How I don’t like my smartphone — let me count the ways.
I don’t like that something that fits in my pocket is smarter than I am. I don’t like the fact I cannot use the excuses like I didn’t get your call, I didn’t get your email, or I didn’t get your text anymore. It has trapped me. I can still, thanks to caller ID, screen my calls, but that is little consolation to the overwhelming feeling of oppression this little device can generate in my psyche.
I am not now nor have I ever been a Luddite. I am thankful for the plethora of scientific advancements that have made life so much easier for me. So although I still read books that are made out of paper, write by hand in cursive, and have been known to pine for the days of black-and-white movies, I am also well versed enough in modern technology to use the modern machinery at hand to communicate with and to convey thoughts and ideas.
Tech has come in handy during this never-ending pandemic. The Zoom call is now a staple of office life that will probably survive the end of this crisis, whenever that is. And streaming has also been utilized for the sacrifice of the Mass, although the electronic version of the Mass creates too much separation for me. Jesus was a physical human presence and the Mass is a physical experience that culminates in the Eucharist, and a “virtual” Eucharist isn’t the Eucharist.
My only previous experience with televised spiritual exercises was when my brothers and I would marvel at TV preachers. It was a combo plate of alien concepts for us. First, these preachers were not priests — growing up in the Catholic bubble we did, we had very little contact with these things.
The flamboyant styles and costumes made the TV preachers all the more exotic. There was one such preacher who had something he called a temple in downtown LA and a golden altar that was some kind of direct conduit for prayers to heaven. And they all seemed to have made very eccentric choices when it came to haircuts.
I was born a little too late for the first go-round of two Catholic media priest superstars, Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Father Patrick Peyton. Though both are long gone, their impact continues, with a whole new audience getting to know Father Peyton through the recently released biofilm “Pray.” I think it’s not overly speculative to think that those days when I was too young to understand fully, but remember vividly, how we used to kneel on our living-room floor and pray the rosary had something to do with Father Peyton’s television ministry.
Today, I spend a lot of time in my car commuting, and it is a good time to start and or end one’s day with a little prayer. It helps mitigate the stress, reduces the temptation to participate in retaliatory driving, and, like confession, no one ever does it without feeling a whole lot better about life in general.
I randomly, or so I thought, recently chose a rosary app. There were lots of them, and the one I stumbled upon included audio. I now had the option to say the rosary silently by myself, or “listen” to someone leading the rosary, like I was kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament or back in my childhood kneeling on a living-room floor next to a mantle with a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on one end and the Blessed Mother on the other.
Almost as an afterthought, I activated the audio feature of this rosary app, and on came the voice of Father Peyton. The lilt in his voice was like a soothing breeze on a hot day, and now I could more actively participate in the rosary while keeping both hands on the wheel of my car. Even joining in the responses like a traditional rosary with more recorded voices on the same app gives me the same sense of community I get when praying a rosary in a real church with real people.
What a weird blessing that someone like me, who has lamented the lack of connection in watching streaming Masses, can find such solace in this smartphone app. And what a powerful testimony to the life of a dedicated prayer warrior like Father Peyton that, years after his death, he can still inspire.
I dislike my smartphone a little less these days.