Taking the “I” out of iPod and putting the “You” in community

One of the great benefits of technology is the way it can help us connect to one another. Just a few years ago, it was very challenging to keep in touch with friends or relatives on the other side of the world, or even on the other side of the country. Today, we can take for granted how easy it is to pick up the phone and call a sister in Los Angeles or e-mail an uncle in Guam. Your child’s school can reach you on your cell phone no matter where you are. E-mail and text messaging keep you in touch with your spouse working in the office or your friend serving in Iraq. And who could have predicted when a humble Franciscan priest became the archbishop of Boston, that he would soon become a pioneer in blogging and podcasting, reaching out to young people in a way never done before?

While technology allows us to connect, it also, unfortunately, can facilitate isolation. I was recently given the gift of an iPod because Cardinal Seán is podcasting. The iPod, which holds up to 7,000 songs in a miniature package, is a great tool that lets me tune into Cardinal Seán’s podcast and to carry my favorite music selections in my pocket. I really enjoy the iPod, but as I travel throughout the archdiocese, everywhere I go, I see people listening to their iPods instead of talking with one another. One author has suggested the “i” in iPod could stand for “I don’t want to talk to you.” If you’re walking down the street listening to your iPod, you’re missing the opportunity to greet a neighbor or even smile at a passing stranger. The same is true of cell phones and portable e-mail devices.

More and more, instead of using the gift of technology to connect, we’re using it to disconnect. Some people “talk” more by e-mail than they do with their own mouths! This ability to tune out, to live in worlds of our own making, could be jeopardizing our sense of community. Recent trends in religious participation would seem to support this theory. Many people describe themselves as spiritual but reject the idea of being religious. They see themselves as having a connection to God, but not a connection to a community of faith. Did God put us here to worship him in isolation, disconnected from one another? Did he mean for us to be believers but not belongers?

Certainly that is not the message of Paul in Corinthians: “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it” (1 Cor 12: 27). Paul writes of how we are all baptized into one body. This does not mean we are all the same. In fact, Paul reminds us we each have our own gifts, but they are gifts meant to serve one another.

God’s will is for us to be in communion and in community. A few years ago, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement called, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry.” The bishops present a vision of our Church community strengthened by an empowered laity. The bishops write, “All of the baptized are called to work toward the transformation of the world.” That is a tall order, not a task one takes on in isolation, but in communion with others.

An active, committed laity is more important today than it ever has been. The bishops’ statement goes on to say, “Sharing in the function of Christ, priest, prophet and king, the laity have an active part of their own in the life and activity of the Church. Their activity within Church communities is so necessary that without it the apostolate of the pastors will frequently be unable to obtain its full effect.”

The speed of life, technology and change is mind-boggling, and the easiest response might be to disconnect. But we are called to communion with one another, to be both spiritual and religious, believers and belongers, to be a community of faith. If you have been an active member of a parish community, thank you. If you have been away from your parish community, please come home. We need you to help renew our communities of faith.

Father Richard Erikson is vicar general and moderator of the curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.