Pope Francis always challenges us. I noticed a post in a blog, or it might have been a Facebook feed, or a meme on Instagram, that said the pope is prompting us to spend as much time with the Bible as we do with our cell phones. I thought that was good advice for others, but certainly not for me.
As Lent begins, Pope Francis has been asking us to think of our Bibles, to be in them more than we are our cell phones. In his Angelus address he asked “What would happen were we to treat the Bible as we treat our mobile phone?; were we to always carry it with us? . . . were we to turn back when we forget it?”
A few years ago, I went to New York City to watch my daughter’s college band march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. She and some friends had planned to attend Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. What a gift it was to have a daughter and her friends shepherd me to Mass!
I remember the homily that day sending me back into the Bible. The priest addressed our reluctance to engage with the Word by offering a ‘training plan’. It can be intimidating, start slow, he said. Start out with a commitment to read one verse per day. Don’t start with one of the difficult texts, go to the Gospels. The next week increase to two, then three, and then you’ll be on your way. I happen to be a marathon runner so the training plan analogy struck home and I committed to give it a try.
I learned that I could easily work a chapter in each day without a huge time commitment. During Lent, I increased it to two chapters each day and found that to be very rewarding.
But, as time went on, I didn’t keep it up.
One day, I was searching for a gift card, a big one! I’d been given a $50 gift card to a nice restaurant as a token of appreciation for being on the board of a ministry. I had put the gift card on the refrigerator and thought about the great meal I would enjoy when the time came.
A friend had a special occasion and I said “Let’s go out and celebrate with dinner!” I turned to the fridge for my gift card, but it was gone! I searched high and low and could not find it. We ended up going to dinner and I had to spring for the whole bill. I didn’t verbally accuse anyone, but I did wonder if the house cleaner or a guest might have stolen my precious gift card.
A few days after the dinner, something made me go to my Bible. As it always is, it was sitting on the countertop where I have my morning coffee. Thinking back to my training, I decided it was time to get back on track. You’ve probably guessed by now that there, tucked inside my Bible, was the gift card I’d looked for everywhere. Everywhere except where I should have been going everyday.
And so here comes Pope Francis reminding us again. What is important and takes our time? Gift cards? Cell phones? I can say that during this Lent I have been reading two chapters of the Bible each day, but I still go to my smart phone a whole lot more.
Before I end this, just a caution. One day I was in the vestibule at church looking at my phone. Sr. Joan came up to me and said “Cell phones! Everyone is always on their cell phone! What can they possibly be finding so interesting there?” I flipped the screen around to show her that I was praying using an app. I explained that the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, the Bible, and many other spiritual resources are there as well. She responded with “Well, maybe I need to get a smart phone then.” It didn’t take too long. The next email I received from Sr. Joan had “sent from my Android” in the signature.
Computers and smartphones can be tools for good, we’ve seen that with our huge following of Saint of the Day or Minute Meditations. But only we can know whether we are using them to live the Word or for more human wants. Just as Pope Francis is known to have said “Who am I to judge?” I must not focus on the splinter in someone else’s eye. Especially when I have an iPhone in mine.