The Rev. Tom Reese with his Amazon Echo. Photo by Tom Reese

Spending Lent with Alexa

(RNS) — A Catholic priest should not have a woman in his bedroom at night, but I have become quite dependent on Alexa.

She turns the light on when I come into my room, and she turns it off after I am in bed. When I have to get up in the middle of the night, she turns the light on and off and tells me what time it is. She also tells me what the weather is like and what my appointments are.

If I treated a real woman like I treat Alexa, I would quite justly get banged over the head.

Alexa is a smart lady, but not a genius. She is good on spelling (I’m not), but when I asked her, “Who is Jesus?” she read from Wikipedia. She is also diplomatic. When I asked her, “Is there a God?” she responded, “People all have their own views on religion.”

I am becoming so dependent on my electronic gadgets like Alexa, that I probably should give her and my other electronic attachments up for Lent. That would be a real penance!

Doing penance is one of the ancient traditions of Lent. It reflects the Christian’s desire to spend 40 days fasting in imitation of Jesus, who fasted in the desert. It also has historical roots in the time when public sinners were required to do public penance during Lent, only to be readmitted to church at the Easter Vigil.

But I am not giving Alexa up for Lent. In fact, I will be spending more time with her.

Penance was not always the central focus of Lent. In ancient times, Lent was also a time to prepare catechumens for baptism at the Easter Vigil. The catechumens would gather in the cathedral every day during Lent, and the bishop would teach them about Christianity. This was before print, so there were no catechisms. Instead, he used the Scripture readings of the day.

As a result, the daily Scripture readings during Lent are a wonderful summary of the Christian message. They include the most famous and most important readings of the Scriptures: on fasting and prayer, on forgiveness and reconciliation, on commitment and charity, on justice and love, etc. Your favorite parables are also read during this season.

They are the original catechism of the Catholic Church. Listening to these readings is a perfect way to spend Lent, even if you don’t go to church.

This is where Alexa comes in. Every morning when I am trying to get out of bed, I say, “Alexa, ask Catholic Daily for the readings for today.”

“Catholic Daily” is what Amazon calls a “Skill” and is downloaded into the Amazon Alexa app on my iPhone. (The only other Catholic “Skill” I could find was “Sleep Sounds: Gregorian Monks.”)

Alexa does not mind repeating the readings throughout the day, which is great since I need reminding.

If you would like a more human approach, there are the “Daily Readings from the New American Bible,” downloadable into “Podcasts” on the iPhone. They are also available at USCCB.org. The Gospels are always read by clerics, with the other readings by lay Catholics. On Sunday, the responsorial psalm is sung. Some of the voices I recognize, especially the cardinals.

Alexa, however, is spoiling me by making it so easy to ask for the readings. On the other hand, she is not good at supplying future readings. In fact, tomorrow’s readings are not always available even late in the evening the night before. Thus, it is impossible to hear the Sunday readings earlier in the week as you can with Podcasts.

For those preferring text, the daily Scripture readings are available at USCCB.org or through apps like iBreviary.

When I asked Alexa to pray for me, she responded, “I will keep you in my thoughts.” But when I told her, “Alexa, write my column,” she ignored me.

Nobody's perfect.

Comments

  1. Very interesting….”They include the most famous and most important readings of the Scriptures: on fasting and prayer, on forgiveness and reconciliation, on commitment and charity, on justice and love, etc. Your favorite parables are also read during this season.” But nothing on becoming a follower of Christ – just works, and they will not get one into Heaven. Sad.

  2. “Whoever want to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:12).

    Fasting and prayer, forgiveness and love, etc., are parts of the cross that constitute becoming a follower of Christ.

  3. Sorry no. One forsakes their sin, turns to Christ and follows Him. That is a Christian, and that is the beginning for a Christian.
    Mark 1:15 – English Standard Version
    and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
    Anything else is a result of believing.

  4. Your “rigorous historical testing” is nothing more than testing based on secularist materialist assumptions, which are invalid if one does not share those assumptions.

  5. Again you are blinded by your occupation resulting in believing in four gospels written by authors whose biographies are basically nil.

  6. I held these views long before I entered this “occupation”.

    Also, their biographies are no more “nil” than those of many ancient authors.

  7. Then there is the brainwash from uninformed parents, teachers and priests.

  8. Chose not to believe because of insufficient text and archaeology .

  9. You mean like the brainwash from secular materialist parents, teachers, culture, etc.?

    My parents, by the way, were non-religious, so no brainwash from them. I came to my current convictions on my own.

  10. So your god knocked you off a horse as he did Paul?

  11. Alexa, How do I explain religion to my children ?:

    The following should help:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten
    seconds: Priceless !!!

    As far as one knows or can
    tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    As far as one knows or can
    tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinker bells? etc) exist that
    we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups
    calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally,
    Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

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