Category Archives: An Aside

Distractions: Blessings in Peculiar Packages #2

Another peculiar package of God’s blessings are distractions in my “prayer life.”[1] How can I conceive of such a thing? Distractions, after all, take you away from prayer! Nonetheless, I am convinced that, in some way, distractions are a blessing. Like the previous package of pride, distractions are something with which I am plagued and at the same time, through God’s grace, by which I find another path to faith.

I am convinced that, without God’s help, I cannot get rid of distractions in prayer. I used all the techniques in the world: from anxiously waiting for them to pop up so that I can banish them from my thoughts [a useless exercise in futility; they only become the focus of my attention] to sitting on the riverside, letting them float off into the oblivion. I have prayed until I am blue in the face for God to set me free of them…but normally, in everyday ordinary prayer, be it my own or during the Eucharist, the recitation of the Hours or the rosary, etc., distractions arise from every point of the compass, flights of fancy, starting piously innocent but ending up far afield.

On special occasions God grants me the blessings of focus and concentration.[2] But the majority of the time that I am plagued by distractions about everything under, and even beyond, the sun.

Are these simply the floating garbage of life washing up on the beaches of my prayer? To regard them as such would be to somehow fall into the trap of separating my body, mind and emotions from my soul, my spiritual life from my “normal, everyday” life, the sacred from the secular. Since this is the opposite of what I know to be true, the oneness and unity beneath the structure of the analytical categories into which I box reality, how should I re-evaluate these distractions in light of God’s providence? How do I refocus my vision to bring into alignment God’s knowledge of these distractions with their seemingly ungodly purpose of taking me away from prayer, from talking with Him, from praising and reverencing Him, that is my purpose in life? His constant answer: “I am here, learn from it. My grace is sufficient for you.[3][2Cor 12:9]” I must understand why this answer to my pleas are part and parcel of His unconditional love and desire for my greatest happiness, when in fact, these torture me constantly.

This is not an “either/or,” but, like many of God’s mysteries a “both/and.” I also find there are many intertwining answers: (a) growth in faith and humility, (b) seeing God in all things, even the most mundane and seemingly unimportant things in life, and (c) acceptance of my vocation to live the life of the ordinary Sunday-go-to-Church Catholic with all its joys and sorrows, ups and downs, desolations and consolations, nothing out of the ordinary, and with great need to find God right there in the midst of all that clutter of life, chaos of family and job.

I am what is to be a sheep of which Pope Francis wants the clergy is to smell. I am one of the millions and billions who live lives trying to bridge the gap between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, between doctrine and dogma and the lived reality in God’s world. I am only one very small part of this Church in the Modern World, this Body of the Cosmic Christ. I am a beneficiary with all of the blessed mercy and forgiveness necessary to transform the world into God’s Kingdom. And if I do my part of that right here in W. Pawlet, Vermont, and you do your part in San Francisco, Tokyo, San Paulo, Seoul, Beijing, Mumbai, then, not by our individual or even combined efforts, but by the power and providence of the Father working through the Holy Spirit to bring the world to His Son, this ultimate transformation will happen.

Distractions are a microcosms, the evidences of this life and, if I, by realizing that they too are God’s reflection, can use them to come to Him,[4] then I will have brought one more microscopic portion of the Kingdom into focus. I don’t always achieve this; in fact, it is a rarity that I even am conscious of this. But, like Merton, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” [5] And, in that, I am comforted.

Finally, one of the blessings that You, God, have brought about with distractions is my confrontation with “You.” By constantly realizing that I am off the track again, that I have wandered, I then find you searching for me even there. You are indeed the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find this one lone straggler and bring me home on Your shoulders. You exude the smell You wish Your sheep to have, the odor of humility and faith, “of sanctity” as it use to be known. By humbling Yourself in constant service to us, Your brothers and sisters, Your creatures no less, You provide an example for us to follow…You walk the walk, not just talk the talk. By having faith in me as a person, that I am someone for whom it is worth Your time and energy to go out and search, You extend to me the hand of fellowship, of love, of caring; You hope that I will return. And by setting me on Your shoulders with great joy, You show me by your emotions that the joy of the Gospel is a lived joy, a joy of deep friendship, of love, of the bonding of Shepherd and sheep, of God and man. Your actions make clear that there is really and truly more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. [Lk 15:5,7]

So I keep fighting the distractions, shooing them away, to come to You. But at least I know that You are with me anyway and that I am beloved by You, even when distracted. Would that I were not distracted in prayer with You, in conversation with You, in communion with You! But I am and probably will continue to be. I thank You for coming to find me and for our bonding each time after Your rescuing me once again. That is truly such a blessing. Amen. Alleluia!!!


