The Devil’s Den of Distraction
By Fr. John Lankeit:
When the Temple in Jerusalem degenerated from reverent “house of prayer” (cf. Mt 21;13) into raucous public market, Jesus cleaned house! Since Lent is the perfect time to get our own house—our own soul—in order, I’d like to address one of the most insidious impediments to our respect for God and our charity toward others during Mass:
Have you ever noticed how the words “cell phone,” sounds remarkably like “self phone”? Besides obliterating manners and destroying common courtesy, a cell phone seems to possess the power to make other people completely disappear from its user’s consciousness or concern. A prominent Catholic blogger observed insightfully in an Internet article on device addition last September:
“When someone next to you answers the phone and starts talking loudly as if you didn’t exist, you realize that, in [his or] her private zone, you don’t.”
As a priest who celebrates an average of eight to twelve Masses per week, I invite you to consider the epidemic of cell phone disruption during Mass—from a priest’s perspective. In my experience, we priests hear an average of three or more phone intrusions per Mass—whether the device is ringing, or beeping/chiming to indicate the arrival of an email or “Tweet”. Multiply that number by eight to twelve Masses per week, and a priest must endure this devilish distraction somewhere in the neighborhood of 24 to 36…or MORE…times per week! And most often, it’s not just one ring…or one beep. Sometimes the phone’s owner lets it ring—and RING—and RING—all through the Scripture readings…and even during the Consecration!
At a televised Mass some time ago, someone let their phone ring through its entire cycle during the homily…not once…not twice…but three times! It takes extremely inappropriate behavior to force me to interrupt the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but by that point—live TV or not—I had reached the limit of my patience, as had all the people who kept looking in the general direction of the noise. I stopped the homily, looked toward the anonymous perpetrator and asked the person to turn the phone, “all…the…way…off!” It was extremely unsettling to have to confront this rudeness during a live broadcast of the Mass—especially with thousands of viewers tuning in—but when the prayers of the Mass are drowned out by electronic noise pollution, even a priest with heroic patience can only take so much.
After that particular Mass, a well-meaning parishioner approached me and said, “Father, don’t get so upset. Be patient.”
With all due respect to that parishioner, he only noticed that one phone during that one Mass—though, immediately after the first offending phone was finally silenced, another person’s phone rang. No joke! By that point in the week, I had probably already endured dozens of rings and chimes during the many Masses I celebrated. Since I had confronted that incident on live TV, I expected a backlash. Instead many parishioners, phone callers, emailers—and even the TV crew—offered enthusiastic expressions of encouragement and gratitude.
Anyone with a modicum of social awareness recognizes how modern “communications devices” are actually destroying genuinely human interaction between individuals. A growing number of scientific studies also catalog the damaging effects on brain development—not to mention the common symptoms of addiction and withdrawal—from device misuse and overuse.
But it’s when our phones disrupt our relationship with God—and distract others from God—that it’s time for priests to “cleanse the temple” of this modern scourge that turns the Father’s house of prayer into the Devil’s den of distraction.
For all the rationalizations people make for bringing their phone into church—and I’ve probably heard them all—we would better serve our souls, better respect our neighbors, and better honor the Lord…if we checked our excuses at the door…and left our phones in the car!