by MICHAEL OTTO
Androids, iPhones, iPads, Tablets and Kindles are everywhere these days — even in the confessional.
During a homily at Warrane College in Sydney in August, Archbishop Anthony Fisher, OP, recounted an incident which left him speechless.
“I even once had a man take a mobile call in the middle of my hearing his Confession, and he blithely discussed his shopping list for the way home.
“I was too flabbergasted to tell him off,” the archbishop said, according to a report in Sydney’s Catholic Weekly.
Archbishop Fisher was preaching about the dangers of being too immersed in a digital world.
That world is all pervasive, he noted.
“The average young man in the West is said to send 120 messages a day; that seems incredible to me….”
These modern means of instant communication can be used for good or ill, the archbishop noted.
He said “How to meditate” is one of Google’s most popular “how to” searches; “Who is Jesus” is one of
Google’s most popular “who is” searches; and “What is love” is among the most common “what” searches.
Archbishop Fisher admitted that he is immersed in the digital world himself, stating “I am no technophobe. I use these things as often as the next guy.”
Then again, there are dangers and risk in that world, the archbishop noted.
“Pope Francis recently questioned whether for all the information, we are any wiser and for all the social networks, we have more or deeper friendships.”
The Pope suggested families have some technology free zones and times to chill out and talk to each other, the archbishop added.
“We need to recover the arts of attention to one thing or person and face-to-face conversations,” Archbishop
Recalling the prologue to John’s Gospel, which states, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”, Archbishop Fisher said, “God does not want to be virtual God, only a theory, a principle, an app; he didn’t want to dwell only in the heavens, in the virtual universe”.
Taking his lead from Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’, the archbishop suggested to his young congregation that “perhaps you can take a lead by fasting from your devices in Lent, on Fridays, at least for a few hours and focus on those around you and the One above you”.
A similar call was recently sounded by Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Rabbi Mirvis suggested the ancient Jewish principle of the Sabbath as an antidote to smartphone
Modern Britain is in danger of falling victim to a “narcissistic” addiction to social media, he warned.
He urged people, irrespective of their religious background, to consider setting aside time to switch off their devices to help them “connect” to natural human relationships again.
“It’s fascinating actually because we are finding that society is coming around to appreciate such a day at a
time when everybody naturally wants to be connected,” Rabbi Mirvis explained.
“They don’t realise that sometimes the more connected one is the more disconnected one is from everything that is important.”
Last year, Pope Francis told 50,000 German altar servers gathered in Rome not to waste time on the Internet, smartphones and watching television.
“Our life is made up of time, and time is a gift from God, so it is important that it be used in good and fruitful actions,” Pope Francis told the young people.
Pope Francis has also said that the high-speed world social media needed calm, reflection and tenderness if it was to be “a network not of wires but of people”.
Speaking during his recent visit to the United States, Pope Francis spoke out against a consumerist culture and one of its consequences.
“I would dare say that at the root of so many contemporary situations is a kind of radical loneliness that so many people live in today,” Francis told bishops in Pennsylvania.
“Running after the latest fad, a ‘like,’ accumulating followers on any of the social networks. And we, human beings, get caught up in what contemporary society has to offer.”
In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Francis identified another peril of digital overload.
“When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload.”
True wisdom is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data, the Pope said.
Not many ‘likes’ for faith-based page
For one Catholic youth group on Australia’s Gold Coast, trying to connect with young people via Facebook didn’t turn out as they had hoped.
According to a story in Brisbane’s Catholic Leader, those running the Burleigh Heads parish youth group have tried Facebook to connect with teens from local high schools.
Burleigh Blaze Youth Group leader Matt Lam said it wasn’t easy to connect with youth in this way because “many of them are not open about the faith”.
“They wouldn’t like the page publicly or show that they are connected with the Church,” said Mr Lam, who is a medical student.
Facebook made it easier to reach a broad audience, Mr Lam said, and there was support from teachers and others promoting the youth group’s page.
“I think it is very easy when you’re on Facebook, to just scroll through your news feeds, but it’s harder to disregard face-to-face conversations when you’re looking someone in the eyes,” Mr Lam said.
The group had focused on growing a small community on Facebook, rather than just accumulating “likes”.