It's that time of year: In the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, people begin chatting on social media about sacrifices they plan for Lent. And for a number of good Christian people, high on their list during this penitential season is abstaining from Facebook.

I'm here to say “Wait! Stop and think about this!”

The conversation on Facebook and Twitter will continue, whether people of faith are there or not. Hollywood celebrities will strut their liberalism like a peacock during courtship. Cats, babies, political memes, photos of lunches... they'll all be there. There'll be flame wars, with liberals and conservatives going for the jugular in debates over abortion and school choice and immigration and the South Dakota pipeline.

But will Catholic voices be there, tempering the rhetoric and offering a fresh perspective?

I hope they will. If Catholics and other Christians abandon Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, then social media will revert to the Wild West of the World-Wide Web. Leftist propaganda will go unchallenged. But more than that, in confining ourselves in our churches and our homes, we will have missed an opportunity to let our light shine in the world. The opportunity for evangelizing the culture will be missed.

So I have another idea. Yes, of course, make time to pray during Lent; offer sacrifices which are pleasing to the Lord. But instead of simply hiding in our Christian enclaves, foregoing the opportunity to reach hearts and minds with sound logic and sincere caring, why not make a special effort to reach out during the next six weeks?

  1. Don't be preachy. Those Jesus-with-a-bouquet-of-flowers memes are probably not winning souls. But maybe there is something you could do during Lent, that would help you and others to advance in holiness? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  2. Do post upbeat news. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. An unexpected kindness. A last-minute hoop shot by the smallest player that wins the game. A great blog post that made you stop and think.
  3. Do say “Happy Birthday” to friends, or offer a prayer for someone in need.
  4. Do respect your friends' privacy. Don't release information publicly without permission. And embarrassing photos of your kids in the bath, or your husband that time he fell off the ladder? Not good, really not good.
  5. Do be your best self – saying “thank you” and taking every opportunity to praise the good, while ignoring the bad.
  6. Don't criticize. When someone posts something you believe to be really stupid, don't resort to name-calling. Counter absurdity in on-line discussions with facts, expressed kindly. Or just ignore it.
  7. Do remember that there is a real person in front of a computer screen at the other end – and treat him or her with respect.
  8. Do talk about faith. Teach without cajoling – but someone out there may wonder just why Catholics have that smudgy black stuff on their foreheads this week. Go ahead and tell them!
  9. Do offer to pray for someone when he's sick, when she's lost a loved one to cancer, when he's starting a new job or she's at wits end controlling her active children. Then remember to do it! Maybe a tablet beside your laptop could become a prayer journal, just to be sure you don't forget.
  10. Don't instigate. Reports of a recent speech by former Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos popularized the term “provocateur.” Don't be that guy, needling an opponent and trying to draw blood for entertainment.
  11. Don't be obscene. The Internet is a public space, not just a conversation among friends in the bar. You don't know who's reading, so always (ALWAYS!) speak as though you're talking to your grandmother.
  12. Don't plagiarize. If you quote someone, give them the credit which is due.
  13. Don't gossip. Don't share stories which may be “fake news” without checking; and sometimes a story, even if it's true, shouldn't be shared. Think: What will be the result of my posting this?
  14. Don't type in all capital letters, effectively yelling at someone on the web. Unless your shift key is broken, just don't do it.
  15. Don't be a spammer. Don't post the same article repeatedly, and don't cross the line from sharing information to badgering an opponent.
  16. Don't add people to groups without their permission!

You may, of course, decide that the pleasure you derive from wasting time with distant friends on Facebook is the one thing you should give up for Lent. You can do that!

But you have an opportunity during this Lenten season to bathe the Internet with grace, to be a consoler and a conciliator. That seems to me to be more constructive than just disappearing, leaving the Interweb to the pagans. I hope you'll stay!