Monday, May 20, 2019

Skyping God


I was in a conversation recently which stemmed from a young mother lamenting the practice of churches being locked in the evenings, a time which was one of the few windows she would be able to spend some time in Eucharistic Adoration.  

As we know, our western culture has fallen far from the Christian roots on which it was built.  Values such as care for each other, our environment, regard for things belonging to other people and even more so, the things of God, were Christian values embedded into culture by Christians living them.  Since casting off Christianity, the West has been piggybacking on the remembered habits of Christianity. Concepts such as kindness, manners, forgiveness, respect are products of Christianity.  Christianity humanised the culture, imparting dignity on our interactions and, though it’s politically incorrect to say this, it put a stop to the oftentimes savage practices such as, in the extreme, human sacrifice and cannibalism.  Read the eyewitness histories of certain now desirable tourist destinations and you will be thankful that Christian missionaries landed their boats in those places, many times paying the price of martyrdom. Pre-Christian Society was not a pretty sight. 

 Have you ever flown in an airplane over a shipping passage such as between Ireland and Britain or Ireland and France? It never fails to astonish me how a ferry or cargo ship can have almost reached it’s destination yet it’s white wake is still visible quite from the point of departure.  The sea holds the memory of the ship passing long after it has passed over the horizon.  I think that sight is a good analogy for today’s Europe and America.  Western culture is currently treading water without lifejackets in the fading wake of Christ, the ship from which we so gleefully cast ourselves.  We thought our strong legs, strong arms, strong lungs where self sufficient. The sea was azure and so enticing.  However, our bodies, our culture and habits, were strong precisely because they were linked with those attributes of Christ.  We did fine for a while, we’re just dandy,  check us out riding the briny waves not a care in the world, basking in the wake, the illusion which has bit by bit by bit been fading and losing the flavour and essence of Christ.  Without Christ, our legs won’t hold out much longer, our once strong arms are waning and our lungs are ever tiring, less and less able to fill with life giving oxygen, less and less able to dispel choking toxins.  

Without the ship there’s just the deep, deep, deep sea.  
The surface sparkles were enticing to us.  We were tricked into believing that casting off the ‘restrictive’ security of Christianity we would somehow attain something greater of our own invention.  We made the error of Adam and Eve,foolishly believing we could be our own God.  We could hew our own personalised furrow without him, not stoping to realise that the sparkles are not the sea but mere reflections which mask the grave danger beneath.  The sea, mankind unguided by God, has a merciless appetite and will devour the weary and the foolish and give nothing back. 

This is where our culture is now.  An ever darkening, ever more frightening place with neither rock nor ship on which to depend.  And it seems the depths are fathomless. We are returning to a state of pre-Christian savagery where the strong devour the weak. we’re back to child sacrifice, or ‘post-birth abortion’ and a total(itarian) abandonment of rational thought as is so grandly displayed in bully-boy rainbow flags and gender ideology.  We no longer leave our bicycle leaning against a wall and expect it to be there when we return.  We cannot leave our homes unlocked because they will surely be ransacked.  And now, inevitably, we cannot leave our churches unlocked.  Once the place of sacred asylum, of peace, solace and oftentimes physical shelter for the weary, the worried, the unloved and the homeless, the churches must now be locked because they are no longer considered untouchable safe places.  

When I was working in the inner city I used to attend lunchtime mass in a Franciscan church.  Several of the regular attendees would pass the time during mass sleeping slumped on a pew bench.  Shabby homeless old men who had nowhere else to go except for the shelter of God’s house where they would at least be warm and receive some human contact and be treated as humans by the bare-footed friars.  I passed that church recently with my daughter and had to mumble to her not to make eye contact with the small assembly of drugged addicts bickering on the steps of the locked church.

 I’m sure it was a difficult and heavy hearted decision for the Franciscans to lock their doors.  How many times had they cleaned up syringes and excrement from that consecrated place.  How many handbags and wallets were taken, how many altercations took place before they had to padlock the doors, opening only at times when security was available to keep people safe?  

