A month away from the digital world can give some insight into what we use to feed our minds. Photo by Evan Boudreau

The refreshing sound of silence

  • November 21, 2012

A month-long retreat opens eyes to importance of sanctifying the mind

How hard do you think it would be to give up all media for an entire month — no cellphone, no Internet, no reading, no radio or TV, no media at all except for a daily newspaper?

Surprisingly, not that hard.

In October, I made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, an intense, month-long retreat during which I was encouraged not only to be silent but to “fast” from all electronic and digital media. That may seem daunting, but being offline and silent for a whole month is a lot easier than it sounds. (Really!) The change of pace and the silence refreshed me, and the joy of focusing exclusively on the most important relationship in my life is still bubbling inside me.

The hundreds of e-mail messages waiting for me when I got back highlighted how much I engage digitally. Whether I go online for ministry, education, connection with friends and family or enjoyment, the digital experience is important to me. The steady flow of infotainment can empower us, forge connections between us that transcend geography, inspire us, remind us of important things, broaden our perspectives and stimulate our thinking and imagination. But it can also distract us, direct our minds and hearts in unhealthy or negative ways, depress us, confuse us and entice us to focus on the instant gratification that many advertisements and entertainments promise. We all try to filter out what is trivial or annoying but our filters need a higher standard, one to help us focus our use of apps and social media to serve the real of our lives.

The founder of my community, media apostle Blessed James Alberione, used a phrase that seems particularly apt for those who seek to follow Christ in a digital world: “sanctification of the mind.” Sanctifying our mind, or loving God with our mind, is part of the greatest commandment: to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength (Mark 12:30). Since our thoughts determine our choices, sanctifying our mind is essential for living a full life in Christ, as well as preparing for the vision of God in eternity. What we think about most often becomes what we care about most. According to Alberione, sanctifying our mind means paying attention to our thoughts and what we are feeding our minds with — our conversations, our reading and viewing.

To sanctify our minds, Alberione offers this practical advice: 1) examine our thoughts in light of God’s Word, allowing God’s Word to direct our thoughts and to shape us on the deepest level, and 2) fill our minds with the Scriptures and with good reading and viewing that will help us to develop a Christian mentality — a way of thinking that is transformed by faith. Faith opens up our puny human perspective so we can glimpse, even if briefly, God’s point of view. Many saints, including Ignatius of Loyola, Augustine and Teresa of Avila, were greatly influenced by reading Scripture or the lives of the saints.

Does sanctifying our mind mean we can only visit faith-driven Internet sites or only read Catholic newspapers? Not at all. But it is important to: evaluate what we feed our minds with; choose content that will nurture our faith; and balance what we take in and how much time we spend online.

If we consistently view content that promotes values contrary to the Gospel (and it’s hard not to do that today), it’s important that we spend time reinforcing Jesus’ teaching in our lives. Negative influences can be both blatant and subtle. For example, I’ve enjoyed some currently popular post-apocalyptic, dystopian stories because of their social commentary on dangerous tendencies in our society today. But a steady diet of dystopian narratives makes me overly pessimistic about the future, forgetting that God is always with us, no matter what.

Giving voice to our faith online, perhaps by responding to or avoiding digital media that is contrary to the Gospel, or by engaging respectfully in matters of faith, is another way to be digital followers of Christ.

Most of us aren’t called to live “in retreat” from the digital world. Instead, we are to be salt that flavours it with faith, hope and love. Developing a Christian mentality by sanctifying our minds is critical for us to be both whole and holy people in today’s pluralistic and secular digital world.


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