Father Cajetan Cuddy, O.P., writing in the Magnificat Lenten Reader, recalls an etiquette class he was enrolled in as a child. “One of the most memorable things I learned in the class,” he writes, “was always to pay attention to the other person in a conversation. True communication is impossible if one or both conversation parties is distracted. It is important to listen to what the other person is saying and then to respond appropriately.”
As I read this I was struck that the boy, destined to become a priest, learned the importance of paying attention to the other person in an etiquette class that must have occurred long before the current devices which demand our time had become a distracting force. Paying attention to another has always been a challenge. And it’s always been the right thing to do.
We can open ourselves to attend to the other and still delight in devices. It’s a question of priority, beginning with etiquette and progressing to selflessness and ultimately awakening to love, welcoming the other, opening more and more to the person who is not me.
I have failed so many times in this! I’m challenged by a phrase in a review of Dr. Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age:
[I]n the rush to be heard by people far away, we lose those closest to us.
Those closest to us are the one who deserve our attention most. The actual faces in front of us represent Christ to us, as we see them lonely, hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or sick or in prison, and we open ourselves to love.
For Holy Week: Meditating more closely on Christ as he walks his final days helps me awaken to his presence in those closest to me. Many of us have been attentive to the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross throughout Lent. I also love the meditations in this Pray As You Go podcast, a ten-station variation. Richly supported with fine art and classical music, it asks me to consider where I am in the mysteries it presents in ways that still challenge me many years since I first listened to it.