I feel so distracted at Mass.
Dear Father Joe: Sometimes there are so many distractions at Mass that I can’t concentrate. It’s really frustrating — what can I do?
I love this question! Let’s get to it.
First, I want to look at the idea of distractions as a normal experience for humans. We were created with a hunger to know, and because of that, our minds are always looking to “know more.” This is a gift, but like most gifts, our task is to ask God to refine it and hone it so that we use it well. Our curiosity does not always need to be satisfied.
Don’t panic or fall into anger when you get distracted — simply acknowledge the distraction and push on with your communal prayer. Recognize what’s happening, and then turn your mind back to the Mass.
What are some distractions that people talk to me about?
This is the most common thing I hear about. As a priest, I’m blessed to hear about it from both sides. So, what do we do?
Let it go. I’ll start with the parent who feels shame at the noise their kids make at Mass. In the name of Jesus, let that shame go. You are giving your parish community the gift of presence, the gift of right priority, the gift of life. Your children are children of God, and we are so grateful they are here. Kids make noise. Kids wiggle. Kids cry, laugh, and make all sorts of sounds, and that is what they are supposed to do. I beg you — please do not feel like a burden or a distraction. If someone gives you a dirty look or, God forbid, chastises you, they are not an ambassador of Christ; they are from the other side of the equation. If you feel called to step into the vestibule when things get out of hand, feel free to do so, but please know that you are welcome to come back in.
For those of you distracted by kids at Mass, I need to tell you — the hard stares and the dirty looks hurt. If the parent could “make their kid not do that,” they would. When we glare at people, when we sigh dramatically and make sure parents know how pained we are, we drive new life away from our Church.
So, with that in mind, here is our challenge. Please, I invite us all to respond to the perception of being distracted by praying. Pray that God blesses these parents for making the holy and loving choice to raise their children with faith. Pray that your heart and mind remember how hard it is to feel like a burden to others. Pray that God blesses us with more kids in our parish family. Pray that you will be patient.
Troubles in our lives:
This is a big distraction. The daily wounds of life are baggage we carry into church. It’s not uncommon to sit there and rehash “that conversation” and think about how we are going to respond to our difficult circumstances, etc. This is normal. I have a very simple method of dealing with it: I take each instance of this kind of distraction as an invitation to prayer. If I’m thinking of family troubles, I say to God, “I give my family to you.” If I’m distracted by parish troubles, I say “I give my parish family to you,” etc. No matter what worry pops up, I simply say, “Jesus, I give this to you.” Wash, rinse, repeat as many times as necessary.
People find themselves distracted by music that they perceive not to be “good” or by music perceived not to be “done well.” In these instances, pray to hear the person or instrument as God hears them. It will blow you away how much God loves our best efforts.
I know my tribe can unintentionally be a distraction. Some of us are not the best preachers. Some of us are having bad days and making you pay for it. Some of us aren’t following the rules properly or are praying in a voice that is grating to you. Please respond to this invitation with prayer for us. We are not all gifted in the 1,000 areas people would like us to be gifted in. If you are distracted by your priest, pray for him.
I’m almost out of room, so allow me to summarize. Keep in mind that the Mass is not about you. You may want a perfect liturgy; you may want perfect kids there; it may be that you want perfect music and a perfect priest, but what you want is neither important nor possible. What is of paramount importance is what Jesus wants. And Jesus does not seem as obsessed with perfect kids, perfect circumstances, perfect order, ideological comfort, and neatness as we are. What He wants is people to come to Him, especially His children so that we can find the joy and sense of wholeness that comes from worshiping our God and being loved by Him.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence.