Warm on Phone, Impersonal in Person

11-11-2023Weekly ReflectionFr. Robert Aliunzi

Dear Friends,

Recently, I had an interesting experience, which happens to me quite often. It is that experience which inspired the title and content of this article. Please, read on.

On that day, I had an appointment at a certain huge parish in our Diocese with the Pastor. At the time of making the appointment, I had introduced myself and proceeded to have a great conversation on the phone with the sweetest sounding receptionist. So, on the day of the appointment, being my day off, I went dressed casually and arrived two minutes earlier at the office.

I got the receptionists busy on their phones and waited for about five minutes without anyone acknowledging my presence. When I finally informed the receptionist that I had come to see the pastor for my scheduled appointment, she informed me that the pastor was out for a sick call and had to wait. She then proceeded with her phone calls. After waiting for ten minutes, I decided to get a cup of coffee from the gift shop which was within the reception area. While wandering around the gift shop, a lovely birthday card caught my attention which I picked and headed to the counter to pay. I found the cashier with another customer ahead of me and I stood waiting to make my payment for another fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, neither the receptionists nor the cashier talked to me but kept receiving and communicating sweetly on phone. I finally, decided to go out and take a breath of fresh air after thirty minutes in the reception/gift shop area. After a while, the pastor arrived, spotted me sitting outside and took me in for my appointment through his private door.

After, the appointment, he led me back now through the normal route via the reception. As he was seeing me off, he addressed me as Father Robert and went back to his office. Then lo and behold, all the receptionists and cashier started paying special attention and one remarked why I did not tell them I was a priest. I told them that it didn’t really matter. Suddenly, they wanted to have more conversations with me confessing that they had heard a lot about me and even had my book in the bookstore. I began feeling embarrassed by the sudden attention and so I left. But the more I thought about that incidence, the more I became aware of the irony we experience almost daily where we are charming on phone but ignore the people next to us or only pay attention because of their status.

This episode further reminded me of a somewhat similar experience I had with phones when meeting the Board of Directors of my Ugandan non-profit (EENU) two years ago. That particular meeting almost turned sour when the phones of some of the members kept either ringing or beeping during the meeting and were being given more attention than to the agenda. What was more irritating was that some of those members kept on smiling and laughing but not at anything anyone in the meeting had just said but, rather, on their screens. Some even received the calls and proceeded to respond to them.

So agitated and annoyed by how these phones were ruining an important meeting which I usually attend only once a year, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I improvised a basket and passed it around instructing all of us to switch off our phones and drop them into the basket and hand them to the executive director for safe keeping. You should have seen how shocked those members were at the idea of being parted with their darling phones even for the few hours we were scheduled for the meeting. “How dare you”, some looks seemed to say, but they complied anyway, and that action saved the meeting whose agenda for discussion was so critical.
Reflecting more on this, I began to picture for a moment, a marriage where instead of talking to each other, couples are constantly on Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, messenger and so forth! What kind of marriage will that be? A friend once told me in frustration, of his wife who tiptoes out of bed at 3am into the bathroom for a few minutes to check her WhatsApp statuses or post a comment on Facebook! What are these phones doing to our relationships and to our families, I wondered! Damage! So, put those phones away into the basket when you go to bed!

Sadly, blissful marriages are now shared on social media depriving couples of intimate moments together and of meaningful communications with each other. So, wouldn’t it be perfectly okay to have regulations put in place as a couple and as a family when it comes to how phones, tablets, and other gadgets are used when you are together? Yes, I bet it would. So, I recommend that you have a phone basket at the bedroom door. Once you walk into that sanctuary, leave your online buddies and friends in that basket at the door and return to them in the morning. This will give you that special time for each other and for important conversations and other critical marital responsibilities. So, put those phones in that basket!

The worse damage that these phones are doing to us is not only in our families but in Churches during Mass. In spite of announcing before every Mass to “Please silence all cell phones”, we still experience disruptions during Mass even here in our Church. In some rare cases, we still have some people who continue to receive calls and then proceed to hold loud conversations! This is not only rude and disrespectful to God but also to our neighbors who want to take that special moment in Church to pray.

Yes, prayer is our communication with God because, prayer is essentially, a conversation between ourselves and God. In the Church, we are in the presence of our God who is present among us in the Blessed Sacrament! And if we believe this to be true, it is imperative that we must be extremely respectful when we pray or when we are in Church. We must do everything possible to create that reverent moment by not only avoiding loud conversations in Church but also most importantly by creating an atmosphere which allows us to listen as God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. Noisy conversations and disruptive phone calls are great obstacles to this. So, put those phones away in the basket!

I love you!