VERBUM DOMINI

Plucking distractions

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Distraction is a prayer killer. Many kneel before the Blessed Sacrament or take up the sacred scriptures with a desire, with a need, to be refreshed by the divine Word. But sudden anxieties flock to the heart like crows. They call out tomorrow’s troubles, they cluck and claw at things left undone. Their squawk and crow drown out the One we want to hear. Their dark presence shades the light of the mind lest we think on him whom we love. Many experience such distractions as a torture. Often prayer is abandoned merely to escape that black cloud of pecking concerns.

Jesus takes up the issue of distraction in this week’s Gospel (Mt 6:24-34). He asks “is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” For the person struggling to pray, this is precisely the point. They acknowledge that life is more than material needs and comforts, they are seeking the deeper security of God’s presence, and yet the world’s anxieties will not let them rest. In those moments, it is best to address the heart with Jesus’ words, or even announce them directly to those dark birds themselves: “do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’...Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” These words renew our confidence in the Father; they chase away worry and prepare the heart for deep prayer.

Jesus warns, “you cannot serve God and mammon.” This is often the heart of distraction, tugged between God and mammon. It is a question of our first concern. Jesus assures us, if you “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,...all these things will be given you besides.” If the Kingdom is our first concern, then he will take care of the rest. Our needs need not distract us. However, the heart anxious for the world falls in love with money. One may see in money the guarantee of life, the guarantee of security. One may place in money the hope for happiness and health, a hope that ought to be placed in God. For such a heart, distractions in prayer are inevitable. God is always second. But where there is rest in God (he never forsakes his children; Is 49;14-15), the almighty dollar is a fickle deity with a terrible habit of inventing problems.

When you pray, consider St. Paul’s advice: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” God knows what you need. Put everything in his hands. “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).