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Tuesday, 09 May 2017 23:10

Relationship in the digital age

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Fr Anthony Le Duc SVDThe true paradigm for relationship requires the integral dimension of embodiment where individuals can look upon each other directly, touch each other physically, and listen to one another, writes Fr Anthony Le Duc svd.

As society becomes more technologically advanced, one of the things that we notice is that our contact with one another becomes increasingly mediated by digital means—chat applications, social networks, mobile texting, and so on. Even face-to-face encounters are facilitated by digital technology so that we can see each other even though thousands of kilometres physically separate us. The benefits of these digitally facilitated encounters are many. My own life and ministry have become so much richer because of relationships that would have otherwise been impossible without Facebook, Line, and other Internet applications. My connection with my family who live on the other side of the globe has also been reinforced by technology. I cannot be more grateful that I am a missionary in an age where communication has been able to bring so many people to me and me to so many people.

Despite all the wonderful benefits that digital technology brings, my compassionate leave to be with my mother who is suffering advanced stages of lung cancer at this time is reinforcing a point that I have been trying to communicate numerous times in various forums—that while there are many levels of relationship with different degrees of intimacy, the ultimate form of intimacy cannot be achieved without the aspect of embodiment, where individuals can look upon each other directly, touch each other physically, and listen to one another as each really sounds.

elderly hand in younger hand 350In the few shorts months that I get to be with my mother, helping her in and out of bed, supporting her as she takes weak steps to the bathroom, encouraging her as she struggles with the exercises to help her strengthen her limbs, and feeling joy as I watch her swallow her food with greater ease, I am convinced in my heart and mind that the true paradigm for relationship requires this dimension of embodiment.

I say this is reinforcement of a notion because this is hardly a new idea. The relationship paradigm that I am talking about has already been illustrated by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan two thousand years ago. In this parable, the Samaritan saw himself as a neighbour of the hapless Jewish victim of robbery and violence, not by watching with sympathy from afar, not by donating some money then moving on with his business, not by sending well wishes through an acquaintance, but by his very physical presence and actions. The story tells us that the Samaritan “saw him, he took pity on him”. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” For the Samaritan, being a good neighbor was not about shelling out cash. In fact, it was not until he had done all those things mentioned above that he took out his wallet to ask the inn keeper to continue caring for the man.

In these days, as I reflect on my relationship with my mother, I realise that there is no digital innovation that could replace having my mother’s arm around my shoulders and mine around her waist as she walks from the living room to the bedroom. No technological device can replace my hands lifting her swollen feet onto my laps, then massaging them with medicated oil which I brought from Thailand in order to help the blood to circulate better. And no chat application can replace the moment when I arrived home, opened my mother’s bedroom door, approached her lying on the bed, and said, “Mom, I am home.” She opened her eyes, looked at me, smiled, took hold of my hands, put them to her face, and kissed them.

This article by Fr Anthony Le Duc svd was first published in the May 2017 edition of In The Word, the monthly e-newsletter of the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) Australian Province.