At one point in my life, not so long ago, I had on my phone the following apps: Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram—all at the same time. Bouncing from one of these four horsemen of the social media apocalypse to the other, I could spend hours throughout a day scrolling aimlessly, consuming like a glutton everything from pointless memes to borderline, if not outright, pornographic images. Although today I still maintain a Facebook account to keep up with friends and family, I have since deleted the other three apps. And to those I say, “Good riddance!”
The first of these apps to go was Instagram. On the day I deleted it, I distinctly remember noticing that when I sat down to open the Instagram app, the time on my phone was 10:00 a.m. Nearly an hour later, my attention was diverted from the screen of my phone and the vacuous stream of pictures therein by a knock at the door. As I closed the app to see who was at the door, I was shocked to see that the time on my phone had now magically become 10:58 a.m. Perhaps it was my Guardian Angel, fed up with having to watch all this time be wasted, but I was instantly struck with the stinging thought that that was an hour of my life that I’ll never get back. I deleted the app, and Twitter and Snapchat followed shortly thereafter.
What is my point in sharing this story (to which some of you may be able to relate)? I think the adage, “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings,” summarizes it best. When we fail to be productive and put to use the gifts and talents God has given us, we open the door to our time being filled, at best, with frivolous nonsense—and at worst, sinful activity. Either way, countless men today are lazily letting time slip through their fingers and, in many cases, endangering their souls in the process.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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The remedy to this, at least in part, goes beyond simply deleting apps from our smartphones. We need to go further as to ensure that our hands are not becoming precariously idle. We need to become Renaissance men. For those unfamiliar with the term, a “Renaissance man” is one who is characterized by having many talents or areas of knowledge—a “jack of all trades,” if you will.
Throughout Catholic history, many of the saints have been Renaissance men, with perhaps the most notable being St. Thomas More. This prominent saint, “the greatest historical character in English History,” according to fellow Englishman G.K. Chesterton, wore a variety of hats during his earthly life, and he wore them all for Christ. Thomas More, like other saints, was not a one-trick pony. He lived a thorough life that was anything but unproductive. He was a writer, politician, scholar, lawyer, philosopher, student of history and music, husband, father, and much more (no pun intended).
It would do us well to learn from Thomas More and others—perhaps even those from generations past in our own families—that pursuing good, true, and beautiful endeavors to fill our time and expand our knowledge can result in our becoming more fruitful, happy, and well-rounded men.
In my own family, both of my grandfathers might well have been considered Renaissance men. My dad’s dad was a Navy veteran, restauranteur, businessman, skilled woodworker, clockmaker, avid pheasant hunter, and fisherman. Similarly, on my mother’s side, her father, who also served in the Navy, wrote poetry, played cards, painted, fished, refurbished and repurposed antique furniture, and grew and maintained an exceptional vegetable garden for many years.
Although both of these men had their flaws, as we all certainly do, the worthwhile pursuits in which they engaged kept them sharp, challenged them, and most significantly, tethered them to their Creator and their Faith far more effectively than YouTube ever could have. What’s my proof of this? Despite each of them practicing what might be most aptly characterized as “a wanting Catholicism” at times in their life, they both died in the arms of Holy Mother Church, having received in their last days the Sacraments of Healing, Holy Communion, and Last Rites.
Let me elucidate. I am not trying to say that we should concede to a wanting Catholicism in our own lives. On the contrary, we should be striving each day to perfect the practice of our faith and deepen our spiritual lives (especially through the measures we know to be most efficacious: the Sacraments, prayer, fasting, adoration, etc.). What I am more so contending is that in stepping outside of our comfort zone, picking up new hobbies, and above all, challenging ourselves as men, we might very well discover additional means which can aid us in the deepening of our spiritual life and perfection of our faith.
Put another way, as a new generation of Renaissance men, unwilling to give the devil the idle hands he desires, we might begin the retethering of ourselves, our families, our culture, and our Church more tightly to God.
To conclude, let’s not forget that God has made us a body/soul composite. As such, what we feed our body impacts our soul, and what we feed our soul impacts our body. With this being the case, we ought to ask ourselves, “What body do I want my soul to be in?” Is it the body of a man fixed to his couch, eyes glued to his phone as he apathetically scrolls away the precious time God has given him on earth? Or would I prefer the body of a man of many talents? One who is unafraid to write a poem, open a good book, learn a new instrument, pen a letter, cook a complicated meal, work with his hands, explore the land, and serve and experience God in new and creative ways—the body of a Renaissance man.