Put the Cellphone Down, Have a Heart

A plea to limit the calls and texts this holiday season.

A plea to limit the calls and texts this holiday season.  (Dave Thompson/PA Wire/Press Association via AP Images)

Riding the Metro North train from Rye to Grand Central, shuttling up and down the New York City subway system, pounding the pavement of Midtown and frequenting coffee shops and restaurants all over NYC — one image comes to mind.

Too many people are totally absorbed in their iPads and iPhones.

The virtue of temperance is all about balance and moderation, and this is one aspect of our life that seems to be way off-balance.

I wrote this poem to demonstrate the effect of this technological absorption:

“Too busy, hectic, whirlwind, way too fast”?
Is your face in your phone when help is asked?
Do we consider this being “harassed”?
This lack of true “balance” is unsurpassed,
Causing a spiritual lymphoblast!
The world’s need for love has become more vast.
Modern expectations must be recast,
Jesus’ life is such a stark contrast.
Time for God and others must not come last!

A few years ago, I visited a couple of kids on a college campus to offer them spiritual direction. As I was waiting for a young man to meet me in the cafeteria, I noticed a guy sit down across from a girl that he knew for lunch.

He smiled and said, “What’s up?”

She said, “Not much.”

Then for the next 10 minutes, they ate their salad and sandwich in silence, while quickly scanning through their Facebook and Instagram accounts.

The guy soon got up and said, “Later,” and that was the extent of their lunch conversation.

I have no problem with social media or iPhones and iPads. I use them myself. But they should not take us away from human interaction and human empathy to notice the needs of those around us. How many family meals today are interrupted by cellphones?

I try to notice people’s needs in the city, keeping my heart open to possibilities of service. Recently, I noticed a lady in a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis parked outside St. Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side.

Most people walked by her, absorbed in their phones or listening to their music, and a few would drop some money into her cup. One lady did actually stop and talk to her, and I noticed it brought a smile to her face.

So as I walked over, I tried to give her a little attention and after a minute or two, she mentioned, “Father Michael, I am actually slipping off this wheelchair and I am in a lot of pain right now. Could you please lift me back up?”

I honestly did not notice that she was slipping off the chair. I am so glad the Holy Spirit inspired me to stop and spend some time with this woman.

My 89-year-old mom finally purchased a cellphone a few years ago. She still does not have an iPad or a computer, and technology is simply not a part of her life. But boy, is her soul at peace! She prays a lot, she has a heart that is always on the look-out to serve, and her smile connects and lifts so many people up every day.

There is a time for everything, including the virtual world, but society is not making a lot of time for God or for being mentally and spiritually alert to truly care for those who are in your daily fishbowl.

This might be a very practical and very helpful resolution for the New Year ahead.

Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders. 

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