The thought came to me in a moment of prayer: perhaps I am spending too much time on the Internet. It was Ash Wednesday and I had not quite decided upon what to give up for Lent. Yet over the last couple of years the amount of time I spent on-line had been gnawing inside me. There was never enough time in the day to pray, spend time with my growing family, complete various writing and work-related projects, read the stack of books by my bedside, and exercise regularly.
So perhaps the time had come to give up non-essential uses of the Internet. A complete withdrawal would have been nice, but practically impossible; a good portion of our family's livelihood relies upon communication by email, teaching via on-line distance education, and producing internet content for a local news outlet. These are all legitimate uses of the Internet that allow me to provide for my family.
Nevertheless, I often found myself spending half-an-hour to an hour "surfing the web" for no good reason. I had convinced myself that this time spent vegetating before a computer screen was simply "down time". I had convinced myself that I needed "to relax and unwind a little after a long day" of writing and juggling the intricacies of canon law.
I would also, given a spare moment or two throughout the day, sneak on-line for a quick "Internet fix". While I did not realize it at the time, the "ten minutes here" and "three minutes there" added up over the weeks, months, and years. These were lost moments, the realization dawned upon me. These were moments that could have been spent reading classical literature, contemplating God's mysteries in prayer, or building blanket-and-chair fortresses with my children. Thus the time had come this Lent to swear off non-essential uses of the Internet.
It was difficult at first — in fact, I still struggle with the temptation every time I fire up the computer. I will not spend any longer than a moment at my favorite conservative news site, I want to convince myself. Yet I know that it is never a moment once I get there; with all that is happening in Canada's culture war, I'm there for at least fifteen minutes.
Thus not even a week has passed, and already I find myself enjoying the blessing of less Internet access and struggling not to relapse into my old habits. It amazes me how much we humans crave information, even when the information serves no useful purpose. Is my life any less meaningful if I remain ignorant of who inherited Anna Nicole's baby or why Britney shaved her head? Far from educating us, these trivial bits of information clutter our brains. Tabloid gossip distracts us from the deeper knowledge revealed by God — knowledge that satisfies the craving of the soul.
In the last five days, God has given me the time to teach my children the traditional prayer to St. Joseph as well as Pope Leo XIII's prayer to St. Michael, treat my wife to a belated St. Valentine Day dinner, experiment with new recipes and small kitchen appliances, and read three short spiritual books that had been collecting dust on my dresser. This hardly seems like penance. Rather it is the re-awakening of old joys that had atrophied from too much immersion in the modern world.
This, for me, presents an important personal discovery: Lent is neither sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice, nor self-denial for the sake of self-denial. Christ sacrificed Himself on the cross for our salvation. He denied Himself so that through the resurrection we may be blessed with the joy of God's eternal presence.
Similarly, our little Lenten sacrifices should bring us joy as we deny ourselves for God's sake. What we offer Christ in a spirit of penance, He repays a thousand-fold in the spirit of blessing. This is especially the case when what we deny is the clutter that keeps us from fulfilling our natural and spiritual obligations.
And so I encourage every Catholic to give more time to Christ and family this Lent. Examine your daily life for those little wasted moments when you could be performing small deeds for Christ or offering Him a short prayer. Allow Him to replace the clutter in your life with His infinite blessing. For the eternal truths of His crucifixion and resurrection will bring us more joy than the temporal passing curiosity of celebrity gossip.
(This article originally appeared in The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission of the author.)