St. Mother Teresa was, and still is, an oddball to modernity. She had no filter, work-life balance, nor interest for self-care. She served the poorest of the poor in India and sacrificed her life to help those most in need, so much so that when donations of shoes came to her sisters, she always chose the worst ones to tread upon the hot Calcutta streets. The result, her toes were mangled and disfigured.
Her humility was the direct opposite of today’s relativistic mantra of “I can do anything I want.” After winning the Noble Peace Prize in 1979, she curbed her pride by cleaning the stalls in her Calcutta convent so that her ego would not get too inflated.
St. Teresa achieved her eternal reward in 1997, just a few years before social media came into existence. She, a worldwide phenomenon of mercy and social justice, had no space-time overlap with the worldwide phenomena of facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I can only imagine what would happen if the two had existed at once; would they have clashed? Or would they have benefitted one another?
I believe that the former is more likely. As far as I know, there isn’t a single personal account of a member of the Missionaries of Charity (MC) currently on social media. I can only imagine that Mother Teresa, with mangled toes wrapped in equally mangled shoes, would likely keep her mobile device app free (if she’d even accept one in the first place). It would seem that this modern-day Saint would have no advice to offer the users of social media besides “You don’t need it to become holy.”
Social media has a gripping hold on our attention and increases the likelihood of distraction. When this occurs, it makes one’s prayer life disoriented and haphazard, as the mind is not attuned to a spiritual connection with our Lord, but to the constant “buzz” of digital distractions. Instead of contemplating, “how shall I love my Lord today?” Or “What can I do to serve my neighbor?” we think “what will make for some good Tweets?”
And that is where St. Mother Teresa would draw the line.
Many of us, however, are unable to detach from social media. Thankfully, St. Teresa’s writing offers anyone who struggles with digital addictions some poignant advice.
She wrote this in her Rule:
The Sisters shall spend 1 day in every week, 1 week in every month, 1 month in every year, 1 year in every 6 years in the Motherhouse, where in contemplation and penance together with solitude she can gather in the spiritual strength, which she might have used up in the service of the poor.-Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (p. 344)
Can you imagine what our lives would be like if we took on this small part of the Rule of the Missionaries of Charity and applied it to our social media use?
There is a great need for detachment from the digital world in order to unite ourselves more perfectly to the spiritual realm in which we find God. One small way we can do this is by using St. Teresa’s formula for retreat. We should spend 1 day every week, 1 week every month, 1 month every year, and 1 year every six years away from social media where, in contemplation and penance, we can gather the spiritual strength necessary to proclaim the Gospel in the real world and, when necessary, the digital one. This rule could also apply to all unnecessary tech use including gaming, online shopping, streaming videos and other entertainment.
We are the saints of the digital age. However, the foundations of our spiritual growth lie not in a digital universe, but in the real world. Here, our roots can dig deep into the fertile ground of holiness so that we can grow into the strong, unbreakable beacons the world needs. If we follow Mother Teresa’s advice, those roots are guaranteed to help us not only stand our ground against the snares of modernity, but they will also bear a multitude of fruit.
If we were to ask our friends and family, strangers even, if at some point they’ve felt a certain degree of darkness that spawns social media use, I can guarantee each person would nod their head in the affirmative. The dangers of overuse, vitriolic posting, and death scrolling have an effect our psyche. While we create accounts in order to connect with one another better, we end up distancing ourselves from our families, friends, and communities more and more.
When we feel that sting of guilt as we stare at the reflection from our screens, it’d be wise to ask ourselves, “Is this what sanctity looks like?”
If the answer is “no,” then perhaps we should heed Mother Teresa’s advice and log off for a day, a week, month, a year… perhaps forever.
We are called to so much more.
“We interfere with God’s plans when we push in someone or something else not suitable for us. Be strict with yourself, and then be very strict with what you are receiving from the outside.”-Mother Teresa