World is becoming a smaller –
and more dangerous – place
December 6, 2006

When my son was in sixth grade, everyone in his class had access to a laptop computer for one semester. And each child opened an e-mail account.

It was Mike’s first personal account, and on the day it was opened he sat in class and wrote excitedly to his dad, the only address he knew. Or rather, the only address he thought he knew. Inadvertently, he misplaced an initial and sent the message to a J Caldarola somewhere in cyberspace.

He didn’t hear back from his dad. But he quickly received a note from someone who said he was a fireman in upstate New York.

“Mike,” said the writer, “I think maybe you have the wrong address. But are you related to any Caldarolas in New York?”

For me, it was confirmation of all I feared yet held in awe about the Internet. How quickly a twelve year old boy, sitting in his Catholic school classroom, could make contact with a strange man in a distant city.

What an increasingly small world we live in, with what potential for good and ill. This especially seems true as Christmas nears. With a daughter in Europe, friends coming home from the Peace Corps in Africa, and e-mail messages flowing in from Ireland and France, I marvel at why we haven’t learned to live together on this planet in peace.

This is my second year of making a thirty four week online retreat offered through Online Ministries at Creighton University, a Jesuit school in Omaha, Neb. On Sunday morning, with my first cup of coffee, I print out the materials for the week ahead.
This year, for a limited time at the beginning of the retreat in September, the folks at Creighton offered to form groups, with weekly Internet sharing sent through a common address at the university.

I was intrigued, but had my misgivings. Would my address be shared? Could I maintain confidentiality? Could I trust people couldn’t see?

The answers seemed to be: yes, sort of, and we’ll find out. I took the plunge.

There are approximately fourteen people in my group, and they come from as close as Montana and South Dakota and as far away as Finland and the Philippines. Most are women. Once a week, we are asked to share how we have been moved by the graces prayed for each week. A Jesuit and a woman on staff at Creighton communicate with the group weekly.

This is not biographical sharing. This is faith sharing. So, I don’t always know the name of the person writing, or the details of her life, nor do I need to. But without sharing something of your life, how can you reveal how faith is moving you?

So when someone shared that her husband, in remission from Hodgkins-lymphoma, had received good news, I felt exhilarated.

“When he called from the parking lot after his check-up, I wept for joy and thanked Jesus again,” she wrote.

And when a tired young mother revealed that in her fatigue she had accidentally given heart medication to the wrong child, I gaped until she said that a panicked call to the doctor’s office revealed no harm had been done.

Like any retreat, not everyone has stayed the course. But we’ve committed to praying for each other, so I find myself holding these faceless, sometimes nameless friends in my heart.

Each Christmas, in good ways and bad, the world seems a smaller and smaller place. And often a more dangerous place.

Reports say our bombs ready for Iraq are more precise and lethal than even our bombs in Afghanistan had been.

And meanwhile, on a chilly Advent Sunday, someone in Finland communicates her prayer to me with the press of a button.