Steve Jobs, who died last week after a long battle with cancer, will be remembered chiefly for his contributions to the digital world. Under his direction, Apple Inc. revolutionized the way we listen to music, watch movies and surf the Web. Yet he may have also revolutionized the way we pray. Since the launch of the iPhone, dozens of developers have created “apps” designed specifically for prayer and reflection. Three-minute “retreats” from Loyola Press, for example, can be played on a tablet or smart phone. You can even download an app to help you prepare for confession. The goal is to employ technology to encourage an ancient practice.
Unfortunately, the devices themselves may distract from the stillness and quiet that prayer requires. Take the iPad and Amazon’s latest invention, the Kindle Fire. Both devices allow you to play video games, watch television shows, listen to music and shop on the Web. The choices are plentiful—for the person of prayer, perhaps too much so. Even the most scrupulous Christian may have trouble focusing on the daily readings when e-mail beckons, not to mention last night’s episode of “House.”
On the other hand, some digital devices can cultivate the habits of mind necessary for prayer. The original Kindle is a good example. In its early incarnations, it was simply a reading device. Like a good book, it called for patience and concentration. Unlike a smart phone or a laptop, it did not make any unwanted noise and created a contemplative space where the Internet could not intrude.
With the advent of the Kindle Fire, that has changed: Amazon’s tablet comes with all the buzz and clamor of the Web. You can still buy a traditional e-reader from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but the days of single-use devices are numbered. The Kindle Fire is more attractive than its predecessor, but it is noisier too. It is already difficult to pray amid today’s digital din. It may have just become a little bit harder.Earth Science
Not everyone believes that human actions can cause global climate changes, but the vast majority of scientists do, especially those who monitor the environment. In 1985, for example, scientists discovered a hole in the planet’s protective ozone layer over Antarctica, which they think was caused by harmful carbon emissions called CFCs (like those once used in aerosol sprays). These substances have since been banned in 191 countries, but once released into the atmosphere the chemicals linger. Thus they are still able to deplete the ozone in the stratosphere today. The moral: Human actions have long-lasting consequences.
That issue was raised anew recently when scientists found a second ozone hole, this time above the Arctic. Some scientists credit extreme cold for having activated extant ozone-depleting chemicals. That hypothesis is still inconclusive, but scientists agree on this much: Ozone depletion is a significant problem, and the process of thinning the layer or making a hole is unpredictable.
The unpredictability has to do with sorting out what occurs in nature as a result of human activity (like the CFCs) from what occurs apart from human activity (some ozone is depleted naturally, depending on the season). But here is the catch: time. It takes scientists so long to test their hypotheses and to convince the public of their results that by then it may be too late to prevent or limit harmful effects. While climate change can hurt everyone, only those who think human activity is a cause of it are working to do something about it. All the more reason for scientists who have faith in their research to do all they can to convince the doubters—while there is time.Goodbye to Happy
As most America readers know, the new English translation of the Mass will be instituted on the first Sunday of Advent. (On the other hand, most Catholics do not know this: A survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate showed that 77 percent of them were unaware of the upcoming changes.) Plenty of ink has been spilled in this magazine and elsewhere on the history of the changes (e.g., about ICEL, Vox Clara and “Liturgiam Authenticam”), the reasons for the changes (“dynamic equivalence” versus literal translations) and the changes themselves (Christ dying “for many” rather than “for all”). But there is one small change that may make Massgoers less “happy.”
After the Lamb of God, the priest raises the consecrated bread and wine and says: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.” No more. Now he will say: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” How sad to lose the single place in the Mass where the people are “happy.” The Latin word being translated is beati, but the original is taken from the Book of Revelations (19:9), where the Greek describes those at the supper as makarioi. But makarioi can mean both blessed and happy. That is why some translations of the Beatitudes begin, “Happy are the poor.” Admittedly, it is a small change, but it is an unnecessary one. There are already dozens of “blesseds” in the new English translation. Was a little happiness too much to ask for?