[1] “Prayer life” is somewhat of a misnomer. It is normally used to designate that time or portion of one’s life which is set aside specifically for talking with God. While Jesus Himself taught us by example that there are times each day you need to go up to your mountain alone and pray, particularly before making important decisions, He also modeled praising God and speaking about God and calling on Him throughout his normal day. Finding God in all things, in the world around me, is not a separate special investigation I undertake only when I put my mind to it. It is a constant habit that I enjoy, finding, seeing, talking to God wherever I am, whatever I am doing, with whomever I am.   Thus, prayer life is all life seen from the perspective of living in God’s presence and carrying on conversations with Him as you do with family and friends throughout your busy day.

[2] One of the reasons I pray at my computer, typing what comes up between God and myself, is that I am not so distracted, I am forced to concentrate, I can listen to the Spirit for the next inspiration, for His reading on the topic, for what is true and what is false, what is on target and what is not….and raise my mind and my heart to Him in thanksgiving and praise as I relish and record to the best of ability His wondrous view of reality, a feeble attempt at recording a grand masterpiece.

[3] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Hereafter, NABRE.

[4] Not “back” to Him; He is, somehow in some manner which may be totally unrecognizable to me, present in all things, people, and places; so my realization is just an awareness of Whom is already there.

[5] Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton > Quotes > Quotable Quote, Good Reads, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/80913-my-lord-god-i-have-no-idea-where-i-am

A brief conversation with one’s Guardian Angel:

Thank you, [fill in your angel’s name; if you don’t know it, ask.], for taking on this rather thankless task of guiding & guarding me today.  I know that you did it because it is the Father’s will & you wished to serve Him & show your love for Him.  I certainly need your help & I thank you for taking the job.  Guide me today in doing His will:

  • pry me from my selfishness;
  • prompt me when I forget that I am helpless in pursuing salvation, let alone holiness & true happiness, & must always rely on God;
  • prod me when I’m stuck;
  • protect me when I face evil or temptation;
  • pacify me when I’m inpatient;
  • proclaim God’s presence to me when I forget to acknowledge it during this day;
  • pop my bubble when I am proud, envious, or jealous, and do not recognize in all others God and that they are also His daughters and sons;
  • prick my conscience when I play God, project or fantasize & restore me to sanity,
  • prohibit me from doing or saying wrong things simply to please & be liked, or because I am angry,
  • pray for me and help me realize that prayer is our script for our role in the kingdom, whether we are talking to God directly or to God in others;
  • plead for me for forgiveness from God and from all around me;
  • put my fears on my cross & help me bear it,
  • help me prioritize,
  • push me when I procrastinate,
  • pep me up when I am tired, and
  • prop me up when I panic.

& may our Jesus ask the Father to give you the strength, patience & perseverance to endure the trials through which I put you & the love to continue your care of me.  I thank Him for you & I ask Him this in the name of His Son, Jesus.

An Aside: On Meditating while “Saying the Rosary”

There are a myriad of ways to “say the rosary,” that is to say all the prayers while contemplating on the various mysteries. While on my own I may not be able to come up with a new way to approach today’s mystery for the umpteenth hundred time, if I start out asking the help of Mary and the Holy Spirit in offering my prayer to the Father for His glory, they pull out of their bag of tricks amazing insights each and every time.

For example, one such that they shared with me is an Allegory of the Sorrowful Mysteries. You need to pull way, way, way back to see this one, and go with the flow. And please realize that my description will not in any way do justice to the real contemplation. Nor does it plumb even the shallows of these mysteries, for that is what they are, not just human, but Divine Mysteries, played out on our human stage. Therefore, we shall never be able to grok them in their entirety.

The Agony in the Garden is just what it says, an individual’s “struggle for victory in the games”[1] of life. Jesus prayer and our prayer is to avert the inevitable in one form or another. It is for relief from this constant struggle and especially for the much more horrific ultimate struggles yet to come. If I follow Christ, if I take up my cross daily, then I, too, must end in ultimate obedience to the Father’s will, no matter where or to what it leads.

