Digital detoxes have been growing in popularity. After all, we spend countless hours of our days being assaulted by pings, dings, and notifications of all kinds. It can be exhausting mentally, and many of us are desperate for a break.
It’s a great idea to engage in a digital detox for a defined period of time, but not only is it a good opportunity for a mental reset, it can also be a spiritual exercise, a sort of fasting that can help us grow spiritually.
Fasting has been an important discipline since the beginning of the Church. While we usually associate fasting with food, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us that it doesn’t have to be food-based: “Fasting means abstaining from food, but includes other forms of self-denial to promote a more sober lifestyle.”
So how can you digital detox Catholic style? How can you turn your fast from technology into a fruitful spiritual experience? Here are a few ways.
1. Pray a Holy Hour
There are few things more countercultural than praying a Holy Hour. In our media attled world, sitting in a quiet church or chapel for an hour doing nothing but embracing the silence and bathing your soul in the presence of Jesus Christ makes no sense. The world would say it’s crazy, but for anyone who’s done it, it’s a profoundly beautiful experience.
At first, your thoughts may race and you may not feel very much internal peace. But stick with it. Let Jesus do his healing work in your soul. Before long, you will notice a stillness coming upon you and your heart opening to true prayer.
Who hasn’t thought at some point, “If I were one of the disciples, I would ask Jesus to heal me in this way, or to perform this miracle for me. I would never have doubted him.” Yet, we have Jesus just as much with us as the disciples did...in the Holy Eucharist. Go to him and unburden your heart. Miracles can happen.
2. Enjoy God’s Creation
St. Anthony the Great, one of the desert hermits of the early church, was renowned for his wisdom and profound insights. Once, he was asked how he knew so much without any formal learning. He replied, “My book is the nature of created things, and as often as I have a mind to read the words of God, they are at my hand.”
In other words, God’s creation is a form of revelation similar to scripture. It has the potential to be means of grace and learning about God if we approach it with awe, wonder, and humility. Who has not visited the Grand Canyon or one of the majestic peaks of the Rockies and been overawed by their majesty---a majesty that can easily remind us of the majesty of Almighty God. Spend screen-free time in God’s world and let it speak to you of his attributes and creative power.
3. Engage in a Good Conversation
If you think about it, many of our conversations these days are mediated through some kind of screen. We talk with our friends through text, tweet, FaceTime or message on apps like WhatsApp. Few of us, however, have meaningful conversations in person.
When you’re unplugging, seek out such conversations. Maybe start a fire in the fire pit in your backyard, share some drinks, and enjoy a good conversation about faith, current events, or whatever's on your heart and mind.
Why is this important? Conversion and conversation have the same root word. A good conversation can leave us changed, even transformed. I’ve seen it happen in my own life. Give it a try. You may just find it one of the most joyful, life-giving experiences you’ve had in a while.
4. Serve the Poor
The early Church fathers were adamant about the service of the poor. St. John Chyrsostom warned Christians not to value beautiful church buildings over the poor: “Do not...adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.” And in the modern church, saints like Mother Teresa of Calcutta show us how to radically love Christ in the poorest of the poor.
When you first unplug, you’ll find yourself with more time on your hands. Some research has shown that the majority of modern individuals spend at least 8 hours of their day in front of some kind of screen! What will you do with all this free time?
Consider volunteering at at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, crisis pregnancy center, pro-life organization, Knights of Columbus pancake breakfast, visiting a nursing home or engaging in some other act of service. Not only will you be serving those in need, you will be serving Christ himself.
5. Read Scripture
As Catholics, we have many beautiful devotions and methods of prayer. Yet, one that still remains neglected by many Catholics is reading Holy Scripture. I get it. The Bible is a big, intimidating book for one unfamiliar with it. Moreover, there are passages and stories that can be downright confusing without the proper understanding.
But that said, St. Jerome, one of the doctors of the Church, said that, “ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Scripture can be a powerful way to come to know Christ and the story of salvation history.
Spend your time unplugging getting to know scripture. If you don’t know where to start, read the four Gospels. If you find anything confusing, get a Catholic Study Bible. There are some strong options available and the notes can be quite helpful. Whatever you do, begin plunging into God’s word. You will find your mind and heart filled with hope, faith, and joy as a result.
6. Pray a Novena
Novenas, 9 day prayers of petition, can be hard to complete successfully when we are busy and distracted. Yet, they are some of the most powerful prayers available to us. Many miracles have been attributed to various novenas, and there are literally hundreds of novenas to various saints to choose from.
Consider using your digital detox to pray for a relative, a friend in need, grow in purity, or for another personal intention you have. You may just be amazed at the results.
Rediscover What Matters
Engaging in a digital detox can be a great way to rediscover what matters. The constant noise of notifications, comments, and content streams can easily drown out God’s voice and distract us from what is essential.
When we clear out the digital clutter, we find rest for our minds, but also new opportunities to engage with the treasures our Catholic faith has to offer. Most of all, we can learn to find God who is present with us everywhere and at every moment, and who promised to never leave us or forsake us.
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