There are so many things that vie for our attention. Advertising, the child crying “Mom,” the daily worries. At any given time, we can go from being focused to being distracted. An occasional distraction isn’t always bad (we have a nice sign advertising our parish picnic), but when we don’t keep distractions in check, then they can become a serious problem.
An example: have you ever seen a distracted carpenter hammer a nail? Probably not, because it would not end well. Or have you ever sat as a passenger in a car where the driver was distracted? That last one causes me anxiety because I want my driver to be attentive—else we could die. So, distractions, if they are left unchecked, can become a serious problem. Attention and mindfulness, therefore, are important.
Last week, Jesus talked to us about rest and giving Him our worries. This week, Jesus is honest about how we can lose that rest or even have it stolen if we are not careful. He gives many ways that we can lose that peacefulness and I’ve found that, connected to His explanation of the thorns, distraction can easily steal our peace.
So let me pose a question for you. It is not meant to condemn. It’s just a question to get you to think about the soil—that is, the state of your soul. Here’s the question: How long do you usually go before you forget about Jesus dwelling in you from the Eucharist at Holy Mass? Do you make it to the evening, but then forget about Him before bed? Will you remember Him this afternoon at the parish picnic? Will we make it through the parking lot after Mass today?
Some of you are saying: “Father, I’m not going to make it through Mass!” I know. I get distracted at Mass, too.
It's not a fun question. But again, no condemnation here. It's just a check of the soil. And I think all of us battle with distraction, of losing our attentiveness to God’s presence in our lives. I think this is The Battle going on in our modern culture, actually. I think if we remembered God dwelling in my soul and in the souls of others, there would be a lot more civility and a lot more peace. So, what are we to do?
Well, I think that all of us can say that we want more out of Mass and we want more out of life. Is this true? Do you want more out of life?
There’s a scientific principle [Newton’s First Law] that says: an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by another force. So, imagine a huge freighter on the ocean. It’s chugging right along. And let’s say that the captain wants to turn the ship around because he realizes he’s going the wrong way. So the captain reverses gears, turns the rudder, and what happens? Does the ship make an immediate U-turn? No, it keeps ploughing ahead in the same direction for a while.
The same can be said with our souls. We may come to Holy Mass with every intention on turning things around, on giving God our full attention, but the reality is: if we have been spending the past 167 hours in the week distracted by everything else, then we are likely going to keep that course during this hour. There's a brutal truth here: if we live a distracted life, a life only partially attentive to God, then we will be tempted to have God Himself become a distraction. That's the reality of so many of our family and friends who aren't here, who are pre-occupied with the job or the me-project or whatever, and they are terribly tempted to think that what we do here is a distraction from the other really more important stuff in life.
This temptation makes its way into our lives too. There’s a spiritual principle at play here. And that is that distraction and agitation at Holy Mass is often Jesus waving a yellow, caution flag for you, alerting you to the fact that you have a distracted life. A peaceful person 167 hours of the week is not going to be bothered so much by the crying baby or the immodest dress in this one hour as the distracted, agitated person who wants to be peaceful now but has been distracted and agitated for the previous 167 hours. An object in motion stays in motion. And object at rest stays at rest.
What we are getting at, therefore, is the concept of integrity of life. Jesus doesn’t want to be a distraction; He wants to free you from distraction. When we are distracted by something here at Mass or on the parking lot or later today, we need to turn to Him and admit it: “Jesus, I was distracted by this. I lost sight of you.” Ok, you gave it to Him. Now we can re-focus and move on-- but now we are with Him. Whatever we are doing, we are now going to do it in the presence of God. And that's peace!
You see, Jesus doesn’t simply want to be a part of your life or a distraction to your life. He wants to be your life. A priest once told me, “Even the Mafia baptize their babies.” What he was getting at is: yeah, they get their child baptized, but then they have no other thought about God; they are distracted by that whatever else. Jesus is only a part of their life. And so there is no integrity. And no peace.
Jesus wants to be our life. And that starts by acknowledging the state of our soil, then acknowledging our distractions, and then re-focusing on Him. “Jesus, come into my soul once again,” we pray. “Jesus, I remember that you dwell in my soul. Please help me remember this.” "Jesus, help me to remain in your peace."
And I can guarantee you: if you remember this for even just a handful of hours in the coming week, you will get so much more out of next Sunday’s Holy Mass and from life in general.