The Trial before the Jews[2] from an eschatological or end-time perspective, is the continuous avoidance and denunciation of God by the so-called righteous. They will not recognize who Jesus really is, the Anointed One of God, the Messiah, until ultimately He comes again in power and majesty, our Judge and our Savior, the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven. [Mk 14:62] This rejection, this mangling of the gift of revelation in an attempt to fit our meager understandings, our petty power schemes, will be reenacted over and over again until the ultimate revelation. And it will be amazing who will not get it, who will not truly believe, who will so distort the image of the true God as to make idols of their own imagination. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” [Mt 7:21-23] Lord, help me not fall into that trap.

The Trial before the Gentiles, also from an eschatological perspective, is the continual lack of recognition and acceptance by society and in particular, by those political and social powers in society of the reality of God, the reality of Jesus as the King of Creation, of the Universe, of the Cosmos. Like Pilate, even understanding, though accompanied by a refusal and rejections of the implications thereof, will come in stages, first of Jesus, of God as a criminal without charge other than being what the Jews did not want, “What charge do you bring [against] this man?”…“If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” [Jn 18:29-30] Separation of Church and State has its good points, e.g. non-interference, the freedom to practice one’s religion, but it also has its bad points, e.g. by implication, separation of Morals and State, Conscience and State, Divinely instituted ethics and State, regardless of the fact that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them. [Rom 2:15] The State and society also recognizes that the Church, by giving bread, hope and healing to the masses, he threatened their ability to rule, their status quo. Note the echo of Jesus first temptation in desert just after his Baptism before the beginning of his ministry . [Mt 4:3-4]

Then Pilate acknowledges Him as a King, but “My kingdom does not belong to this world,” [Jn 18:36] an echo of the third temptation. [Mt 4:8-10] Finally, the Jews tell Pilate: We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God, [Mt 19:7] the final echo of the second temptation.[3] [Mt 4:5-7] [4]

The Carrying of the Cross Here, Jesus has already invited us to join Him. If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Following Jesus requires self-denial and the steadfastness in accepting life as God’s will unfolding one moment at a time, one joy, one sorrow at a time. This is the cross, the constant fluctuation, the control in God’s hands, the suffering, derision, rejection, being counted among the outcast, the marginalized. We will be called upon to witness to Christ, to testify with our actions, our words, our thoughts, our way of life that we follow Him. To be strong, resilient, faithful in His service is the life to which we are called.

But I cannot carry my cross alone. I will stumble, fall, sink beneath its weight, the weight of my sins, my sinfulness, the sinfulness of the world. Humanities realization of our own frailty may explain the addition of the three falls in the Stations of the Cross. Though not based on Scripture, these resonate with the reality of our own experience in carrying our crosses. We will need the help of our loved ones, our family, our friends, the Church, even strangers as in Jesus case. From Veronicas who wipe our face to Simons who help carry our cross, our journey up Calvary’s hill of life must be populated with caring strangers who lend us a hand on our way.

The Crucifixion The final scene of each life. The top of Calvary. Death come to us all. And no matter what form it may take, to the person involved, it is her or his Calvary. It is time to wrap up one’s life. It is time to forgive and be forgiven. It is time to come to terms with heaven and hell. It is time to hand over all to others. It is time to put loved ones for whom we have cared in the hands of God and of each other. It is time to confront God, ask Him where He is and demand He come. It is time to eat and drink one last time this side of eternity. It is time to place myself in the only hands that can lead me through the door of death into life eternal. It is a time of sadness, yes, but also joy. It is a time of faith. It is a time of hope. It is a time of love. It is time for time to become eternity. This is the Eternal Now.

[1] The original meaning in the Greek according to the online etymology dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php? term=agony

[2] I have substituted this and the “Trial before the Gentiles” in the second and third sorrowful mystery slots to give a more complete Scriptural recounting of all that went on in the passion, not just the particularly brutal Scourging and the sadistic Crowning which, though certainly worthy of contemplation on their own merit, are only parts of the event.

[3] Luke concludes his version of the temptations in the desert with the teaser: When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time. [Lk 4:13] Luke reminds us of this in the Garden: this is your hour, the time for the power of darkness. [Lk 22:53]

[4] The abrupt ending of this decade without satisfactory closure is both realistic and a lesson in prayer. The underlying prayers come to an end and, according to them, I am to move on to consider the next mystery. It is rather like a museum tour where the guide rushes you through from exhibit to exhibit, but you paid for the tour so you feel compelled to keep up. But, in reality, there is no hurry. It is best to take Ignatius’ recommendation to heart: “I will remain quietly meditating upon the point in which I have found what I desire, without any eagerness to go on till I have been satisfied.”
Ignatius of Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Kindle Locations 341-342). Kindle Edition.