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

In his conferences, St. John Cassian lays out some simple rules for those struggling with intemperance—useful advice 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 Marseille, introduced his monks – and through them to all the monastic families of the West – to the spirituality of the ascetics of Palestine and Egypt, to which he participated attended. In one of his teachings, he offered advice on how to resist the temptation of gluttony – a little indulgence which, as he admits in his conferences, he could never shake off. And if we look more closely, his recommendations can be applied to many areas of life, including the use of social networks, a new form of virtual gluttony of 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 a desire for holiness. This advice can also be adapted to excessive use of the Internet by “fasting” from electronic devices on specific days or times. It is a remedy that can help us develop a desire to grow in moderation and holiness. And why not dedicate that device-free time to family, friends, spiritual readings, and prayer?

2stop snacking

“The heaviness of my spirit invades my prayer life. I no longer listen to the readings at Mass and pray less attentively. And then I know it’s become a problem again,” St. John Cassian said.

It’s the same with social networks. Even brief but frequent visits to social media can keep us from living in the present. We unconsciously take refuge in them and distance ourselves from family life, work or leisure activities such as reading. To remedy this, it can help to think about using the internet the way we think about food. Just as it’s good to avoid snacking between meals, we should avoid picking up the phone and checking our email, texts, and Instagram or Facebook feeds at every break in the day.

3Use them for a specific purpose

The holy monk also recommended “not to be overwhelmed by any delicacy and not to eat or drink anything before the end of the fast”. It can be similar with social networks. How many times a day do we check them for no good reason? And how long can we spend there if, unhappily, we start browsing Stories on Instagram! So the best solution is not to get distracted and strive to use social networks for a specific purpose. So why not set a specific time for the consultation and keep it to a short half hour? For example on public transport on the way to the office or in the evening on the way home or when the children are in bed.

4Pray for celibacy

“An adequate supply of daily food in moderation is better than intense and prolonged fasting at short intervals,” St. John Cassian said.

So judicious use of social media in moderation is better than a long fast followed by a binge of Instagram posts. And to find self-control, nothing beats prayers asking for more moderation.

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