The Distraction of Being Distracted

What a terrific guest post we have today over on the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage site! Dr. Kevin Vost is the author of many books, as well as a guest on Catholic Answers and EWTN’s “Women of Grace” and “The Journey Home” programs.  In today’s post on behalf of FLPH, Kevin discusses the answer to a perennial problem, something that all of us face at one time or another, which is how to pray when we’re distracted by other things.

I’m one of those people who mercifully tends to stay asleep once I actually fall asleep, but it’s the getting there that’s often the problem, because my brain won’t pipe down when I want it to; a similar thing tends to happen with my prayer life.  I often have so many ideas and concerns going at any one time, that when I try to get quiet and focus it’s often extremely difficult.  Even a Holy Hour during Adoration and Benediction can sometimes run the risk of being little more than me trying to make some sort of symmetrical mental list of all the spiritual things that “need” doing, such as people I’ve promised to pray for, debating what I should be asking for, what I should be hearing from God, and so on.

I’m easily distracted, not because I can’t focus but because there’s always so much that needs doing.  And the fact that there is such a level of distraction, is a distraction in and of itself.  One can easily imagine how much I’ve always sympathized with St. Martha.

In his post for us over at FLPH, Kevin looks at how St. Thomas Aquinas would address the problem of having your brain running a mile a minute while you’re trying to pray.  I particularly like this bit of wisdom: if we’re making the effort to focus on God, both in terms of what we have to say and what He’s saying to us, God knows and understands that fact.  We may find the distractions frustrating, but He’s aware that we’re doing our best if we keep trying.  As Kevin notes, many of us are going to find that a blessed relief, i.e., that we can cut ourselves a little bit of slack if we’re making a sincere attempt, despite the screaming kids, the pets pooping all over the floor, the people flipping us the bird in traffic, and so on.  This was a great post for all of us to draw some wisdom from.

Incidentally, if you found your way here today from the link to another article of mine featured on First Things this morning, for which I thank the good people at that excellent publication, I’m going to shamelessly ask for a bit of your time and charity.

My regular readers know we have been asking Catholic writers to donate blog posts to draw attention to the FLPH endeavor. We’re trying to establish a permanent hermitage before our good friend, Brother Rex Anthony Norris, finds himself a hermit without a home, as the place he is renting is going to be sold out from under him very soon.  We gladly accept any an all donations on the FLPH site, and I’d ask you as well to please keep the success of this effort in your prayers, and share this project with anyone you think might be in a position to help.  Thank you!

Detail of "St. Thomas Aquinas Writing with Assistance from Angels" by Guercino (1662) Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna

Detail of “St. Thomas Aquinas Writing with Assistance from Angels” by Guercino (1662)
Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna



Holy Thursday: Eating in Silence

Over on the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage (FLPH) site today we have another terrific guest post in aid of the hermitage, this time from Matthew Leonard, author, speaker, and Executive Director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Studies, on the sacredness of silence.  I hope you’ll take the time to drop by and read his really thoughtful post, on how it’s not just enough to be quiet or place ourselves in quiet surroundings to pray: we also have to quiet ourselves down on the inside, as well.  If you’re enjoying these guest posts from Catholic writers over on FLPH, please be sure to share them, and also please prayerfully consider a donation to help us establish a permanent Franciscan hermitage. We’re happy and grateful for any donations!

Tonight many of us will be going to church to commemorate Holy Thursday, celebrating the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  For those who have never attended a Catholic Holy Thursday Mass, it is an evening full of symbolism, from ringing of bells to washing of feet, stripping bare of the altars to the procession with the Eucharist to the altar of repose, where it will remain until the Easter Vigil.  At my parish of St. Stephen’s, during the procession around the church the altar boy holding the censer is in the lead, but interestingly he walks BACKWARDS in front of the priest holding the ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament, so that he is constantly censing the Eucharist.

One of the points Matt Leonard raises in his piece for FLPH is that “the sights and sounds we take in are food for the imagination.”  This is something the Church has always understood.  It’s why we have particular, traditional rituals occur on Holy Thursday which do not occur at other times of year.  It’s also why for centuries the Church commissioned beautiful art and beautiful buildings, to put us into a frame of  mind where we can focus more on heavenly things rather than earthly concerns.

However it’s also why when we take in the Food of God Himself, we do so quietly, rather than boisterously. When we receive Communion, we go back to our seats and remain in silence, rather than standing around chit-chatting like one would do at a normal meal.  We are sharing in a different kind of meal together, which though communal, simultaneously each of us is experiencing in a very personal, intimate way, differing from person to person in its impact.

At the conclusion of Holy Thursday Mass tonight, all will depart in silence. There will be no music, no bells, and indeed no Mass again until the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, when the Church erupts in song and the ringing of bells to mark the Resurrection.  So for those of you able to make it to church this evening, consider how that exterior silence, as you receive Communion and as you leave to go home, is something you can keep with you over the Triduum, to allow God to speak to your quieted self in a way that perhaps is impossible for Him to do in your busy, everyday life.

Detail of "The Last Supper" by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret (1896) Private Collection

Detail of “The Last Supper” by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret (1896)
Private Collection





Latest Guest Post for FLPH from Author Shane Kapler

In the second of our ongoing series of guests posts in aid of Friends of Little Portion Hermitage, today author and speaker Shane Kapler has donated a terrific piece about daily prayer, “When You Can’t Make It To Daily Mass, Pray Like JMJ”, in which he reflects on the prayer life of a Jewish family like that of Jesus’ time.  We’re really grateful for his contribution, and hope that you’ll not only take the opportunity to read it, but also that after dropping by the FLPH site you might prayerfully consider a donation toward establishing a permanent hermitage for Brother Rex and his successors.  For those of you who missed Brother Rex’s appearance on EWTN this Monday, the video is now archived on EWTN’s YouTube Channel for you to watch anytime.

Getting back to Shane’s piece, it’s true that many of us find it impossible to get to daily Mass.  Catholics are not required to go to Mass every day, of course, but most of us do know that we’re missing something.  I can say that when I have had time in my life to make it there, it’s always been a great source of strength.

In his piece, Shane asks what the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph might have practiced in their prayer life at home.  He describes the development of the Jewish practice of pausing several times a day for prayer, and how the Early Church continued this tradition and expanded upon it.  In the life and rhythm of the Church today, this pausing takes place in the praying of the Divine Office, which the clergy, religious, and many lay people pray throughout the day.  For those of us who have less time available, using shorter, modified versions such as that provided in “Magnifcat” magazine are a possible alternative.

For those of you who are run so ragged that even a simplified version of the Divine Office is not possible, you have a wonderful solution that will take no more than a couple of minutes out of each day, and requires little more than a bit of memorization on your part: The Angelus.  Those of you who went to Catholic school, as I did, probably stopped and prayed it before you went to lunch.  Prayed three times a day, at 6am, noon, and 6pm, it is a short way to begin and end the work day, as well as for taking a moment in the middle of your day to reflect on God’s Incarnation as Man, and what that means for your salvation.  If you’re lucky, as we are here in Washington, many churches still ring the bells for the Angelus to remind you to make these prayers.

However you go about it, Shane’s call to take the time to pause during the day is really a great one.  We can’t all get to daily Mass, and God knows that.  What we can all do however, is make it a priority to pause to glorify God, thank Him, and remember that we are not made for this world, but for the next.  If we do so, not only can we build a better relationship with Him, but it can help put everything from road rage to jammed copiers to kids who won’t eat their lunch into better perspective.

"The Angelus" by Jean-François Millet Musée d'Orsay, Paris

“The Angelus” by Jean-François Millet
Musée d’Orsay, Paris