By Fr. Joseph Sia
The other day, I found myself driving to Des Moines with a couple of other priests to attend a convocation for the newly-ordained. The two-hour drive didn’t feel that long because we had a very interesting conversation on the way there. I believe the discussion started when I jokingly brought up the topic of self-driving cars since I was the driver on this trip. I imagined how relaxing it would be if I just sat there while the car drove itself on I-80 all the way to our final destination, instead of me being on alert for the whole two hours and making sure we didn’t run into the large trucks that were passing us along the way. One of the other priests then shared his bold prediction that within a few years, there will be more electric cars sold versus gasoline powered cars. He also went on to say that automation is slowly taking over more jobs, including that of truck drivers, because technology and engineering are improving at an impressive rate. He said that there are already prototypes of self-driving trucks!
With that, the conversation shifted to artificial intelligence, and I (again, jokingly) wondered if I could ever have robot altar servers helping me during Mass. After the laughter had died down, one of the other priests then said, “Why stop at altar servers? Why not robot priests?” Again, that elicited much laughter in the car. We all agreed that it was a funny idea, but of course we all knew that that would never happen! A priest is more than just somebody who has specific duties to carry out in the church — he is an ordained man who is conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, the bridegroom of the church. He is to be a spiritual father who provides, teaches, nourishes, and protects his spiritual children. He brings new life through baptism, gives hope through hearing confessions, provides comfort by anointing the sick, and feeds his flock with the true eternal food which is the body and blood of Christ. Only a true human being who has experienced happiness, sorrow, hope, despair, excitement, and fear can truly carry out these responsibilities and effectively bring the love of God to those who seek it.
Don’t get me wrong, however; I do appreciate technology and believe that it has much more potential to serve humanity and bring out the best in us. Already we are living in a time where we are reaping the benefits of high-speed Internet, of medical advances that cure diseases and alleviate symptoms, of gadgets that provide amazing entertainment to lift up our mood. I know that there will be more advances in the near future, and my hope is that these will be used in such a way as to promote the dignity of all human beings. This is what responsible stewardship of creation calls us to — applying our intelligence and will to the resources that we have to honor the original intent of our Creator.
So, while I know there will not be robot priests in the future, my hope is that we Catholics will be open to using technology properly and advocating for its correct and ethical applications in the lives of all human beings. There are many ways that we can use technology to evangelize and promote Gospel values. By doing so, we will be promoting vocation discernment as well because the youth are the ones who are the largest consumers of modern technology. When more youth are discerning, more will hear God’s call to the priesthood and religious life, and we don’t have to fantasize about robots filling the priest shortage!
(Fr. Sia is vocations director for the Davenport Diocese. Contact him at (563) 888-4255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)