Digital Jesus

Cardinal Robert Sarah (Prefect of the Roman Catholic Congregation for Divine Worship) and I often see things differently.

At a recent conference in Rome, celebrating 10 years since Pope Benedict XVI’s loosened restrictions on celebrating Mass in the pre-Vatican II form, Cardinal Sarah attacked using mobile phones and tablets to pray Daily Prayer:

Perhaps it is very practical and convenient to pray the breviary with my own mobile phone or tablet or another electronic device, but it is not worthy: it desacralises prayer. These apparatuses are not instruments consecrated and reserved to God, but we use them for God and also for profane things! Electronic devices must be turned off, or better still they can be left behind at home when we come to worship God.

I totally disagree.

Let me illustrate with an old story – from when smoking was still thought to be OK, from before the time when a Jesuit was running the Roman Catholic Church!

A Franciscan and a Jesuit were friends. They were both smokers who found it difficult to pray for a long period of time without having a cigarette. They decided to go to their superiors and ask permission to smoke.

When they met again, the Franciscan was downcast. He said, “I asked my superior if I could smoke while I pray and he said ‘no.’”

The Jesuit smiled. “I asked if I could pray while I smoke. He said ‘of course.’”

Cardinal Sarah is clearly approaching this from the side: can I use my phone while I pray? It changes if we approach it from the side: can I pray while I use my phone?

What is it about books that make them any more sacred than a phone or a tablet, Cardinal Sarah? Didn’t the rot set in for you, Cardinal Sarah, once people stopped using texts that had been prayerfully hand-copied by dedicated monks?

OK, so the phone or tablet, that is now being used for prayer, might have been used sinfully, but can you be assured that the printing press that produced your breviary was never, ever used for anything desacralised? And can we not turn this around: isn’t it great that the phone or tablet that has drawn me away from God is now drawing me towards God? Maybe, using my phone or tablet prayerfully may encourage a more Godly use of my phone or tablet outside of the time of using it for Daily Prayer.

In any case, I’m going to ask the bigger question: what is this division into sacred and secular? Does not the Incarnation break down this division?

Can we not read the Bible on a digital device? Can we not take advantage of the wonderful digital apps that help unpack the Bible so excellently?

I know people who only got into praying the complexity of the Daily Office because the hard, ribbon-placing-and-flipping-through-options was done for them by a digital app.

I have prayed the Office using digital devices. I have prayed the Office with another priest – he on his phone, me using a book. When I walked the Camino, the only book I carried was the guidebook – the Daily Office, Bible, and the Mass in Spanish/English in parallel, all these were on my iPad mini.

It is a strong hope of mine that Benedictine Daily Prayer will become available digitally. I encourage you to explore the digital Chapel on this site – I am regularly told how it enables people to have a prayer discipline.

What do you think?

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