Bottom line: Today we see why God allows distractions: So that we recognize our dependence on Him.
Last Sunday we completed a five-week series on the Eucharist - John, chapter 6, Jesus the Bread of Life. Today's Gospel brings up a concern related to the Mass: the problem of distractions during prayer.
Jesus quotes Isaiah about people who honor God with their lips, while their hearts remain far from Him. Many feel that way when we sit down to pray, especially at Mass. As soon as we make the Sign of the Cross, distractions begins flooding the mind.
What can a person do about distractions? I don't have a sure-fire solution, but I can share some of my own experience. I'd like to address three different types of distractions.
Let's begin with the good news. Some distractions can be positive. Often when I pray, some need or duty will come into my mind. Maybe there's a person I should call. I haven't thought about him all day, but when I start praying, I remember that I promised to call him. I try to resist the urge to stop praying and make a phone call. Instead I might jot a note, then get back to prayer. The very best thing I can do for my friend is pray.
When some person comes to my mind, it means I should pray for him. This is especially the case when I remember someone who has hurt me. If that happens at Mass, I try to bring it into what is happening at the altar. Jesus gave his life for me, for the forgiveness of my sins. Should I not ask him to help me forgive the person who hurt me? So, distractions that remind us of some person or duty can be positive. We can integrate them into prayer even at Mass.
I'd like to now address a second class of distractions: those that come from the flesh - the downward pull of human nature. Sometimes when I am saying Mass, I will think about what I have in the refrigerator. Maybe someone has given me tamales. I imagine myself putting them into the microwave and how they will look when I pull the husks off them. I'm not even that hungry, but all of a sudden those tamales have become the focus of my attention. What I need to do is say, "help." Admit that I do not know how to pray and to recognize the Holy Spirit is the one who prays within me. As Jesus said, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Lord, give me your powerful Spirit. Jesus allows the weakness of the flesh so that we acknowledge our dependence on him. That doesn't mean we give into the flesh. We are in a spiritual battle - and very often that battle become most fierce when we try to pray.
I gave the example of gluttony. It means more than over-eating, but making food the center of one's thoughts. Besides gluttony, there are six other deadly sins - for example, envy, greed, lust - any one can come to the fore during prayer. Don't give in and don't give up. Fr. Bob Barron has an excellent DVD on The Seven Deadly Sins and the corresponding Seven Lively Virtues. I recommend it to you. (And I will be showing it this year in our parish.) It will help you not only in your daily life, but also in your prayer. Keep fighting those distractions that come from the flesh - and keep asking for God's help.
A third type of distraction calls for some delicacy: those that come from immodesty in dress. Bishop John Yanta has written a helpful letter on Modesty at Mass. I have made copies available at the entrances.
Immodesty at Mass is part of a bigger problem - our culture's lack of modesty. Our society presents immodesty as liberating, but in reality it enslaves people. More than ever immodesty surrounds us, even engulfs us.
To understand what we are up against, I would like to use image from the Lord of the Rings. You might remember the giant spider, Shelob, that attacks Frodo. She surrounds him with a sticky web so that she can devour him.
Just so, our culture - which is a culture of death - spins a web of immodesty. Against that web, we seem powerless. We do, however, have some armaments on our side. You might remember that when Shelob's web enveloped Frodo, his friend Samwise fights back. He has only two weapons - a small hobbit sword which seems ridiculous against the giant spider. But he also has the Phial of Galadriel. It emits a light that causes Shelob to recede. It enables Samwise to destroy the hideous creature.
If we call on Christ, he will send an angel to defend us. It especially helps to ask the intercession of the Blessed Mother Mary. This battle will not end until we are lowered into the grave, but we can seek help to break out of the sticky web that engulfs us today. It's not hopeless - and especially when we come to Mass we can cry out for help. For us and for our young people. I will say more about the battle for purity next Sunday.
Today we see why God allows distractions: So that we recognize our dependence on Him. We live in a culture of death that threatens to engulf us. The enemy uses that culture to attack us from all sides. Still, when we call out, the Holy Spirit gives us help. As st. James says: "Every perfect gift comes from above...Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your soul." Amen.
From Archives (Homilies for 22 Sunday, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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