Today is the start of Advent and to help me prepare to make the most of Christmas, I have decided to give up all forms of social media. Twitter and Facebook offer many benefits; Facebook keeps me in touch with close friends and family (and help me keep track of birthdays and important events) whilst Twitter has enabled me to make new friends. It has also been a good source of information in a professional and personal sense and a source of light relief. Social media has been particularly useful for keeping in touch with fellow Catholics, something which is quite important given that I have no Catholic friends who live in close proximity.
The downside of social media however is that it is very easy to waste time using it, sometimes on issues and topics which as Bruvver Eccles (@BrotherEccles) might say are "not spiritually nourishing". One must also consider if one's real world friendships are suffering as the result of maintaining virtual friendships. I often find myself trawling Twitter, waiting to be entertained, when I know that my time would be better spent elsewhere. It therefore tends to feed a general lethargy which I feel has crept into my life.
Through my phone, I am constantly linked to Twitter and Facebook and I have begun to consider that social media may be doing me more harm than good. I hope to use my time way from it in a constructive manner, reflecting on spiritual and personal matters and taking the chance to read more. During Advent, I will also decide if I want to return to social media after Christmas. In such matters, I'm very much an "all or nothing" kind of person - I think I would find it very difficult to regulate my usage of social media to what I may consider as acceptable levels.
As a precursor to Advent, I stayed for a few days at Belmont Abbey. I spent my time there in prayer and spiritual reading (with good Patrick O'Brien novels for entertainment in the evening) as I had come to feel a little stretched and jaded in recent months. The two topics I focused on while I was there were spirituality and living the single life.
I have long felt frustrated with my spiritual life. I find it difficult to pray beyond reciting the basic words of prayer and like many things in my life, I don't take enough care in making adequate preparation for it. In doing so, I do not feel that I am engaging in a full relationship with God. To explore and address this issue, I took the advice of Mark Lambert (@sitsio) and read "Forming Intentional Disciples" by Sherry A. Weddell , a fascinating book which explores the state of Catholicism in America (with implications for Western Christendom). In doing so, Weddell also provides a template for truly engaging with a personal God, something which I have come to realise I must make a priority in my life.
The second book I read on the topic of the spiritual life at Belmont was "The Spiritual Combat" by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli . Though it is widely considered to be a classics in ascetic theology, I only really connected with it on an intellectual level and I didn't feel that it afforded me any important insights into my own spiritual difficulties. I will however return to it - one can't afford not to look for wisdom in any book which was a favourite of Saint Francis de Sales.
As I am getting older, being resolved to the single life, I have found that I am beginning to contemplate the importance of friendships, especially as friends and family get engaged, married and have children. To help me explore this increasingly difficult aspect of my life, I read "Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul IIs 'Love and Responsibility'" by Edward Siri  and "The Courage to Be Chaste" by Benedict Groeschel. I can highly recommend both books as they offer practical advice from spiritual, emotional and psychological perspectives, many of which I was unaware.
So, my two topics for this Advent are spirituality and living the single life. Please pray that I may make some progress in understanding God's plan for me in each.