I was very distracted during mass today.
There were a number of things happening around me that made it hard to focus on what was happening at the altar. They were the typical things. The kids behind me were restless and vocal. The sign of peace was awkward. The music selections were questionable. I was packed pretty tightly next to some strangers in the pew. That one person had a loud cough. I had a busy day ahead.
I’m not going to beat myself up about being distracted, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about being distracted either. It’s not gravely sinful to think about trivial things during mass. We are human beings, and so we’re going to make mistakes. Just be sure that you acknowledge it’s a mistake. Don’t pretend it’s okay. You don’t have to flood your bed with tears, but you absolutely should try to be better next week.
You know why it’s a problem. The God of the universe has become flesh and is now personally offering himself as food for your soul and your eternal salvation. The mass is a re-presentation of the passion of our Lord—his brutal torture and agonizing death on the cross. The mass is God’s plan for giving you life and keeping you “free from sin and safe from all distress” (embolism). It’s a big deal every week, whether you’re mentally present or not.
This means you should make an active effort to shut out the distractions. Ignore the kids, the social awkwardness, and the distracting sounds. Keep your eyes and your mind fixed on the sanctuary or closed tight in prayer. Stop thinking about the to-do list for the day, the super bowl, or the problems you have at work. Start talking to God, presenting your life and your desires before him, and giving him that one precious hour of wholly doing his will. Maybe, if you do this, you’re life will actually start getting better.
You know you’re capable of giving God more during the mass, and you know you ought to, so stop making excuses and just step up to the plate. After all, “he who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (Luke 16:10). The mass is the most important prayer time of your week. It’s the greatest thing you’ll ever be a part of on earth. Even if you don’t feel it, you know this to be true. See what difference you can make in your life when you stop aiming for heroic actions and you start with the small things that are actually in your control.
Your spiritual life is actually a lot like exercise. You can’t run a marathon or bench press 300 on the first day. Start with shorter runs and lighter weights. You’ll build strength to do more in the future, but you have to persevere in the small stuff first. The mass is the place to begin because the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Catechism 1324). If you have any weakness or sin or failure in your life (hint: you do), the source of healing is the mass. It isn’t that hard to pay attention. I’m bad at it too, but let’s all resolve to be better about it next time.