Winding up the Synod in Rome on the Word of God yesterday, Catholic bishops from across the world endorsed a gadget.
They called for increased distribution of the Bible "in the largest variety of our planet’s languages" -- nothing new there -- before adding that "the voice of the divine word must also resonate over the radio, Internet channels with virtual online distribution, CDs, DVDs, iPod ..."
Yup, iPod. Not "mp3 player" -- which would have described the technology -- but specifically the player manufactured by Apple Inc. Steve Jobs must be thrilled.
But even more thrilling is to see the bishops advocating what the Jesuits have been providing for years.
The British SJs lead the way in providing scriptural fodder for your iPod -- or "MP3 player", as they are careful to call it on Pray As You Go.
I love it. It gives you the day’s reading twice, plus great music and a few searching questions for reflection as you jog in the park or travel on the subway. It’s like carrying around your own spiritual director. No wonder there have been more than 5m downloads since it began in Lent 2006.
The Jesuit behind Pray As You Go, Fr Peter Scally SJ, was one of the creators of Sacred Space, the hugely popular site run by the Irish Jesuits which guides you through a prayer at your computer.
And then there’s Creighton University, the Jesuit college in the US which has long offered daily Scripture and reflections through the AvantGo channel straight onto your Palm handheld -- described here. I’m no longer using Palm software on my smartphone, and miss the Creighton reflections a lot.
The only difficulty with these brilliant apps is that they have to compete for your attention on devices otherwise dedicated to work or pleasure. Just as it is easier to pray in a dedicated space, it would be easier to have a dedicated device for Scripture and prayer in this digital form.
So I’d like to make an appeal to manufacturers for a dedicated gizmo for the modern urban Catholic: pocket-sized, decent colour screen, with wireless internet connectivity. Each week or month you connect it to the internet either directly or via your computer and it downloads the next week’s or month’s daily readings from Pray As You Go and Sacred Space as well as Creighton’s daily reflections, so you can listen (it comes with noise-subduing headphones) or read as you wish.
Let’s call it CathPod. The technology is nothing exceptional, but the packaging and purpose are. You know when you take your CathPod out of your pocket you are going to spend time with God -- and you don’t have incoming calls or rival podcasts to lure you away.
The CathPod could also contain a reader which enables you to load up the Bible, the Divine Office, theological commentaries and so on, using memory cards which you buy from Catholic bookshops.
It’s about the size of a small prayerbook, is leather-bound, with a simple cross (I’ve really thought this through, as you can see.)
There are many hundreds of thousands of users of the sites above. Even if only 10 per cent of them splashed out on a CathPod, it’s still a surefire seller.
Scripture is not just for scholars. Prayer is not just for saints. The Divine Office is not just for monks. Ignatian spirituality is not just for Jesuits.
And guess what? God’s digital Word is not just for geeks.