Can technology help us be in touch with those we love, when we can't be with them? Yes, certainly. Skype, Facebook, Twitter, email, and cell phone allow us to be in touch in a limited way, with those we love. I say limited because no technology can substitute for the personal, face to face encounter between two persons. No technology can transmit the warmth that radiates from a smile, a hug, and simple presence of the whole person. Yet these days, even when you have the persons there for a serious conversation, they are not all there in mind and heart. I'll give you an example. The other day, bunch of us young priests got together to have pizza and fellowship. About the middle of the meeting, many of us, including myself, were grabbing for our iPhones and Smartphones to check email and for texts. Our fellowship ended up being many isolated islands of persons glued to their phones' small screens. Has this ever happened to you?
God has a similar challenge with us. Day in and day out, a preacher or a priest can get up on the pulpit and say, "God loves you. God cares for you." But how will we be convinced that that is true, unless we actually encounter God in our own experience and come away convinced of that truth. It will be like receiving a text message from an unknown sender. Those words appearing on our cell phone will be like an enticing spam, "Win $1000. Just text us back." It's too good to be true, so out of distrust, we hit the delete button.
Early in my college, before I truly believed in Jesus, I read a quite a number of self-help books and had a quite a collection on my shelf. One book promised to "Awaken the Giant Within," and another promised "How to Change Your Mind and Your Life." Were these promises too good to be true? Yes. Was I inspired by these books? Yes. That's why I kept buying them. Inspiration from each book lasted as long as I purchased the next book that promised new success in life. The question kept coming back, "Why do I still feel empty? Is it because I failed to follow instructions from these books?" It did not dawn on me to pick up a bible until I followed my then girlfriend to a non-denominational prayer meeting. There few guys approached me and asked if I was saved. No. Did I want to? Yes, hoping that I was willing to try this for two weeks like my other self-help books. After praying, "Lord Jesus, I accept you in my life as my Lord and Savior. I invite you into my life. Now you are in my driver's seat," I picked up the bible hoping it would bring change in my life. And it did. The first week of tackling the bible, I didn't know what it was trying to say. But something urged me to keep going. By the end of the month, I was more familiar with Jesus whom I have learned throughout my childhood in Catholic Church. He was a truly a living person, and I was encountering him through reading the scriptures.
Now when I hear the following words from the First Reading, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you," I know I'm hearing Heavenly Father speaking to me personally, right now. When I hear the Second Reading where it says, "Love is patient, love is kind..." I know Heavenly Father's love for me is patient, kind, not rude, not quick tempered, does not brood over injury, and does not rejoices over my wrong doings. Heavenly Father believes in me, He hopes in me, and He endures and is patient with my weakness. These are not words too good to be true, fleeting empty promises of self-help books. These are living words, spoken by the Living God who speaks these words right now to me personally.
For many years after that initial encounter with Heavenly Father and Jesus, I have been carrying my bible to mass, reading with expectant faith that God is speaking to me personally. Some people ask me, "Father, how can I get closer to God?" I tell them, "You want to encounter the Living God, our Heavenly Father speaking to you personally by taking scripture, whether the bible or a missallette, to silent prayer. Just as you encounter the Living God during the Liturgy of the Word during mass, you will encounter Him personally during your silent prayer with scripture. Oh by the way, when you pray, please turn off your cell phone so that you won't get a text saying "Win $1000, Just text us back."