This year, Ash Wednesday (the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent) falls on February 22nd. Most people are aware of the fact that Catholics aren’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays in Lent (also called “abstinence”, as in “abstain from eating meat”). In addition to abstinence during Lent, the Code of Canon Law also defines other practices Catholics should follow during “days of penance” (CCL #1249-1253), including fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
(Not eating between-meal snacks and only having small, if any, meals on Ash Wednesday may be difficult for those who choose to binge on beignets and paczkis, among other things, on Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras.)
Some also think that Catholics must “give up” something for Lent. The correct version of the Catholic practice is that Lent is for “the Christian faithful [to] devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully…” (CCL 1249) In other words, they can give up something they would ordinarily do in order to do something else (i.e., more devotion to prayer, piety, and charity). It is not merely about not doing something, but rather about giving up something to have more time to do something else that is more holy and spiritually beneficial.
This practice of “giving up so as to do more” dovetails nicely with the traditional practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Fasting means less of our budget taken up by food, which makes more of the budget available for charity/almsgiving. Almsgiving is done prayerfully, so we can be good stewards of the gifts God has given us, as well as listening for who it is that God would have us help with our alms. And prayer time increases when we are more focused on our spirits and less focused on our stomachs.
It is with this perspective of the spirit of Lent that Fr. David (like last year’s water fast) proposed the following idea to the parishioners of St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church in Avalon Park. His suggestion was that the parish go on “airplane mode” during Lent.
Airplane mode refers to the first hour or so of an airline trip when the captain and flight attendants ask passengers to turn off all electronic devices, as they could interfere with the instrumentation in the cockpit. When this happens, according to Fr. David, what people usually do is one of the following: talk to the person next to them, look out the window, read something, or pray for a safe flight.
So this is his suggestion for Lent: dedicate one hour each day of Lent to turning off all electronic devices – computers, cell phones, iPads, MP3 players, TVs, etc. – and spend that hour doing one of the following:
- talk to the people around you (your family, friends, etc.) to reconnect with them, instead of blocking them out with electronic noise;
- look out the window (or, since you’re not in an actual airplane, take a walk outside) to appreciate the outdoors and what God has created to be our temporary home;
- read something, preferably the Bible, the Catechism, or some other form of Christian spiritual reading (author’s note: I am going to read the Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux);
- pray – not just for safe journeys from place to place, but also for ourselves and others to have a safe journey through this life to our heavenly home.
This “airplane mode” time can also be used to fulfill the bishops’ request to pray and fast for a change in HHS mandate that is attempting to override the 1st Amendment guarantee of religious liberty.
If you want to hear more about it, bring a folding chair and you too can attend the Ash Wednesday service at the Avalon Park Amphitheater at 6:30am (for commuters), 6:30pm (in English), and 7:30pm (en Español). While you’re there, you can pick up a little black book of Lenten meditations, as well as a purple wristband that says “Airplane Mode” on the outside and “Pray, Fast, and Give” on the inside.
(Note: it is not a Mass, because Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, so non-Catholics are welcome to fully participate as well.)