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Tips from a 4th-century monk on how to use social media

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© Jaap Arriens / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP

Anna Ashkova - published on 08/20/22

In his Conferences, St. John Cassian establishes some simple rules for those who struggle with intemperance -- advice that is useful for those who spend a lot of time on social media!

In his writings, St. John Cassian, a 4th-century monk and founder of the Abbey of St. Victor in Marseilles, introduced his monks—and through them, all the monastic families of the West—to the spirituality of the ascetics of Palestine and Egypt, of which he partook. In one of his teachings, he gave advice on how to resist the temptation of gluttony—a little indulgence that he was never able to get rid of, as he admits in his Conferences. And if we take a closer look, his recommendations can be adapted to many areas of life, including the use of social networks, a new form of virtual gluttony common in our time. 

1Fasting from social networks

To overcome gluttony, St. John Cassian recommended that monks practice fasting, vigils, spiritual reading, awareness of the horror of sin, and the desire for holiness. This advice can also be adapted to the excessive use of the internet by “fasting” from electronic devices on certain days or at certain hours. It’s a cure that can help us develop a desire to grow in temperance and holiness. And why not devote this gadget-free time to family, friends, spiritual reading, and prayer? 

2Stop snacking

“The heaviness of my spirit seeps into my prayer life. I stop listening to the readings at Mass and I pray less attentively. And that’s when I know it’s become a problem again,” said St. John Cassian. 

With social networks, it’s somewhat the same thing. Even brief but frequent visits to social networks can prevent us from living in the present. Unconsciously, we take refuge in them and thus distance ourselves from family life, work, or even leisure activities such as reading. To remedy this, it can be useful to think about using the internet in the same way we think about eating. Just as it’s good to avoid snacking between meals, let’s avoid picking up the phone and checking our emails, texts, and Instagram or Facebook feeds every time there’s a break in the day. 

3Use them for a specific purpose

The holy monk also recommended “not to allow yourself to be overwhelmed by any delicacy, nor to take anything to eat or drink before the end of the fast.” It can be the same with social networks. How many times a day do we check them without any good reason? And how long we can spend there if we unluckily start browsing through stories on Instagram! So the best solution is to not give in to distractions and strive to use social networks for a purpose. To achieve this, why not set a specific time for consulting them and limit it to a short half hour? It could be, for example, on public transportation on the way to the office or on the way home in the evening, or once the children are in bed. 

4Pray for temperance

“A reasonable supply of daily food in moderation is better than an intense and prolonged fast at frequent intervals,” said St. John Cassian. 

So then, a reasonable use of social media with moderation will be better than a long fast followed by gluttony of Instagram posts. And for finding self-control, there’s nothing better than prayer asking for growth in temperance.

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