Before I entered the Order, I had a chocolate labrador retriever, whose full name was “Abbot the Dog.” Though a generally well-behaved dog, Abbot once gnawed to pieces my iPhone 3G. (Don’t laugh at its obsolescence—at the time it was very expensive, and I was very fond of it.) Later, he went after several cell phones of visiting friends. Abbot seemed to really have it in for cell phones.
Why did Abbot the Dog go after cell phones, and only cell phones? Apparently this is a common problem, resulting in three billion dollars of damage to phones every year. Dogs, who love their owners, seek their attention and affection, but when something competes for that affection, pets can become jealous.
In my case, Abbot probably saw the amount of time that I spent with my phone. Carrying it around, looking at it, typing and swiping. Like many people, I gave too much attention to my inanimate smartphone, and Abbot’s attack on my cell phone indicated that my priorities were a bit out of whack. There is nothing wrong with attending to a phone, but it became problematic when it distracted me from my responsibilities to the pet. I gradually realized that, in a small way, I needed to change my mentality toward my phone, and give Abbot the Dog more attention and exercise. Being outside with the dog wound up being much more fun than staring at my phone.
Prioritizing our phones over our pets is one thing, but it is another, much bigger problem, if we prioritize material goods over our human neighbor. It is even worse if we prioritize anything over God. During Lent we try to get our priorities straight, and when necessary, change our mentality. For example, on all Fridays in Lent, Catholics abstain from meat, not because there is anything wrong with hamburgers, but because it helps us turn our attention away from food and towards more important things, specifically Christ’s love as shown in his Passion and death. The fundamental goal of penance is to change our mentality toward the world, and to put things in the correct order, placing God first.
During Lent, Jesus wants us to change our priorities and change our way of thinking. Jesus opened his preaching ministry with the words, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1.15). For the command “repent,” St. Mark records the Greek verb metanoeĩte. Its structure combines the words “change” (meta-) and “think” (noeĩte). Jesus is saying, “Change your thinking!” He asks us to correct our neglectfulness towards God and neighbor. Repentance includes admitting our shortcomings to others, and especially to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. However, it also includes a lasting change in thinking about how we prioritize the things in our lives.
During Lent we should consider the attention and affection we give to our phones, pets, careers, families, and the poor; placing them in the correct order. But at all times, the highest priority must be God, in whom we will find real happiness.
Image: Abbot the Dog, 2010.