July 6th, 2016, will be a day marked in infamy. It was the day Pokémon Go, a location-based reality mobile game by Niantic was released. Mere days after its release, it surpassed all mobile applications in popularity, including Tinder and Twitter. It has even surpassed porn as the most popular search item on Google.
Needless to say, the game has caught on like wild fire. A rare sighting of a Vaporean caused a stampede in Central Park. Various celebrities like Demi Lovato and Jimmy Fallon have admitted to playing (and loving) the game. Around Milwaukee, signs on the highway have warned “Drive now. Catch Pokemon later.” and my co-workers (with graduate degrees, mind you!) have been caught playing the game during down time.
Pokémon to catch curious souls!? Would Jesus be cool with this!? Or is this just buying into commercialism!?
After supporting and speaking with a variety of FOCUS missionaries, campus ministers, and others serving the unique college/young adult population over the years, I’d say if popsicles and pizza are kosher tools to catch people’s attention, why not Pokémon?
A crockpot dinner, studying for our Spanish class, and a little chitchat over a poster featuring a Bible verse is what lured me into a deeper relationship with Christ (and awesome friendship!) in during college. Friends who have come to or back to the faith cite a casual acquaintance, a hike, a chance encounter, an honest conversation, the smallest, silliest, most tiny things. Why not Pokémon Go?
It seems so silly that God would use a child’s location-based game for His great glory, but why not? Jesus used his simple circumstances to draw people into a deeper conversion to Him all the time. He spoke of loving shepherds to everyday shepherds, of catching fish to fisherman, or looking for dropped coins to the poor to convey His love. Maybe if Jesus were on earth today, He’d talk of how finding the pearl of great price is like finding Mew (which, according to Reddit users has yet to be found).
As a twenty-something (let alone a human being, I think there’s this very real temptation to overthink evangelization. I’m tempted to think I need to launch into a huge speech about Jesus’s undying love for us, or profess my affection for a certain saint, or laud the benefits of authentic Ignatian discernment to convert souls.
But all we need to evangelize is to be present exactly where we are.
This was very present in my mind the other morning when I was comforting the wife of a very sick elderly medical patient. He had a pulse after a long course of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and he was comatose. After taking over an hour to further stabilize him, his wife came back to the room, very upset and tearful. I offered her a chair, tissues, a bedside table for her tea, and searched for a charger for her dead phone. But the best thing I provided for her, the best way I evangelized to her, was by my presence.
“I don’t want to be the one to have to decide if we pull the plug,” she confided in me while I made yet another round to his bedside. According to his paperwork, he named her his legal medical decision maker. “I don’t want it to be my fault,” she confessed.
I could have deferred her concerns to the chaplain. I could have offered yet another tissues. I could have offered a lot of things, but I decided to offer her my presence.
I recognized her statements as a common reaction to grieving, and I knew she was carrying a heavy weight on her shoulder. I squatted down, got on her eye level, and gave a soft smile. “It won’t be your fault if he lives or dies. His body is going to make that decision. All you need to do is be here for him.”
I could have launched into a speech about how Jesus tells us to give our yokes to Him. I could have professed the saving power of the sacraments. I could have said a lot of things, but that response, a response with no explicit mention of Jesus, is how the most Christ-like response I think I could have given her.
As St. Francis is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
And it’s not that words aren’t necessary. Sometimes they are! Sometimes we need to launch into a huge speech about Jesus’s undying love for us, or profess our unique affection for a certain saint, or laud the benefits of a specific type of prayer to encourage each other to a deeper level of personal conversion. But our presence matters more than words.
In these past weeks, the world has been rocked. Brexit happened. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were ruthlessly killed. Police men were killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge. 84 were declared dead and over 100 injured after an attack at Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France. Over 250 were killed and thousands injured in a coup attempt in Turkey. The Republican National Convention in Cleveland is leaving many uneasy.
And just in looking for links for all these attacks, I find out more than 20 people in Germany have been injured by someone with an axe.
I have no words for all the senseless violence and political unease in the world right now. Nothing can comfort the unrest in my heart from all this hate, misunderstanding, and senseless loss of life.
But one thing I find comforting is the simple joy from seeing others of all ages, all incomes, all backgrounds, and all walks of life bond over something as silly as Pokémon Go. Kids are next to adults in hot spots. Police officers are catching the action with civilians. People are embracing a small commonality of a mobile app to come together when the media is telling us that we’re all being torn apart.
So, why not Pokémon Go?
In the much more clever words of one of my favorite accounts on Twitter:
Why not Pokémon Go? It may just be the little commonality, the moment of presence, the silly thing that brings about more peace, unity, and love in the world. Where there is love, there is Jesus.
So, why not Pokémon Go? If Jesus told His disciples to be fishers of men, He might have used the more common cliché of going to catch ’em all for us. In our ordinary, silly, everyday circumstances, God can use us for His greater glory. When we give authentically of ourselves, even in the smallest, most ordinary, most seemingly silly sort of ways by our mere presence, we are working for the greater glory of God. Or, as my beloved Jesuits would say: ad majorem Dei gloriam.
How is Jesus calling you exactly where you are right now?