I have spent the last seven weeks mostly away from media of all forms, thanks to Exodus 90, a 90-day ascetic exercise for Catholic men in which participants join together in fraternity to pray and fast. Like the Israelites, we partakers in this spiritual exercise leave our own, albeit lesser, forms of bondage—ours chosen by way of worldly attachments—and venture into the wilderness, where we must rely on God’s providence alone to set us free. There are 13 ascetic “disciplines” including cold showers, two fasting days per week, a daily holy hour, and internet and computer abstinence (other than for necessary tasks, like work).
Going in, I knew that giving up media would be the most difficult. I’ve always been a religion and politics junkie. Until January 4th (the first day of Exodus), I spent much of my free time reading commentaries—on the Church, on culture, on politics. So, when I committed to going without for three months, I knew I would miss the daily buzz, particularly my favorite commentators whom I could always trust to confirm my biases, good and bad. Even though I dreaded giving up my favorite pastime, I anticipated that it would be at least somewhat good for me to take a break. I knew that media could make me distracted and somewhat irritable. What I didn’t know is that my time away from the fray would lead me to repent of idolatry.
Like many Americans (and surely many Christians, at least the ones I know), I became absorbed in the 2020 election cycle. I consumed political commentary at an alarming rate, even for a stalwart like me. I was on edge, irritable, anxious. I was argumentative with family members who didn’t share my views. Far too often I let my mood be dictated by the ever-changing polling numbers. I worried incessantly about what would become of the Church in America if “we” lost our political sway. Although at the time I convinced myself that this was a normal—even healthy— part of an election cycle, the months since the election have shown me just how much I had erred.
There is no need to equivocate: I am guilty of making politics an idol. My idolatry led me to divide where I should’ve sought to unite; it led me to mock where I should’ve sought to understand; and it led me to scorn where I should’ve sought to love as Christ commands. I didn’t see it then, but I see it now: I was an idolater, and politics were my golden calf. Simply, I was wrong: to place my hope anywhere but Christ, to seek my home anywhere but in Heaven, to worship the creature over the Creator. I didn’t see how wrong I was until I stepped away from the madness and entered the cycle of repentance and forgiveness, a cycle that is familiar for people of faith, particularly during Lent.
Growing up, my mom encouraged (read: forced) me to write apology notes to anyone I offended, mostly my teachers and coaches. I was a rebellious and insubordinate kid; I wrote a lot of apology notes. Almost every recipient of a note was gracious and forgiving. Thus went the cycle of repentance and forgiveness. I hated the practice of atonement then, but as I’ve grown older, and as I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve come to see just how vital this cycle is to the human condition. It is repentance that humbles us sinners and allows the Holy Spirit to permeate our broken hearts and to transform our minds. And it is forgiveness that heals the wounds wrought by sin—original and individual—and leads to true unity and fraternity. God’s forgiveness reunites us to Him; our forgiveness reunites us to each other.
It is repentance and forgiveness that years ago led me to encounter Jesus Christ and to embrace the difficult path of the Cross. It is repentance and forgiveness that led me home to the Catholic Church after years of wandering in the wilderness. It is repentance and forgiveness that keeps me coming back to the confessional, time and time again. And now, it is repentance and forgiveness that leads me away from placing the politics of man above the ways of Jesus Christ.
But the cycle of repentance and forgiveness is not just about what I’m running from, but what I’m running towards. It is repentance and forgiveness that is opening my heart once again for the Holy Spirit to transform it. It is repentance and forgiveness that leads me towards a more authentic Christian witness, towards unity, fraternity, and solidarity—and most importantly, towards Christ. It is admittedly scary to throw out old ways of thinking, but I’m finding it necessary—exciting even—to experience growth in the interior life. I’m learning to accept that I may not have a political home—at least not one with “influence”—but I hope I’m headed to a home much better than anything this world can offer. Let it be done unto me.
As we continue this Lenten season, it is my hope that we can turn away from our idols (we all have them), pray, fast, repent, and love. That we can enter the cycle of repentance and forgiveness with open hearts, ready to be healed. That we can come to know that it is Jesus alone who can heal our broken nation and our broken hearts.
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” John 17:20.