Cell Phone Annoyance

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

January 14, 2005


            Cell phones! They are so annoying.

            For countless ages, from Adam and Eve to the early 1990s, human beings managed to exist in various conditions of peril, demand and activity without being in constant telephonic contact with one another. So, why in the world does everybody, from CEOs to teenagers, have to be constantly yak, yak, yakking about everything and nothing?

            Recently I came back from a trip. In an airport these days, you would think that you have suddenly been transported to a giant mental hospital, a traveling Bedlam. People sit on benches and in snack bars apparently talking to themselves. Actually they are talking into tiny microphones concealed on their persons. But they look like so many schizophrenics talking to themselves.

            When the plane lands people have to make the obligatory three phone calls. One while the plane is on the tarmac to say, “Yeah, I’ve just landed in Atlanta” or wherever. The second one as they wait for their bags. (“Now we are waiting for the bags.”). The third call is, “Now I’m going to the car, I’ll call you from the car.” What for? Does life really need such “play by play” commentary?

            Recently I got off the subway in New York. Coming toward me on the sidewalk was a phalanx of people. Every single one of them was talking to somebody, hand to ear or just babbling in the air. These were not the homeless. These were the “connected.”

            On the Amtrak train going up to New York they had a “quiet car” where you are not supposed to talk on the phone. I took refuge there. No sooner was I settled in the seat, contemplating freedom from someone’s dinner plans or business affairs, when the phone rang for the lady across the aisle. I shot her a withering gaze. “My boyfriend,” she said, pointing to the phone. “I don’t care,” I said, pointing to the Quiet Car sign.

            In church these phones are most annoying. Why do most people even bring them to church? Can’t they be out of contact with people for an hour so they can be in contact with God?

            The whole idea of prayer, whether communal or private, is that we put other things aside to lift our hearts and minds to God.

            Last Good Friday, one lady got no less than three phone calls in the middle of the service of the passion of our Lord.

            Like many parishes these days, our church has a sign at the entrance that telling people to turn off their cell phones. But they often forget.  Phones ring anyway, often the bottom of some giant suitcase that passes for a purse. It takes a minute to find them.

            I have a better solution. Leave it in the car. You don’t need it. Some things are more important than your phone call. Church is one of them.

            Of course, some people, such as doctors, EMT workers, police officers, and fire fighters have to be on call. They can put the phone on “vibrate” mode and go outside to answer when summoned.

            The rest of us should pay attention to the mass.

People and priest celebrate the mass together. The congregation would not want the mass interrupted by the priest stopping to answer his phone in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer or homily. Likewise, their “full and active” participation means no phones.

            There is a really spiritual principle here. We need to be fully present to God and to each other. We cannot be always thinking that something else, somewhere else, is always more important that the person we are with and the situation we are in.

Most of these calls can wait. Hang up the phone and live life in the here and now. Please God.