Show me your #ashtag

\"AutumnI started a new job a couple weeks ago, and I happen to be in the office on Wednesday mornings. I walked into my office, sat down at my desk, pulled out my computer and began programs on both my desktop and my laptop.

Two Wednesdays ago, as I started my morning “analysis,” #ashtags popped up all over the place. Selfies of ash-adorned foreheads populated my newsfeed. An infographic with examples of the different “varieties” of ashes appeared in my inbox. #AshWednesday, #Lent, #40Days cluttered my Twitter stream.

That Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, and every year on that particular day, Catholics and non-Catholics around the world receive ashes on their forehead to mark the beginning of Lent.

The 40-day season of Lent often includes a combination of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, all with the intention of growing in spirituality and relationship with God. It culminates with the sorrowful remembrance of the crucifixion and the joyful celebration of Easter.

Lent happens every year. Easter happens every year. But, I kind of doubt Jesus ever expected to see selfies, #ashtags and infographics to kick off the season.

I’m also going to go out on a limb and say that He probably loved it!

No, I don’t have a special direct message from Jesus regarding social media and Lent. But, as a Man who preached evangelization and the spreading of the Good News, I can’t imagine Jesus would be upset at the prolific sharing of faith this holy season.

Social media is meant to be social. That is, it is mean to connect. It is designed to build upon our already inherent interest in developing relationships. It helps us grow in knowledge of our human compatriots, and it has the potential to impact the world in a positive way.

The important part of that phrase is “potential.” Social media has the potential to do a lot of things – some good and some not so good.

I am a skeptical proponent and a critical consumer of social media. It has its place and it has its purpose. There are also, undoubtedly, ways in which it is used and abused. Yet, it can, when used well, bring people together in a collective, collaborative, life-giving experience.

#Ashtags, selfies and infographics brought people together in a way unique to the digital environment in which we live today. It allowed individuals around the world to share in a holy outpouring of connection and community.

I know quite a few people who gave up Facebook for Lent; others who are taking a digital time-out. I don’t doubt that they have legitimate reasons for doing so, and I applaud their efforts wholeheartedly.

For those of us who are still here amidst the posts, pins, tweets, likes and shares, perhaps we can commit to using social media for good this Lent.

What if we build each other up by way of Twitter? What if we tweet things like #yourock and #imthankfulforyou? What if we retweet the Pope? What if we post positive feedback on our friends’ walls? What if we Instagram messages of hope, love and encouragement? What if we like, share and retweet #ashtags?

There are a number of positive things that can transpire by way of social media: closer connections with family and friends, the ability to discover and disseminate important information quickly, the opportunity to build community and, in this case, to share faith.

We have the opportunity to bring light to those we reach through social media.

In the words of Pope Francis, “Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts… Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world.”

Let us grow closer, gladden hearts, and boldly become citizens of the digital world through our use of social media this Lent.