A couple of weeks ago, I was having a meal at a café when I noticed a young couple seated at the table next to me. What made me take notice of them was the fact that for the entire duration of their meal, they hardly spoke to each other, but were furiously tapping away on their individual ‘smart’ phones, which is getting very common nowadays. What I saw made me lament silently – with the advent of modes of communication that are so advanced, where even phones can be given the title ‘smart’, we seem to be facing a deplorable lack of the real ability to communicate when we are in the presence of another, even when seated right in front of another person.
In the Catholic Church, we have always believed that Christ is truly present in the consecrated species of bread and wine. It is given the term ‘real presence’. Reserved in Monstrances around the world in chapels and adoration rooms, this real presence of Christ is on grand display for us to spend time with the Lord, to communicate with him, and for him to communicate with us.
His real presence invites us, on this side of the Eucharist, to ultimately be truly and really present to Him. This is needed, more and more these days, for various reasons, the chief one being that it prepares us for our ultimate and highest calling in life – to be eventually present to God in heaven, ‘face to face’. The more we hold this mystery and purposefully make the effort to spend quality time with the Lord in Eucharistic adoration, the more we ready our hearts for that real, present and endless encounter.
The ability to be present is being constantly compromised, and I daresay, threatened. Our minds just cannot seem to stay long on being present, but seek to constantly flit from thought to thought, image to image, thrill to thrill, and resists to be abiding in a presence, in the present. Our hearts truly are restless, till they rest in God, as St Augustine said.
Yet, we are still not convinced, and allow our hearts to continue to be tickled and teased, even when in front of the Blessed Sacrament. We would wish that with all the communication devices available, we would somehow find it easier to communicate with one another, and be more present to one another, but ironically, we are dumbing down in our ability to do so.
Does it mean that the solution is to completely do away with all this technology and turn back the clock of our intellectual advancement? Is the removal of a distraction, the banning of any one thing an answer that will make us communicate better? If so, would it not be tantamount to removal of the ability to sin, so that we are always living in a state of grace?
Underlying all overtures of love is the fundamental belief that love must be a decision, as the Marriage Encounter and Engagement Encounter movements have reiterated since their existence. In this short phrase lies the crux of love - that it is a decision. So is communication a decision. Removal of our gadgets and gizmos that are called communication devices is not a solution to this problem if our hearts are not first going to make communication a decision.
As I shared these thoughts with a parishioner, he sighed and said, “those were the days when there were no mobile phones, no pagers, no Internet, and we had to make the effort to either visit or write letters to communicate”. He feels that the advent of these communication devices is a bane to our human development.
I feel differently. In fact, when a decision to put down that phone is made, when we turn off the computer and sit down to talk, it makes that effort even more valuable as a deliberate act of love now because when that happens, it is not a matter of having ‘no choice’, but rather, ‘lots of choices’, making the choice to love a much higher value than before.
And while we develop our real presence before others, we must also allow ourselves to be fully present to God in a decided manner, especially before the Eucharist, so that our real presence meets the Real Presence, causing real presence on both sides of the Eucharist.