How My Smartphone Helped Save My Faith
As many readers know, I endured a brief, but jarring, faith crisis last summer. It was chronicled in three lengthy posts, but I have yet to write about how I (thankfully) emerged from it. As many have asked me to, I will soon do that. There was a huge part of the process (and it was a process) that I thought probably merited separate treatment, and that was the role technology played in helping me.
Around the first of the year, I was attending Sunday Mass at a parish in Los Angeles that was very close to my house, but which I rarely went to. I wasn't familiar with the priest, who was a bit older. In his sermon he railed against modern technology, focusing mostly on smartphones.
While some of what he said was valid -- yes, technology can be a wasteful distraction at times -- I took umbrage with his insinuation that it was mostly bad. He wasn't exactly saying that tech was a tool of the devil, but it wouldn't have been a stretch to infer that.
Of course, hearing an older person complain about whatever infernal tech plague is purportedly dooming society at the time isn't anything new. Still, my own recent experience made me bristle at the sermon.
Full disclosure: I am more likely to be prickly about sermons since the problem I had last summer. It's still unclear to me why my patience is now thinner but here we are.
After speaking to a priest about my problem last summer, I began reading a couple of books that he recommended to me. The needle wasn't moving for me yet, but I did take comfort in spiritual reading. This was in a period of my life where I wasn't taking comfort in much.
Noting the fact that just reading about spiritual matters made me feel less agitated, I opened up an app named "Laudate" that had been on my phone for over a year but I'd never really used for anything. It's a pretty comprehensive Catholic faith app that has daily readings, the rosary, a bible, and a variety of other things.
I was at a point in my struggle where praying wasn't coming easy to me. My lifelong nighttime prayer ritual wasn't happening so I began simply opening Laudate and praying the short daily prayer it offered. Mountains weren't moved but, hey, at least I was praying.
After several days of this is, I was casually perusing other things the app had to offer. I began checking out the daily Bible reading. Not every day, but often enough.
This prompted me to take a look at some other Catholic apps. Some I used for a few minutes and realized I didn't like, some I gave a longer test run. I plan to do a post listing my favorites in the future so I won't mention them all here, but a couple of my favorites were Catholic Daily Reflections from My Catholic Life and a novena app simply called Pray. I also downloaded a couple of free study Bibles. I own a regular study Bible, but thought it might be handy to have one on my phone.
The accursed modern propensity to always be staring at one's phone was about to give my faith odyssey a boost in the right direction.
Still unable to feel very conversational with God, I availed myself of the many prayers and readings on the various apps. Bible verses and the daily Mass readings worked their way into my regimen. All were available to me in an instant because of the omnipresent smartphone.
Branching out, I decided to give some Catholic podcasts a try. I've never been much of a podcast guy. Strike that, I didn't listen to podcasts at all.
During the World Series, I'd become Twitter sports pals with a nun who hit me with some very good trash talk during Game 7 (I'm a Dodgers fan). She had a podcast, so I decided to listen. I liked it, so I asked her (on Twitter), for recommendations for other Catholic podcasts.
Now I was listening to lay people and clergy talking about faith when I wasn't reading about faith. One of the greatest things about finding a new podcast that one likes but has never listened to is binge-listening to old episodes. Sometimes I would do this for several hours a day.
All on my phone.
I have long said that I greatly value convenience. The fact that I was carrying around all of this spiritual reading and listening material with me all of the time made it more likely that I would take advantage of it all. At a time when I really didn't enjoy being alone with my own thoughts having something readily available that was not only distracting, but helpful as well, was an overwhelming blessing.
As I wrote at the beginning of the post, this technological pilgrimage was only one component of my rocky road back to my faith. It was, however, a most important component.
The very 21st Century approach to immersing myself in so many things faith-based is what would be the eventual catalyst for me to really begin praying again. While I am a big believer in the power of prayer, I needed something more to fill all of the emptiness I was feeling. I found that in a place it didn't exist a decade and a half ago.
And I had a little help from a nun on Twitter.
While the priest at that Mass in January may have had a point about technology's ills, he was wrong to be completely dismissive of it.
I have recently moved away from Los Angeles, back to Tucson, which is my hometown. I have two churches near me that I will enjoy going to now that I'm back, but I am going to miss the parish that was my home for twenty years. That spiritual homesickness will be there for a long time, but can be somewhat ameliorated.
They live-stream my favorite Mass every Sunday.