Some years ago my own parish, a respectable town, had to make the sad decision to lock up at sundown, not because of drug addicts but because of teenage brats urinating for bravado, pilfering the pennies from the poor box or simply using it as a place for what my father used to call ‘blackguarding’.  As we know, countries such as France have concerns more serious than schoolboys up to no good.  One by one desecration and fire is the fate of unguarded Catholic Churches.

How did I get from inconvenient Eucharistic adoration times to desecration of European churches? Oh yes, the necessity of padlocks and keypads on churches because neither buildings nor people are automatically safe in the sanctuary any more.  I put forward the suggestion that if actual adoration isn’t available due to the church being locked, or illness or caring for little children, that many parishes have 24 hour webcam focused on the tabernacle and the flickering sanctuary lamp which tells is Jesus is home, and that it could be a nice idea to spend time with Our Lord in that way.  I commented that it was nice that at the same time that churches need greater security and shorter open times that God, with his usual finesse,  had left us a way of being present of keeping him company, albeit by webcam.  

A friendly debate ensued with some thinking that was a good idea and others disagreeing.  A priest was quoted as saying that only adoration in person was acceptable as the other was no better than looking at a printed picture.  

I disagree.

I’m going to make the case for Skyping God:

My nephew’s children’s maternal grandparents live on the other side of the world.  They are not humanly able to spend long periods of time physically close.  However, with the technology each of us carries around in our pockets and handbags, those children have a well established intimate relationship with their adoring grandparents.  Between Skype and FaceTime they check in regularly, have long chats, show their artwork, their wobbly teeth and send virtual kisses to their very present though distant Grandparents.  

One of the connector pieces on EWTN promotes Eucharistic Adoration.  I love the bit where the girl explains 

‘I look at Him, and He looks at me’.  

That is the precise essence of Eucharistic adoration.  A two way gaze. I look at my Love and My Love looks at me. Love transcends proximity.   God’s love transcends both time and space. He is not limited by pixels or bytes.  He is already closer to us than water is to a fish.  

Every Christmas and Easter the Holy Father gives his traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing..To The City and To The World.  This blessing is received by millions of the faithful via satellite link, via radio, tv, internet.  It is God’s blessing, in no way lessened or diluted on it’s trip into space and back.  St Josemaría Escrivá tells us to often cast our hearts to the tabernacles near us, to unite with them during the day, to keep our Lord company by greeting him as we drive past churches or other places where the Blessed Sacrament is present.  Our Lord gathers these loving greetings with great joy.  He is never outdone in love and he rejects none of our loving offerings, even if they are just from a passing car. 

When my children were smaller we would regularly pass by my husband’s workplace as we went to and fro from shops, schools and so on.  We’d look out to see if we could spot Daddy’s car parked in it little space beside the ancient yellow cottage which is his surgery.  Sometimes it wouldn’t be there if he was on a house call.  However, it was typical that they’d excitedly spot his car, like the sanctuary lamp, indicating that Daddy is there.  I’d tell them to blow a kiss because he loved getting unexpected caresses while he was working.  How lovingly those little wind-borne kisses floated my husband’s way.  I would ring him later to inform him he had received those kisses.  He’d hug them and tell them how happy and loved he would feel when those invisible kisses came his way.  Personally I have faith that my husband was indeed helped through his sometimes difficult or heart wrenching days by his little children’s love filled thoughts, because what is love but heart connecting to heart?  Either way, my husband was always delighted that his children were sending him kisses as we drove past where he was.  For sure, the children benefitted, their love for their father was enriched by those little acts of devotion. 

