Each time I step outside of the walls of the Casa Santa Maria to walk anywhere in the Eternal City, I am all but guaranteed to see at least three people taking selfies within ten minutes, which gives me plenty to reflect on the philosophical underpinnings behind the selfie.
I've written several times about the inherent narcissism of the selfie (which has been confirmed by science) and even asked if our churches should look more like sporting events because, among other things, they are banning the use of the selfie-stick. All of this hit home in a new and profoundly tragic way Thursday afternoon in the Basilica of St. Peter in which people were taking selfies with their extended arms and with those narcissisticks.
In the Preface of the Mass for the Dedication of a Church and Altar, Holy Mother Church prays with these words:
Truly this is an exalted place,where the Sacrifice of Christ is ever offered in mystery,where perfect praise is rendered to youand redemption flows forth for us.
We see in these words that the primary purpose of a church building is to render praise to God, both because of the sacred rites it is built to house and because the building itself directs our attention toward God. Consider, then, what happens when a selfie is taken in a church.
The church building itself says to us, "Look to God!" A selfie says to others, "Look at me!" Taking selfies inside an edifice built to the glory of God seeks to usurp that glory - however unconsciously - for the individual, finite human being whose glory will, in the end, come to nothing apart from God.
Now, some of you might be saying that I'm simply reading too much into this and that there really isn't anything wrong with taking selfies, not even inside a church. The majority of people taking selfies used this as a background for their faces:
The church calls us to reflect and entrust ourselves to the merciful love of God, especially during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Indeed, the Holy Father Pope Francis has invited us to enter into this year of grace "with eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful gaze" to "experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity" (Misericordiae Vultus, 8), not with our eyes fixed on ourselves.
As I watched people fix their eyes - and the eyes of others - on themselves, I was reminded of how much we are in need of the Lord's mercy.