The Grace of Distraction

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Daughters of St. Paul pray in chapel at the Boston location.

Each morning my community prays together before Mass. (C)photofsp

“…and twenty minutes more or less,
It seemed so great, my happiness
That I was blessed and could bless.”[1]

This morning at Mass I was distracted. My first impulse was to feel guilty.

This isn’t the first time I have come back to the homily or the readings after a jaunt through yesterday or a run through ruminations of the day ahead. Morning Mass is the most blessed way I know to begin my day. The silent, prayerful presence of others reminds me of Jesus’ promise to be in the midst of those who gather together in his name. My intention is to be fully present during Mass, the most perfect prayer of the Church.

Perhaps it is the familiar rituals that allow my mind to wander. No matter where my mind goes my body still knows when to sit, stand, kneel, and respond. If I miss the words of consecration, though, I question my wandering thoughts.

Gratefully something new happened to me this morning. I realize what St. Theresa of Lisieux said is very true. A Carmelite novice fearfully told the saint about her numerous distractions during prayer. St. Theresa answered: “I too, have many, but I accept all for love of the good God, even the most extravagant thoughts that come into my head.” She wrote, “For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.” [2]

Distractions will come during the moments of prayer and we are still Eucharistic people. God blesses us so that we may bless others. Prayer acknowledges that without God we are nothing and with God we are blessing: “He has looked on the lowliness of his handmade, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:46-55).

“Let my prayer be accepted as sweet-smelling incense in your presence. Let the lifting up of my hands in prayer be accepted as an evening sacrifice,” prays the psalmist (Psalm 141).

Let my prayer be accepted as sweet-smelling incense in your presence.

“Let my prayer be accepted as sweet-smelling incense in your presence.”             (C) photofsp

My prayer as incense rises before Him
and He calls it forth,
smoke circling, smells delighting.
He knows my words and
Breathes them in,
inhales them as rising incense.
He memorizes them, reveals them to the universe
recites them to the stars.
He who alone knows my heart,
the heart that brings forth words He loves.
The closeness of mother and child,
lover and beloved, friend and confider.
Ah, but a God who brought forth,
Who created love, Who gives birth–
He delights as no one else can.
He is the source of all who delight.
He it is Who lives to love and listen
and loves to understand.[3]

Whatever comes into our minds and hearts during prayer—worries, joys, cares, plans, loneliness, and all—become offerings that we allow God to transform. To live eucharistically is to live gratefully, thanking our Creator for life. It is to live united to the sacrifice of Christ in compassion for those we meet, and in the daily chores that fill up our day. It is to allow our anxiety, fear, envy, and anger to be transformed as we pray. We add them to the hot coals of God’s love so they rise as sweet smelling incense.

Our heart becomes softened by grace. Through prayer we bless others and lift any angry words that we unwittingly pronounced in moments of weakness. Our honesty allows us to become vulnerable allowing us to surrender to the One who loves us. We become more “catholic” embracing the wide world with blessing. “Blessing,” says Fr. Ronald Rolheiser in his book Sacred Fire, “is to act like God.”

Everything brought to prayer is transformed into a blessing.

Everything brought to prayer is transformed into a blessing. (C) photofsp

Prayer encourages us to stand where we are, entrusting the day to God. A priest once asked me on retreat, “Where are you?” His question emerged from my wondering if I were carrying out God’s will or my own. I replied, “I am here.” “Stay where you are,” he said.

Stay where you are, I tell myself as I emerge from distraction during prayer, returning back to the rosary, the Liturgy, or meditation. I thank God that everything brought to prayer is transformed into a blessing. My distractions remind me that I am not the author of my holiness. God is. The Holy Spirit, Artist of our soul, transforms us. [4]

After sharing this article with my mom she shared this prayer with me: “Receive me most holy mother! Present me and my every need to the Most Holy Trinity that having been made pure and holy in His sight through your hands, they may return to me through you as graces and blessings.”

[youtube_sc url=”http://youtu.be/XRT5Ue_vqXw”]

[1] Vacillation, William Butler Yates
[2] Story of A Soul, translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D.
[3] My Prayer Like Incense, Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp
[4] The SanctifierLuis M. Martinez, Pauline Books & Media

Copyright 2014, Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp

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About Author

A Daughter of St. Paul for 40 years Sr. Margaret continues to pursue new ways to proclaim the Gospel: sharing the Pauline Charism with the laity, writing books (St. Anthony of Padua: Fire & Light; Strength in Darkness: John of the Cross; Prayers for the New Evangelization), & through direct evangelization. She is available for workshops on the Vocation & Mission of the Laity, Media Literacy, and The New Evangelization. mkerry@paulinemedia.com

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