For the last few days I've been pondering some of the points made by Cardinal Rode as presented in John Thavis' CNS article. The point with the most punch: "Cardinal Rode said it was undoubtedly more difficult today for all religious orders to find young people who are willing to break away from the superficial contemporary culture and show a capacity for commitment and sacrifice."
The other day, The Oprah Show went inside a Dominican convent and spent some time discussing with the women their choices and experiences. The most profound question Lisa Ling asked them?
"What about your iPod?"
I'm totally serious. This is an excellent question. Essentially, isn't she really asking them why the've rejected contemporary society? Look at Cardinal Rode's observation again. The first thing we need to come to grips with is the fact that too many elements of our culture are harmful to humanity on the most important level of our existence. These elements--television, radio, video games, computers--create excessive stimuli that compete with our souls and win.
We don't discuss these elements much, either. We don't discuss the social skills of adults and children alike declining as rapidly as texting and emailing becomes their primary form of communication. We don't discuss the deadening effect even one minute of television has on our brain, let alone 6-8 hours of it every day. We don't discuss the background noise of our stereos, CD players, iPods, or the alienating effects of their overuse. We don't discuss the hours spent on the internet. We don't discuss the hours spent playing video games. I rarely hear the content of any of these things, which ranges from the morally questionable to the downright immoral, discussed from the pulpit.
We don't discuss how working 40-60 hours a week so that we may fully participate in this aspect of our culture affects our relationships with God and with one another.
These sisters, though, addressed Lisa Ling's question quite directly, both with their astute verbal answers and with their wholehearted embrace of a cloistered lifestyle that has been criticized by the laity and religious alike as archaic. They talked about the voice of God calling out--screaming out, really--to a society literally hell-bent on drowing his voice out with all of this external stimulation. I went looking for the show online to post it here for you, but couldn't find it in its entirety. I did, however, find a post-episode discussion with the sisters about the need for silence. Watch it here. Seriously, watch it (yes, I appreciate the irony).
One of the sisters commented in response to the constant stimuli that we're "creating the shell of a person". I agree with her, and Cardinal Rode's observation as I quoted above is one of the more tragic bits of evidence to support her comment. Think about how all of this racket distracts us from our inner selves. I'm as guilty as the next person, and so is my husband (don't deny it, Eddie Ray)---we own a desktop computer, a netbook, TVs in every room of the house, a collection of DVDs & CDs, and we spend far too much time using all of them. We both have facebook accounts. We both have friends and family members with whom we only communicate using email and facebook. I daily plop down on the living room sofa to watch TV and surf the web at the same time, polluting my brain with too much information to process. My husband leaves TV's and radios on all over the place, including in the garage, polluting the house inside and out with noise.
We're both very faithful Catholics; but we're also very easily distracted by all things noisy, shiny, flashy and pretty. My coworker's radio on low even competes with my ability to think clearly enough to write a few lines of copy for a mailer. If we're working to constantly upgrade our noisy, shiny, flashy, pretty things that continuously stimulate us from the outside, how will we ever truly hear the Lord calling us from within? These sisters have truly inspired me. With lent around the corner, maybe turing it all off is the best sacrifice I can make.