29tth Sunday of the Year C (17 Oct 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
When it comes to praying, we’re quick to consider distractions as interference. To make that a blanket consideration is not reasonable, nor is it helpful to living the gospel in every situation. The responsorial psalm’s first verse, I lift up my eyes toward the mountains, reminded me how I learned that.
Years ago I drove back to the parish I served from a meeting in Detroit almost 60 miles distant. As I neared home a setting of the Kyrie for a requiem mass played on the radio. It captivated me, so much so that I drove by my exit off the freeway! I promptly got the entire recording. The version I bought closed with a setting of Psalm 121. Music empowered familiar words, power I’d long missed in the words alone. I lift up my eyes toward the mountains compelled me to look in a deep way, a way opening on to something new.
Some distractions do pull us from Jesus. Yet, not all distractions pull us from Jesus. Some lead us closer: inviting us to something new; challenging us to live his gospel better; or deepening the ways we give flesh and blood to the gospel of Jesus. They distract because they prevent us from giving full attention to someone or something else. For example, we may find that desiring to restore a relationship may prevent us from focusing on a daily task. Again, we may notice ourselves daydreaming about a direction for our lives right in the middle of schoolwork or a conversation with a boss, a friend, even the letter-carrier. While reading a novel or an interview some picture in our mind may keep us reading a word or line repeatedly before we notice we are doing so.
All of us can name our own examples of such distractions, examples of moments when we notice a thought or feeling preventing us from giving our full attention to someone or something else. When distracting moments lead us to live the gospel in new ways, deepen how we live the gospel or challenge us to live the gospel in more persevering ways, such distractions lead us closer to Jesus not farther from him! What may prevent us from giving our full attention to someone or something else and leads us nearer to Jesus are graced moments; they are not distractions to resist because they move us away from Jesus, his gospel or chill how we live it.
If distractions only left us scattered or if they always led us away from Jesus, then some of us would not live the vocations we do; others of us would neither desire Jesus nor live his gospel day to day. Distractions which keep knocking at the doors of our hearts and which draw us closer to Jesus need our close attention. This is not my opinion but the counsel of Jesus.
In Jesus’ parable about the necessity for [disciples] to pray always without becoming weary, the dishonest judge is not a congenial character. We tend to empathize with the widow and hope we’ll emulate her persistence to benefit our praying. Yet, Jesus insisted the dishonest judge was the central character: The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.” Yes, God outdoes unsavory human characters, responding to persistent petitioners. I notice something more; something personal.
When we pray and notice distractions, we are wise to sift distractions: does that one draw me away from Jesus; or, is Jesus inviting me closer to him and to his gospel through this distraction? Either kind may knock often at the doors of hearts. Jesus advises us to pay attention, and when we recognize a distraction may be moving us closer to him and his gospel, giving it our attention allows us to notice Jesus inviting us to live his gospel with vigor. Living his gospel with vigor is each one’s vocation. That’s our most personal and ongoing discernment. At times a graced distraction is our clue to Jesus drawing us closer.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, compose yourself in the presence of the Trinity. Ask the dishonest judge, who acted on a graced insight in Jesus’ parable, to present you to Jesus. Speak with Jesus: praise Jesus for transforming you through the subtle movements as well as the dramatic events in your life; ask Jesus for the grace to be more perceptive to all the ways Jesus invites you closer as his disciple today. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words, on earth as it is in heaven, on our lips reminds us that Jesus, his Father and their Spirit are at work in all things for our good. The Trinity chooses even some distractions to communicate themselves personally to us.
Wiki-image by שומבלע of the Saaronim is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic license. Wiki-image of a rendering of the dishonest judge parable of Jesus is in the public domain.