by Father Mark Goldasich
At first sight, the baptism that I did last Saturday for a fourmonth-old named William seemed quite ordinary.
In addition to the guest of honor, his parents, godparents and a slew of relatives were gathered in the parish center. There were the usual cameras and video cameras to record the event. I’d prepared the water (warm), the oils (of catechumens and chrism) were in place, and the Easter candle was burning. I’d checked to make sure the white baptismal garment and candle were where they should be.
Then, after all seemed so normal, I noticed a most unusual guest at the baptism. It was the aunt of the little boy . . . at least from the waist up. She was in a box of sorts, but alive and talking. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Please don’t think that these first few days of Lent have already sent me over the edge. Let me explain what was happening with that aunt at the baptism. The “box” that she was in was actually a laptop computer monitor, so that’s why she was seen only from the waist up. She was talking with us — live — from where she is presently a student of history. And that is in St. Petersburg, Russia!
This whole thing was a first for me. I’d never had anyone attend a baptism via Skype. (By the way, Skype is like a video phone call, except it’s done from one computer to another.) It was entertaining for me to watch as the laptop was lifted up and turned so that the aunt could watch the baptism and then later visit with all of the family gathered in Tonganoxie. I’ve got to tell you that this techno-geek was both fascinated and wildly impressed.
We often hear of the dangers and pitfalls of the Internet and modern technology. Like anything, though, their goodness or evil rests in how they are used. And, I’ve got to tell you that this “Skyped” baptism was one of the wonderful, creative, grace-filled ways that technology can do good and bring people together.
Someone who doesn’t appear afraid of new technology is Pope Benedict XVI. In fact, in his message for World Communications Day last May 14, he encouraged priests to make use of the “new media” to bring God’s message to the world, especially to younger people.
Maybe this Lent, we can look to technology as an aid to making this a holy season of spiritual growth and change. Since so many of us own smart phones, iPods, iPads and computers — and are rarely seen without them — why not explore the many spiritual offerings available on these devices?
One of the apps on my iPad, for example, is the RC Calendar. (Incidentally, the “RC” stands for “Roman Catholic,” not “Real Croatian.”) When you tap on a day, up pops: information on what saint or feast is being celebrated; all of the day’s Mass readings (in the Jerusalem Bible translation); and the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s an incredible resource and readily available whenever and wherever you happen to be.
I also just downloaded an app for the Stations of the Cross, offered for free by Ave Maria Press. It’s based on Pope John Paul II’s new Way of the Cross. Because these 14 Stations differ from those traditionally found in most churches, they can perhaps help people rediscover that ancient prayer so appropriate to Lent. The app contains an explanation of what the Stations are, beautiful artwork for each one, a scriptural meditation and a prayer.
For people who are visually inspired, why not take an incredible tour of the Sistine Chapel, found at the Web site: http://www.vatican.va/ various/cappelle/sistina_vr/index.html. Prepare to be blown away as you do a 360-degree tour of this amazing space. You can even zoom in and out of the artwork. I hate to say this, but it’s almost as good as being there in person. Supplement your viewing pleasure by reading one of the many Sistine guides found online.
While some folks might consider giving up Facebook for Lent (as they may spend way too much time there), others might look to using that social networking site for doing a Lenten discipline, that of almsgiving. This term does not exclusively refer to giving money to the poor; it signifies doing any type of good deed for another. Why not, for example, select a number of “friends” on Facebook and send one message of encouragement a day to a selected person. It can be as short as a post on their wall or a longer private message.
Naturally, there’s no shortage of other Lenten Web sites, podcasts and videos to guide your journey throughout these 40 days. Heck, you may even want to “Skype” a friend who lives far away and “donate” your time in visiting.
Using these new technologies to experience Lent in a new way may be just the innovation you need to grow in holiness. And, let’s face it, it’s certainly better for your soul than yet another game of Angry Birds!