Catholics and iPhones

Leisure: The Basis of Culture is a book written by Josef Pieper, a 20th century expert on St. Thomas Aquinas. In this book, Pieper demonstrates that a Christian civilization can not be sustained by technology and production as seen in Protestantized countries like Germany. On the southern and more Catholic side of Europe, we see how Italy and Spain close down business for afternoon siestas. Although Italy and Spain are less and less Catholic every year, they retain some aspects of what was once a Christian culture, namely, leisure. For Pieper, leisure is not laziness but an ability to enjoy the good things of life via contemplation and community.  This includes God and family.

His book has wide appeal to liberals and conservatives. In our slavish age of ironic isolation amidst so much technology, everyone knows that being able to relax with friends or family and a bottle of wine is usually a great gift from God.

But capturing this moment is harder than it sounds in an age of smart phones and Facebook. Furthermore, how do we reconcile the lives of the saints who never seemed to rest?

The reconciliation is very simple: Delineate your time. The key to moving from being a Catholic-in-sanctifying-grace to being a holy-and-joyful-Catholic involves a resolution that is the easiest and the hardest: Turn off your cell phone and Facebook as much as you can. In other words, refrain from mixing activities. If you are going to take a two hour nap, then do it well. If you’re going to talk to your daughter over coffee, then do it with your phone off. If you’re going to make a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, then make a concrete time in your schedule for it. If you’re going to bike or run for an hour, then don’t delay on the news feed. The current martyrs of the East do not need my advice on sanctity. But in the West, if you want to move from sanctifying-grace to holiness, try this: Pray hard. Love hard. Work hard. Sleep hard. And don’t mix them.

When I’m in a face-to-face conversation (including high school students and priests) they usually text other people while I’m talking to them. I usually say, “I’ll wait til your done.” They say: “I don’t mind.” I kindly say: “I do.” They usually look offended or surprised.  I don’t care, because if we don’t learn how to enter into deliberate engagement, we’re going to lose real intimacy and end up like the artificial world prophesied in the quiet 1997 genome-apocalypse movie, Gattaca.  The only way I can own an iPhone and still be in conversations with real-live humans before me to is keep my phone all day on “Do-Not-Disturb” (moon mode to Apple geeks):

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I’m pretty good at that resolution, but I’ll get to what I’m not good at.

I have a challenge for you below. I guarantee you will be in a better relationship with all loved ones (including God) if you complete these two items for just a month:

1) Pray hard. Love hard. Work hard. Sleep hard, and delineate your time with precision. Opus Dei calls this a “plan for life” but you don’t have to be in Opus Dei to do this. Come up with a schedule that includes prayer and exercise before checking Facebook even once. Sound easy? It’s as hard as fasting from food—and almost as rewarding. The smart phone has become an idol in the lives of most modern day Christians, for we no longer have the freedom of will to reject that slavish perpetual-access of all of our friends to our brain. Perpetual access is actually different from intimate correspondence (like when the mailman came every day, but once!) Remember how you excited you were when you used to receive letters? Because I’m no good at it, my resolution for a year is to relegate all emails, texts and Facebook to a single hour of the day, in the afternoon.   I’ll read more books than blogs.  Some parents may scoff at this as impossible as they wait all day for children’s emergencies, but even this vigilance may be producing neurotic kids and psychotic parents.   Look, I was a paramedic before the age of cell-phones, and I can say:  Lack-of-cell-phones did not impede our aggressive medicine for sick or injured kids.  In fact, we treated kids better before the age of helicopter Moms and Disneyland Dad.

2) Turn your phone off or put it on Do-Not-Disturb mode if you are talking to another person in real life. This sends the message: “You are more important than my phone.” It will make you present to people in a palpable way. When I break it , I apologize profusely (partly because I’m sorry and partly because I know I’m not practicing what I’m preaching.) When I do keep this resolution, I may have numerous texts as I leave a family’s home. This is okay, for rarely is there an emergency;  God gets me news of the dying needing the sacraments in other ways.   As for the friends and family who did text me when I had a three hour dinner, well, they have all come to learn that I get back to texts within 24 hours. No one is devastated because—and this is hard for anyone to admit—an untimely response will not do psychological or spiritual damage in any friend’s life. If it does, then this is called co-dependency. Realizing you’re not needed on text as much as the person in front of you requires humility.

Yes, we can allow a little flexibility to the concrete resolutions I’m proposing since none of us are monks. But neither are any of my readers (to my knowledge) on the nuclear-response-team for the US government.  In other words, it will hurt no one to make concrete resolutions or a plan for life with your cell phone.

A Protestant friend once said something that I have thought about for years: “Dave, God can do more for you than you can for God.” In other words, a life of contemplation of God and intimacy with others will change the world more than me thinking that I am just another savior with an iPhone.

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  1. A couple my age served up a midnight whiskey on an unusually cool summer night in Colorado before I left for Louisiana. We date ourselves as you can see the Dad had a jean jacket for me to borrow.  The five kids were all in bed, of course, except this little guy who would not sleep.

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    The very top picture I snapped across the bayou from my new home.  Notice the bullet holes, perhaps expressing disapproval of the prohibition of loitering if shot by the literate.