  A number of years ago,  Bishop Javier Echevarría, then Prelate of Opus Dei, was on a pastoral visit to the people of Opus Dei, their extended family and friends in The Philippines.  One of the major struggles families in The Philippines encounter is the reality that employment can be very difficult to find and oftentimes either the mother or the father has to work abroad simply to keep the family above water.  At one large get-together with 10,000 people, The Father, as he was affectionately known, spoke about this in very very clear and urgent tones.  This physical separation is a grave danger to families.  Long distance marriages are very difficult to maintain over extended time.  The absence of physical presence, day to day life, marital intimacy all create unique struggles for those families.  He encouraged those who find themselves in these difficult circumstances to do all in their power to keep those separations as short term as possible, to try if at all possible to keep the family as a physical unit. Then he went on to advise those couples to remain intimate as best they could even though apart.  He suggested connecting on the internet through the likes of Skype to talk about family life, to pray together, to just relax and enjoy each other.  The love of husband and wife, on which the children and the family depend even more than economic security, was to be urgently and consistently nourished with the use of the technologies which are widely available today.  This surely must be one of the greatest benefits of the Internet.  

In my own family, our eldest daughter was able to join in her smallest sister’s birthday party via FaceTime from France.  Oftentimes during that year away from home she would just leave FaceTime on as she pottered around her room, just so that she could enjoy family life from afar.  We weren’t even always talking just as you wouldn’t always talk to someone in the same room.  You just know they’re there and enjoy their company. As St Francis is so often (though erroneously) quoted as saying “...sometimes use words..”  

This is how I feel about checking in on Adoration either from some grand and exotic shrine or from your humble and ordinary local parish via webcam. 

 I think the priest mentioned earlier may have mistakenly thought the person was asking whether Sunday duty may be fulfilled by watching mass online (it isn’t).   I don’t think any man would suggest a person not FaceTime their mother because it’s not as good as being with her in person.  Perhaps if the mother was living locally and we only interacted with her via a phone screen instead of actually visiting her, it may indicate a serious relationship flaw. However, if we regularly visit our Mom, it doesn’t exclude the delight of FaceTime chats at other times.  Certainly if visiting in person is not a possibility,  FaceTime is, quite literally, a Godsend 

I’m reminded of the computer homepage my husband used some years ago for quite some time.  It was the Vatican TV webcam from St Peter’s Square, Rome.  He used to say that he’d feel connected to the universal church by glancing at the great basilica, hear the fountains and watch the pilgrims milling about. He was reminded to pray for the Holy Father whose then apartments were visible on the webcam.  Obviously it was a far cry from being in Rome but I thought it was a very filial thing to do.  I am sure that God saw and delighted in his loving son doing that very simple act to stay connected in a tangible way. 

Jesus is our spouse.  He is our Divine bridegroom.  Like any bride we long for that connection with our spouse.  So the church is locked? So we’re bedridden, disabled or just a plain old overwhelmed mom keeping all the plates spinning and not always managing.  Do you think for a second that the Bridegroom who waits for us in the quietness of the tabernacle is going to avert his gaze from us because our connection is in computer pixels and therefore not good enough? 

I love when my husband texts or phones me for tiny moments during the day, I love that continued conversation, those little connections which remind me that I’m on my spouse’s mind, that I’m in his heart.  I’m excited and hopeful that some day my husband can retire and was can spend all day chatting, I still have so much to tell him like ‘y’know who I saw uptown’ and important questions such as ‘would you like some tea?’. In the meantime I’ll delight in those technology enabled moments of heart onto heart with my spouse.  Is God not the greatest spouse? Does he not long for connection with us? Does he not desire our simple bits of news and childlike questions?

God sees us anyway.  We are always in his gaze.  He sees our efforts.  One of my favourite scenes in the Gospel is Jesus’ encounter with Nathaniel.  Jesus says to him ‘I saw you under the olive tree’.  We don’t know what Nathaniel was doing when Jesus saw him.  We know it was something good, perhaps it was as simple an act as trying to tune in the live webcam from his local parish church which happened to be locked because other people have forgotten that it was precisely Jesus who gave us this great civilisation with it’s beautiful, now locked Churches.  

2 comments:

  1. Rose Marie RussellMay 20, 2019 at 11:49 PM

    Oh, Jennifer, so beautiful and eloquent. I am blessed and fortunate to know you and to receive your encouraging and challenging words. Thank you
    for them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you RoseMarie, the blessing goes both ways.

      Delete

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