Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Gadgets, Gurus, Gimmicks and Gods

Father John J. Lombardi

Technology and possessions, can't live with them, can't live without them? Many Christians and Catholics will make a mistake-sometimes serious and ongoing-regarding these pervasive issues…Most people excessively condemn or condone them. How about you? See below….

ITEM #1: Being new at the internet and e-mail since arriving here in these holy hills, two things I know: I don't know a lot about computers and technology and, like many souls, I have enough to read without getting more on the info-highway. Well, while trying to simplify life, relearn some job skills and pray occasionally, I got an e-mail recently (among the many myriad ones I receive each day), which said, "This is important, you'll like this…"

Well, it wasn't important and I deleted it as soon as I found out that, like a lot of things, I could (somehow) live without it…

ITEM # 2: I recently called someone to arrange a meeting with them and a bishop. The kindly bishop swiftly gave me the appointment time, but, unfortunately, I couldn't reach the other party. (What's wrong with this picture?!) Reason: they had "call-block": you talk to a real human being only if you pass a series of questions, push buttons, and persevere in patience, and only after "your friend" agrees to talk to you (if they're actually there)!@#. Long story longer: incommunicatio and the folks missed their meeting with the bishop…

ITEM # 3: After an arduous hike with my rugged Mom to the pinnacle of the castle-like fortress and abbey of Mont St. Michel, on the Brittany coast in France, we decided to recoup and catch our breath in a small, intimate courtyard near the seeming heavens where the Archangel supposedly touched earth. Huffing and puffing we sat down anticipating a holy time of quietude and rest…. We did enjoy a precious moment or two, and then: a cell-phone rang. A youngish couple was also visiting-and doing business there. How silly of us to think…

All these examples to say: technology and possessions sometimes get in our way of living life. Even though we need possessions and certain technologies, they can sometimes actually prevent quality of life and are, actually, (yes, I'll admit it for you) a pain in the soul. Actually, if you ever feel this way (upset by various technological noises at Mass; family members glued to the tube, etc) there are other people who feel the same, but it's not popular-or acceptable--to question the "steady, stream of progress and advancement" in American life; it's seemingly un-American.

Sometimes we Americans get overly reliant on technology, media, gadgets and "modern weapons of modernity," instead of being freed by them; rather than helping us they hinder, or control, us. They can help us, no doubt-and we should seek the spiritual, ethical, ordinate ways they can assist us. The describing words above were chosen deliberately; consider the opposites of them as unhealthy--as indicative of inordinate attachments. Consider the following points and questions…

  • "Less is more". (quote from Miles van der Rohe). Ask yourself regarding technology and possessions: Do I really need this item-or do I simply want it for show, luxury or un-needed convenience? …
  • "Elegant simplicity": (+Dianna Vreeland) Is there too much clutter in your life (including thoughts in your head) and gadgets amidst your calling to simple discipleship?…
  • Immersion-perversion: Do you realize, amidst the good things, any "dark-sides" to technology-such as the widespread display of pornography and violence, or the incessant and seductive offering of more channels, web sites, phone options and communicating variations?…
  • Mt. Everest syndrome: Are you enslaved to unessential and incessant communicating, as in the thought: "It's there (phone, computer, game-boy) so I'll use it". Saying "No" to some things is saying "Yes" to God.
  • Literary Lust: spending excessive time on the computer in reading and reviewing news, information, entertaining sites, and then wanting more and more, all the while forsaking necessary spiritual reading (the Bible), praying and meditating.
  • Overly "connected"? I know a lady who once confessed (outside the confessional!) that she slammed her cell-phone up against a wall after frustrations with it and following an excess of phone calls. Get away for a while, like the Lord Himself did (see +Mk. 6:31)
  • Idolizing Technology: Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger once said that television and computers have become "modern day idols". And he was a busy, important, modern, savvy man-Archbishop of Paris: while utilizing modern technology he didn't burn incense to men and machines but rather to the Divine Master.

It is somewhat of an American heresy to critique (not even condemn) modern technology (the disparaging word describing such a person is luddite-after an English man who rebelled against the onslaughts of the Industrial revolution: wonder what he'd do today?).

We need more Cardinal Lustiger's (who lived piously amidst power) and Dorothy Day's (convert who conserved traditional Catholic treasures while heroically living with the poor of New York), Pope John Paul's (who lives simply amidst splendor) and Mother Teresa's (her Missionaries of Charity do not own modern technologies and still influence worldwide armies of charitable people).They all recognize that some modern technological things are helpful when used in a reasonable way, but who also realize the dangers, seductions and threats to a godly lifestyle. In essence, we need spiritual people who can detect both the dangers and benefits of modern utilities. Saintly people have asked the questions, regarding technology and possessions: Does this product help or hinder my relationship with God? Does it help or hinder human dignity? In using certain things does the time spent with it deter me from prayer and works of mercy, and does the content detour me (sinful material obviously does) from God and neighbor?

Some Christians condemn all medical processes while others condone anything possible--both are extreme-positions in extremis. Some extremist Christians say we should keep children from medical attention because it is not explicitly in the Bible or because it is seemingly not a God-given, "natural thing" (too complex). Other Christians extremists condone sterilizing human beings merely because it is possible and seemingly beneficial.

Some Christians condone more, bigger and better technology and possessions no matter what: the thinking is, "God helps those who help themselves; this is, after all, America, and we should partake of God's gospel of blessing." Other Christians condemn, in extremis, all technology -seemingly thinking that any modern things cannot be good.

Let's face it: we can all extrematize by excessive condoning or condemning. Americans are famous for excessive lifestyles and opinions…Are you, yourself-and those you live with--in the "healthy, holy middle" regarding technology and possessions? It's far easier to be on the extremes; and for that reason, a famous Jesuit once called the balancing act of virtue "the radical middle."

Prayer for Priests: "Sacred Heart of Jesus, hear my humble prayer on behalf of your priests. I pray for your faithful and fervent priests; for your unfaithful and tepid priests; for your priests who labor at home and abroad; for your tempted priests; for your lonely and desolate priests; for your young priests; for your dying priests, and for the souls of your priests in purgatory. Merciful Heart of Jesus, remembering that they are but weak and frail human beings, give them a deep faith, a bright and firm hope and a burning love. I ask that, in their loneliness, you comfort them; in their sorrow, you strengthen them; in their frustrations, you show them that it is through suffering that the soul is purified. Loving Heart of Jesus, keep them close to your Sacred Heart and bless them abundantly, in time, and in eternity.


Scripture Verse: "The Father's gift in Christ.--Our Lord commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, then, we profess faith in the Creator, in the only begotten Son and in the gift which is the Spirit. There is one Creator of all things, for in God there is one Father from whom all things exist. And there is one Spirit, the gift who is in all. So all follow their due order, according to the proper operation of each: one power, which brings all things into being, one Son, through whom all things come to be, and one gift of perfect hope.

Nothing is wanting to this flawless union: in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is infinity of endless being, perfect reflection of the divine image, and mutual enjoyment of the gift. Our Lord has described the purpose of the Spirit's presence in us. Let us listen to His words: I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. It is to your advantage that I go away; if I go, I will send you the Advocate. And also: I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth.

He will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine. +St Hilary of Poitiers.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi