, but it is a new discipline that is a large part of what Lent is about: self-sacrifice to focus on its meaning for faithful Catholics. The goal of designating it for only two days was to ensure it is feasible for people to do it.
"It would be a great practice if they could extend it to all of the Fridays of Lent, but in the real world, as they say, it would seem to be too much of a stretch, and probably too much in terms of the routine of people, probably too much all at once, and it becomes impossible. We don't want to make it impossible. We want to make it probable and likely," he concluded. "For the season of Lent, it would be a wonderful thing - it would be wonderful if were every day - if people actually did set aside a period of time for quiet and being able to enter into a relationship of quiet and prayer with God, and listen to what God wants to say."
Slish agreed. "Having it be for only two specific days might make it easier for people to access and start to do. If it was for all of Lent, or every Friday in Lent, or something like this, that might scare people away. But I can try it for a day, and I might decide that I really like this, and I might more intentionally try to do it."
For more about the "I Phone Fast! Will u?" campaign via the Archdiocese of Hartford, contact Maria Zone at 860-541-6491 or visit www.archdioceseofhartford.org.