Why I Am Not Taking An #ashtag Selfie

Have you heard about the USCCB’s #ashtag selfie contest?

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Last year, as part of a Lenten photo challenge on Instagram, I posted a photo of my ashes. I felt weird about doing it at the time, but couldn’t figure out why. Today, it clicked.

If you haven’t yet been to Mass today, here’s an excerpt from the Gospel of Ash Wednesday:

“Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win human admiration. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward.” Matthew 6:1-2, NAB

I’m not usually one to publicly take the USCCB to task, but this one is leaving me scratching my head.

First of all, there’s the whole selfie thing.  PLEASE understand I am not suggesting that snapping a selfie is inherently sinful.  It’s not.  The problem I – and others, here and here – have with society’s obsession with selfies is that by their very natures, selfies nurture an unhealthy, blatant narcissism that is apparent in the endless stream of our Instagram, Twitter,  and Facebook feeds.  I’m not talking about people who occasionally snap a photo in front of a landmark or doing something unusual, or even something seemingly mundane and chronicling the simplicity of the moment.  Rather, I’m talking about the folks who literally snap a selfie at every opportunity they can.  You know who I am talking about – right now, you probably have a certain friend’s face in mind as we’re talking about Excessive Selfie Compulsion (ESC, as I am now calling it.)  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “scandal” thusly:

2284    Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death.  

So the concern I have with this contest is this: are we, as Catholics, are encouraging the world in this narcissism, this focus on self, rather than the glory of our Father?  We, who should be leading by humble example, are instead encouraging the “look at me!” mentality.  Are we acting as a tempter for our brothers and sisters, leading them to damage their own virtue and integrity?  

The other problem I have with the #ashtag campaign is this: drawing attention to the ashes on our foreheads feels an awful lot like “sounding a trumpet” to me.  Of course, I understand that those whom we come in contact with during the course of our day today are bound to see the ashes and think “Oh, hey. That person is a crazy Catholic.”  I just think that an ashen selfie posted to social media profoundly magnifies and calls attention to the action, which seems in direct opposition to Our Lord’s directive.  Are not the likes and the comments we receive for these photos our “reward” and “praise by men?”

I applaud the USCCB for forging ahead in engaging the faithful on social media and thus making smart use of technology to aid in the New Evangelization, but if the #ashtag selfie might be leading others into even the slightest occasion of sin, is this contest really worth it?

Rather than writing this post off as my own attempt to call attention to my own “holiness,” I beg you instead to focus on your intentions when you take that #ashtag selfie.  Is posting the photo motivated by a sincere desire to share your faith with unbelievers? To start a dialogue about this fleeting life, about man’s utter dependence on God as the source of his very breath?  To remind others that we owe everything to our Creator? If the answer is “no,” I encourage you to re-read the Gospel reading for today and examine your intentions.

What are your thoughts?  Am I being too old-fashioned and snooty about this?  Please be kind.

18 thoughts on “Why I Am Not Taking An #ashtag Selfie

  1. I appreciate this so much, Cajuntexasmom. I had no idea that this was a thing. I mean, I’ve seen #Ashtag and selfies being taken but I didn’t realize USCCB made it a thing. Someday we as a Church will have a better grasp on how to fully embrace and utilize this whole social media thing! 🙂 Just not there yet… Hugs to you and prayers for your Lenten journey!

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  2. I kinda split the difference on this one.

    I think it’s important for the world to see that Catholics are not a crazy fringe group, so I want to be part of #ashtag. But I don’t want accolades for myself. So I take a selfie that only shows my forehead. Last year, it was a nice day, so I took it out front of my church with the steeple looming up behind me and just my forehead at the very bottom – nobody could tell it was me but my family & closest friends. This year, it’s 11 degrees outside, so I don’t know how I’ll do it. Maybe inside by a stained glass window or something.

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  3. Great point! I laughed out loud at the irony. This is where we tight rope walk between being in the world and of it. It’s not about being part of a club but about being holy, right? Thanks for posting.

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    • Yes! Exactly. The more I think about it, the more I think that if “selfie” had been avoided, and we focused on taking photos of others, we could have had the best of both worlds? Just a thought.

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  4. Oh my gosh! Me too! I read the readings last night before bed. I generally like to read the readings and absorb them before mass, and felt the same way! And with the Busted Halo instagram challenge, I was going to do it – after reading the readings last night, that jumped out at me. I don’t know why it hadn’t before. I thought maybe I was being old fashioned too? :-/ Definitely struggling with this one, but I am headed to mass at 7PM, so I have time to continue to discern.

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  5. I have never thought much about this per say, but am growing more wary of the whole selfie phenomena. I so agree with your thoughts here I also believe its a way to try and reach out to the younger crowd and have them be inspired and help them to be more involved – but I do think it’s a misguided way. And honestly, I’m a bit sad that it’s come to this. You know? Instead of setting a standard I fear it’s lowering them to “fit in” with what’s popular.

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    • Yes, exactly! The reason the Church has transcended the ages is precisesly because it doesn’t conform to sin. That is what is troubling about this. Change the way you reach out to fit the times? Sure. Compromise a soul to do it? Not so much.

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  6. I am totally with you on selfies in general, many people have gone over board. As far as #ashtag goes I am not as sure. I have had conversations with a confessor about that reading over the years as he thought I was too private about my devotions, that at least within my family I needed to show and set an example. According to him it all boiled down to intention. If you are getting ashes just because you want to participate in #ashtag or just because you think it is cool or you are cool then yes that’s a problem. But if you are participating out of love for our Lord, then it is okay that others see that love…..however I’m still not sure about #ashtag because it just seems too much.

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    • I think you hit the nail on the head, Emily: intention. I would hope that those receiving the ashes are doing so for the purpose of recognizing their humanity and their reliance on the Lord. I think bearing silent witness to friends, family, and coworkers by having ashes in the first place is wonderful! And of course encouraged! I just wonder where the line between example and exhibition is?

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  7. I had mix feelings about the whole ash selfie promo my diocese put up on their Facebook page and couldn’t figure out exactly why until I saw a friend post why she wasn’t doing the selfie and now your post explains my feelings too. I wrote on my Diocese’s Facebook page about my mixed feelings and how it seemed to be the complete opposite of what Ash Wed. is all about. I do like teaching others about the Catholic faith on social media and the web (I’m a blogger myself and use my blog to share our beautiful faith). However, the Ash Wed. selfie idea just seems “off” to me. So not AW selfie for me AND no Facebook for me on AW and all Fridays in Lent. Goodness, I hate to admit this, but “depriving” myself of FB is sooooooooooo difficult :/ Blessed Lent to you! Tracy @ A Slice of Smith Life http://www.asliceofsmithlife.com

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  8. I imagine this is going to be a popular blog for you today!! I agree with you. My husband snapped one with my kids…heck, it may win the challenge! But the Gospel this morning…that’s a warning, I think. Not trying to be prudish…just trying to enter the desert and find Jesus. Great post.

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  9. Well, I have to admit that I posted a ashtag selfie. I heard the same reading and I don’t think my motivation was to promote “looking at me.” I did it because I know in the past I have wiped my forehead clean after leaving church. I was tired of everyone saying, “Hey, you have a spot of dirt smudged on you” or they are giving me those “Oh, you poor brainwashed Catholic” look. I was embarrassed by the ashes. But now, I’m not embarrassed. I posted the selfie to let people know that I’m not ashamed of my Catholicism but see it as something to celebrate and share with others. I get what you are saying in the post (and agree with much of it) but I also wanted to share another perspective. 🙂

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