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