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4/3/2012 11:28:00 AM
Is your Lenten journey inside or outside?
Catholic News Service photo
Christian pilgrims touch the Stone of Unction, which commemorates the anointing of Jesus before his burial, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem March 29. 
Catholic News Service photo
Christian pilgrims touch the Stone of Unction, which commemorates the anointing of Jesus before his burial, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem March 29. 
Tom Sheridan

I swear I'm not making this up: For Lent, a woman in Chicago gave up Facebook.

Is this what the great time of preparation for the glory of Easter has come to? Not sharing usually unimportant and often inane observations about life in the early 21st century?

God forbid.

But her sacrifice, such as it is, does offer an opportunity to probe a little more deeply into this annual journey Christians make through daily life to end up at the foot of Jesus' cross.

Facebook notwithstanding, there is much imagery connected with Lent, all valid and worth pondering: desert, penance, wilderness, hungering and thirsting, self-sacrifice and even hot cross buns. There's more, too, of course.

All make good and prayerful points to consider for reflection and preparation as we enter Holy Week.

Still, a more pointed question might be: Is your Lenten journey inside or outside?

No, I don't mean choosing between praying in the bright sunshine or a darkened room. Are you spending Lent within yourself, focused in prayerful reflection on your imperfect life, perhaps along with daily Mass?

Or have you instead kept your Lent outside, confronting the troubles of the world — volunteering in a soup kitchen or protesting violence, war, culture, politics and the like?

How we choose says a lot about the God we believe in.

Lent provides us with obligations and opportunities. Both are clear in the season's traditional touch points of prayer, fasting and almsgiving -- or charitable works. Each is necessary, yet none stands alone.

The obligations, such as fasting and abstinence, are quite specific and detailed by church law. These even form the basis of our tradition of "giving up" -- sacrificing -- something for Lent. Yes, I suppose that even means "fasting" from Facebook.

But obligations alone -- the "musts" and "shoulds" of faith -- are too often what drive us. Yes, these are necessary, but alone they can be problematic, because it's our opportunities that offer an avenue to evangelize God's presence to the world.

Faith isn't a set of mechanisms, gears and levers. We can't just push certain buttons or say the words of prayers just right and God happens. Likewise, when our faith is only outside, in the streets, we risk disconnection from our traditional core.

So we choose only one -- inside or outside -- at our peril. Because in faith, as in life, our outsides must reflect our insides: Our beliefs must power our actions.

Remember, Lent began for us in a very public way, with ashes daubed on foreheads to proclaim our interior penance. Just as vital, that action announces who we are to the world. And make no mistake, the world is watching.

Just how closely we are being watched ought to be obvious from the ongoing squabble over religious liberty and health care. At its heart is the sense of Catholic identity and the ability of Catholics -- or people of any faith -- to proclaim religious beliefs in an increasingly multicultural society.

There is much current discussion, often ill-informed, about how faith in the public square works. Yes, being faithful in a multicultural society can be a challenge, but being a Christian is to be a prophet. And proclaiming the Gospel is to be a radical.

So, Lent: inside or outside? The answer must be both. During this season of reconciliation and penance, we must bring our inside faith outside and with it God and Gospel.

The Chicago woman and Facebook? I suppose that if Facebook is consuming your life, then perhaps a "fast" from it is appropriate. On the other hand, she drew the line at tweeting. Couldn't do without it, she said.

The writer is a former editor of The Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.

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