Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Mass Selfies?

I recently had to purchase a new cell phone. For those of you who know me well, no, I did not break down and buy a smart phone; in fact, I actually downgraded. I bought a "flip phone" that did not have a camera on it. I had to search far and wide, but I found one. Why, you may ask, would someone do that? I am attempting to step away from the whole frame of mind that says we need to get everything on video or in a photo. I have had this new phone for a few months now and found it to be very liberating. I have stopped seeing things and saying "I need a picture of that" and started just enjoying what I am seeing.

It appears today like many people do not think that an event is real unless they have captured it in some kind of picture or video. I recall doing a baptism years ago and a family member missed the moment of the baptism because she was doing something with the camera on her phone. She actually asked if I could do it again so that she could get the picture; I said no. She was more upset that she did not get the picture than that she did not actually see the baptism. What is wrong with this picture (no pun intended!)? A baptism (or any event for that matter) is no less real because we did not get a picture of it. In fact, I might even say that if we remove the camera from the situation and just focus on the actual event, then it becomes more real since we are seeing it with our own eyes rather than through a lens (but few people think about that aspect).

This brings us to the issue of "selfies". It is not as though I want to condemn them outright; please understand (there is nothing inherently wrong about taking a picture of yourself). Yet, think with me for a minute about the concept of a selfie. Many years ago people on vacation would take a picture of the scenery, and maybe get one or two pictures with the family included. The primary focus, however, was the scenery itself, and not the family. It appears that we have reached the point that we believe we have to include ourselves in the picture; as though the scenery is not appealing enough unless we are in the picture. It has become more of a "look at me" rather than a "look at the beautiful scenery".

I have actually only taken one "selfie" in my life. It was about 30 years ago, and it was not a true "selfie" since it was not even taken on a phone, but with an old non-digital camera that was very difficult to hold at the end of my arm (and the photo was out of focus!). I think that the recent obsession with selfies stems from an obsession with self. We have been driven in our modern society to think that everything revolves around self. From the pagan enlightenment of the 18th century saying "man is the measure of all things" now we have further descended into the modern dark ages of the 21st century and we can say "I am the measure of all things". Our dark ages are darker than anything imagined about the medieval period.

It is this obsession with self, that has led us to have an even greater misunderstanding of how worship works. Is worship about us, or is it about the Lord? We all know the correct answer, but do we really live it out? How do we approach the worship of the Lord of all creation? Is it "look at God" or is it "look at me"? Priests are especially aware of this problem, since we are required to be up in front of everyone at every Mass we celebrate (one more reason why I prefer to say Mass ad orientem). A priest will either recognize that he is only a tool in God's toolbox, or he will degenerate into the very problem I am discussing: "look at me!"

The final question I want to ask (and which this entire post is really about) is for those of you who either wish to, or do, have a "ministry" at the altar (reader, server, etc.). "Why do you want to do that?" What is the reason? There are, after all, right reasons and wrong reasons to "do a ministry" during the Mass and we cannot assume that everyone has the right motivations. Although there are many right reasons to wish to have a duty in the chancel during Mass (devotion to Christ, interest in holy orders, genuine service to the Church), of all the wrong reasons to want to be up there (feeling useful, enjoying it, etc.), one of the worst is to create your own personal "Mass selfie". "Look at me" should never be in our hearts during Mass, but rather "look at Christ".