How do you handle distractions during Holy Mass?

03-17-2013Weekly ReflectionFr. Joseph Kabali

While visiting a group of Catholics, our informal conversation turned into a profound discussion about distractions during Mass. We focused first on two questions: Do you feel distracted during mass? If so, what are your distractions?" The responses included the following summary:

I have suffered with the same problem since high school. I get distracted at least twice during every Mass. I feel horrible whenever I cannot concentrate at Mass. I get intrusive thoughts about the people who have hurt me and then wonder why I think of them during Mass. It is hard to forgive them. Sometimes, I start thinking about my job or what I am going to do after Mass. My mind wonders about what I am going to cook. I get distracted in Mass when I look at a very attractive person. I make unkind judgments when I see people in Church dressed in sports clothes. What happened to the tradition of dressing in our Sunday-best! Judging people in Church makes feel me horrible, but I believe proper dressing helps us show more respect for God's house. My distractions occur during the homily. I think of what the preacher is saying. If it applies to God and our daily lives, then I listen attentively; if not, then my mind wanders a lot. It is hard for me to avoid looking at people who come to Church after Mass has started and those who leave before the final blessing. I understand that we all have emergencies, but I am distracted at Mass by those whom I call 'hit and run Catholics.' That is, those who receive Communion and leave immediately. Time spent with Jesus received in the Eucharist is beyond words!

As I continued to listen for more responses from the group members, one of the participants asked me directly: "Do you also, Father Joseph, get distracted during Mass?" I (Fr. Joseph) smiled, and with that I sent the message that the answer is "Yes." Consequently, I asked the participants to brain-storm on how we can better handle our distractions at Mass. The following is a brief summary of the suggested resolutions from that group of Catholics:

Stop fighting the distractions. Instead, acknowledge the distraction and bring it to the Lord in prayer. For example: Lord, during this Mass I am thinking about my co-worker and I offer him/her to you. Help me Lord to concentrate on what is going on right now at Mass. Acknowledge that some Saints also experienced distractions during Mass. It may be difficult to control some distractions, but what matters is how I respond to the thoughts and imaginations. If I don't put any meaning to them, and just accept it as another random thought or feeling, it eventually goes away. Look at distractions in a humorous way and then focus on what is going on at Mass. Stop looking at my watch. Close my eyes for a few seconds. Enjoy the moment of being in God's house in prayer. Change myself from worshiping the Liturgy to using the Liturgy to worship God. Acknowledge the goodness in me and others and thank God.

Other responses: Stop myself from questioning why this distraction is happening during Mass. The more I fight the thought, the more it comes up! Let it be. Stop beating-up myself for every distraction. Learn to postpone distracting thoughts. I tell myself: I will get time after Mass and dedicate it to worrying.

Pray and strive for perfection (cf. Mt. 5:48) but stop being a perfectionist. Take on Mary's being with Jesus while Martha labors (Lk10: 38 -42). Learn to ignore the distractions and behaviors of people who seem to intentionally seek attention in Church. Make up a spiritually absorbing phrase or prayer and focus on it by repeating it until I overcome the distraction (e.g., repeat silently: My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, my God (cf. Psalm 63), and I seek to dwell in your house O Lord, all the days of my life (cf. Psalm 27:4).

I am aware that the provided suggestions may not apply to everybody. Therefore, I invite the reader to do your homework by answering for yourself this question: What do I need to do or not do to handle more effectively the distractions I experience during Mass? I hope that commitment to such responses may help many Catholics to become more present, attentive, prayerful and reverent in Church, and thus, enter into a deeper experience of the Divine Mysteries we celebrate during Holy Mass.

Yours in Christ, Fr. Joseph