Monday, August 26, 2019

My 90-Day Twitter Fast

My fast from tweeting is almost over. What will I give up by getting back into the verbal scrum of social media?

By Father Kevin M Cusick 

Doctors studying Alzheimer’s patients in the search for a cure have landed on fasting as a possible answer to eliminating the disease. It’s another case of Church tradition proved right for more than spiritual reasons.

It turns out that if one skips a morning collation, waiting 12 hours before breaking one’s fast each day, the body uses more of the stored fat that aids in brain function, to include accessing memories which begins to fail in persons with the disease.

The traditional Catholic fast from midnight, it turns out, is beneficial for physical as well as spiritual reasons.

For years Catholics, obedient as they were to Church discipline surrounding reception of the Holy Eucharist only after a lengthy fast, ensured that the Body of Christ was the first meal of the day. Often this would be closer to noon on Sundays, resulting in a fast sometimes of more than 12 hours. What was a purely religious discipline fed the mind through bodily denial, as well as the life of the spirit, working together as they do in the life of faith.

The mind must be deployed in grasping the truths proposed to the understanding of the believer. The more powerful operation of the mind enabled by bodily fasting from other food enables a more effective encounter with Our Lord upon reception of Him as the Food of the Eucharist. The mind as well as body and soul are to be fed by grace through faith.

The Eucharistic fast in fact enables the body to use what was previously consumed in a more efficient manner.

My nearly concluded 90-day break from posting on the Twitter social network has similarly brought spiritual benefits.

Some may remember I came under attack by thousands of persons on Twitter in early June in a shouting match over the choice of words I employed about a dress code incident at Mass.

After I emptied my “verbal magazines”, going down fighting under the barrage of tens of thousands of tweeted assaults, the result was an excessive number of posts over a 24-hour period. I happened to be on a day off away from the parish when it happened, but nothing in the life of a priest is free of examination by others, living as a public person as he must. That rate of posting could lead to questions over prudence and detachment.

My period of three months away from the social media platform resulted.

Distance always provides objectivity. The same ability to see the speck on someone else, or to provide very convincing advice to others that we may be struggling to follow, demonstrates the ease with which we can see the truth about others more clearly and easily than we sometimes do for ourselves. It is emotion-free distance that makes such clear vision possible.

For those who engage in verbal sparring on Twitter it is a deep investment of self in a conversation at times about very personal issues. The lack of authentic conversation so often witnessed on Twitter is a reflection of the high degree of personal investment bringing out concomitant emotions with an attendant lack of objectivity.

Quick access to a brief, public expression of thought at the wrong moment for ourselves can result in perceived injury to others with highly toxic results.

On Twitter, as well as in every other human interaction, reflection and often also prayer are necessary before reacting if one is to offer the emotion-free objectivity that truly benefits others in more effective communication.

Filters that are employed before Tweeting which can enable inspection for and elimination of emotion-laden ambiguities open to misinterpretation are helpful. Tweet yourself before you treat others to your thoughts. 

Looking in on the platform as I did while fasting from actual participation gave me the strengthened ability to see the truth about so many conversations that take place there. I observed that people were processing their emotions through successive tweets, thereby avoiding conversation invited by others in a given thread.

Recently a beloved and respected pro-life warrior, wife and mother, jumped into a thread started by another exemplary Catholic woman, resulting in a stunted exchange hampered by emotion.

One tweeted a teaching from the Roman catechism on the laudable and necessary role of the mother in the home. The other, who often goes on the road for her work, evidently felt slighted in some way and responded several times as if wounded. Some name-calling further muddied the waters as the first individual tried innocently though unsuccessfully to engage with the truths presented in the teaching.

This is just one unfortunate example of many occasions in which Catholics, who agree on essentials, talk past each other because effective aids to objectivity, such as getting off the social network and talking face to face, are lacking.

Such individuals could agree to meet or phone at a future date, afterward publishing an edifying piece on the encounter for the benefit of all.

Non-verbal signals made possible by personal encounter often derail avoidable conversational flash points and help both parties involved to focus on the real issues at hand.

Texting a friend and asking for advice, waiting before tweeting to test the importance of speaking out sooner rather than later and on one issue rather than another, and taking breaks from social media all can help aid in a more edifying use of Twitter for its undeniable benefits to Catholic interaction and evangelization.

Working one's thoughts out in blog format and then linking via a tweet to draw traffic and conversation can also prevent disedifying train wrecks.

Even Twitter admits its own limitations by advising that more than 20 Tweets per day results in decreasing benefits to the user.

Thank you for reading and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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