Fr. Shields: What iPhones reveal about our search for meaning & purpose


Editor’s note: This column is a modified version of a talk given at this year’s Alaska Catholic Youth Conference.

Why on earth am I here?

Let’s start with smart phones. I have an iPhone 4. It has lots of apps — some I don’t use, some I do. Some I ordered and others came with the phone.

We can get a glimpse into the purpose of our life by using smart phones as the symbol of our life and our search for meaning.

The smart phone is like a life. Apps are like all the desires we have for our life.

The created purpose of a smart phone is to communicate. So if all apps were destroyed and all you had left was a simple phone, would it still be a phone? Yes. And would it meet its purpose? Yes.

Now someone might protest if I wanted to use his or her phone to stir a glass of juice. Why? Because the phone is not a spoon. The purpose of a spoon is to stir and scoop food into this orb called a mouth. The iPhone is not a spoon. Therefore to use it as a spoon is to destroy it because that is not its purpose.

What if I wanted to use your phone to pound a nail in the wall? You’d protest again because that is not the created purpose of the phone.

We, too, were made for a purpose, which can be discovered if we ask the question: “Why did God create me?”

If you don’t seek the answer from God, who created you, then you may misuse your life and miss your purpose.

You did not create your life or its purpose. God created you to be born at a certain time with the purpose of knowing, loving and serving him. That is the whole reason we were created.

Now some claim that our purpose is to know, love and serve ourselves. How would that work? Well, it doesn’t. We end up losing sight of the main reason we were born. It would be like only talking to yourself on the phone. That’s mentally ill.

Life is great. I am very glad to be alive, but like apps on a phone, some things are given and can’t change.

Life’s givens include our biological sex, our family, our birthplace, the faith we are born into, our mental capacity and innate talents.

The purpose of our life also comes with givens. For starters, we were not meant to live alone. God’s purpose is for us to have a spiritual family called the church. It is a given app on the iPhone of life.

Another given is that we are meant to grow. We don’t stay toddlers all our life. We are meant to grow in Christ — that’s the spiritual growth app, another given.

As we communicate with God and attend church, we grow. As we question and seek answers to faith, we grow. We are not to remain as children in our faith but to grow into adults.

Another given app on the iPhone of life is our call to serve others. We are created to be a blessing for others. If we live merely for ourselves, our life does not fulfill its purpose.

Let’s look at other apps — the ones we can actually choose or delete. Life includes many good things — families, husbands, wives, good jobs, money, nice houses and cars and vacations. All these we choose. Some are extremely good, others lesser goods, but all are part of life.

Now if we begin to think that these apps are the purpose of our life, then we forget that the purpose is to communicate with God, not have a big house. But sometimes we are tempted to play with the optional apps and fail to ever make use of the phone to actually communicate. We get caught up in our own small world — a world that is passing away. Families grow up, spouses die, cars get old, money gets spent, and good jobs are lost. What happens when we make these out to be our final purpose? We loose focus and we can loose our life now and forever.

Another built-in app of life is to tell others about the purpose of their personal phone. When you see a person pounding a nail with their phone what should you do? Some have never been told what their phone is for.

One thing to keep is mind is that we can’t fundamentally change our phone of life. We can’t change the model. We are born into a certain body and will die in that same body. Trying to fundamentally change it doesn’t work out very well.

We can put all kinds of covers on our phone of life to make it look different, but it doesn’t change its core purpose.

Sometimes people fall into the illusion that the coverings and extra apps are more important than the phone. The boggles and beads, however, are just window-dressings, not the core of the person. Remember the phone of life is first and foremost for communication with God.

The good news is that all phones die. For those who have discovered the meaning of life, we know we have a heavenly phone waiting — a model made for eternity that stays in constant communication with God. There will be no bad connections or faulty apps. Wifi on high.

The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.

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