As I write this article for this edition of the Mother Angeline Society Bulletin, I can’t help but be grateful for the technology that allows me to be able to carry out this task with relative ease. The software automatically corrects my spelling, the margins and tabs are automatically set, and I can always go to Google, rather than dust off my dictionary, when I want to look up a word. It wasn’t so long ago though that when we wanted to write something, we would have to use the typewriter, and when we wanted to carry out some research, we would head to the library and open up the encyclopedias. Yes, technology has done great things to speed up our lives and make things more efficient. Just recently, I was in one of the Carmelite Sisters’ Nursing Homes and saw that they had just recently placed flat screen computers on all the floors as a way of modernizing and facilitating all the laborious record keeping involved with resident care.
But with all technological developments, there are benefits, and there are downsides. For example, social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) allows us to connect with family and friends all over the world. We can keep track of who’s on vacation, who is heading off for college, and who just got married. We can learn about the sad events that happen in life, and offer prayers and support for those who are sick. It has made the world seem that much smaller, knowing that we can instantaneously connect to anyone, anywhere on the planet. On the downside, however, all this technology has so pervasively worked its way into our lives, that for many people, as soon as they open their eyes in the morning, they reach for their phone, desperate to find out what happened in the virtual world while they were slumbering. This obsession keeps on all day until they go to bed. Who hasn’t been to a restaurant where there isn’t a table full of people, all looking at their phones, not talking to one another?
Along with this, social media has precipitated a level of personal sharing never before seen in modern society. All day, every day people put up pictures of the most banal events, hoping that someone will “like” them. Younger people love to post “selfies” of themselves, hastily composed self-portraits taken with their phone. Relentless self-promotion has become the norm as we all scramble for more and more ways to expose our lives to the world, seeking approval and affirmation.
In this “look at me!” culture that we currently inhabit, where people can become their own “brands”, I sense that Mother Angeline would have us reevaluate the role that technology has in our lives. Mother certainly was in favor of using modern techniques and advances in the Nursing Homes that her Congregation administered, particularly if they enhanced the lives of the residents living there. It was one of the founding principles of the Congregation that their homes be “up to date” and equipped with best possible facilities.
But when technology increases our human tendencies for narcissism and self-absorption, it impedes our relationship with God. When we continually focus on ourselves, our accomplishments, our desires, we close ourselves off from the deeper relationship that God wants to share with us. Mother wrote what she believed true happiness to be: “The secret of happiness for me is self-forgetfulness and continual self-denial. My love for God should be strong enough to destroy all love for self and bear weariness and sickness with no outward signs.“ Mother knew and believed that the Christian life was to be patterned after Christ’s own life, who lived not for Himself but for his Father and for our salvation. His miraculous works were not intended to glorify Himself, to garner attention for Himself, but as signs of the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is this interior life, not a superficial virtual one, which gives life its meaning and worth. It is with a spirit of detachment, a very Carmelite theme, do we move ever closer to God, as Infinite Mystery. Again, Mother found this to be true in her own life: “When we make it the habit of living in the Presence of God, we soon learn to live retired interiorly in complete silence and abandonment. We feel moved by a mysterious action which directs, supports, and influences us. To dwell within our own soul is to have heaven on earth, to become the intimate companion of Jesus and to contemplate the Blessed Trinity assiduously.”
Mother’s words are quite a contrast to some of our contemporary values; not many today people speak about self-denial and abandonment in any kind of positive way. Yet, they have been known as key elements of the spiritual journey since the foundation of Christendom. As we continue through this 2016, may Mother’s wisdom and guidance help us to seek out what is really of value and not to be lured by only what is passing.