This last week felt a little like a comedy of errors. It was Holy Week – the week we remember Christ’s final days from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to his crucifixion and resurrection. Palm Sunday, two or three of the 10-foot palm branches standing up against the wall behind the altar fell over and landed on the Tabernacle – the container that held the body of Christ in it. We might have let the branches stay there for the rest of Mass but for the fact that one of the candles next to it stayed lit right underneath the palm leaves. I had to, as discreetly as I could (which is to say, not discreetly at all), get up there and slowly take the branches off while the priest was consecrating the host.
Then there was Holy Thursday, when we commemorate the night Jesus gave us the Eucharist in the last supper – “this is my body, this is my blood.” At the end, our music director asked that everybody leave in reverent silence. This would have been great if not for the fact that so much incense was used during Mass that the fire alarm went off during our very reverent time of silence. Thankfully, firemen came to make sure our incense wouldn’t burn the place down.
And to make sure I don’t leave myself out of all of this, it dawned on me (about 45 minutes before I was to start playing music for Mass) that I barely knew how to get through two of the songs I was supposed to be playing and singing at the same time. Due to a combination of my own absentmindedness and a busy weekend, I was probably more unprepared for music Easter Sunday than I have been for any Sunday this whole last year I’ve been playing.
It began to make me wonder if we were being spiritually attacked. I know, I know, I’m not going to blame the devil for my lack of preparedness. But still, the entire Holy Week we were having issues we never have during the year. Yes, the schedule gets changed a bit, some unfamiliar elements are introduced, but it’s not like those of us who participate have never experienced a Catholic Easter before. Things going this wrong (and there was more) when typically Mass is like a well-oiled machine in our parish, starts to make you wonder. Oftentimes, Catholics who don’t go to Mass regularly will still go during Holy Week – and especially Easter Sunday. It may be the one time of the year they sit quietly and without distraction before the Presence of God and hear Him. No TV in the background. No kids tugging at them. Nothing but the music, the prayers, the incense (in a reasonable amount), and the homily pulling their hearts closer to God. The place was packed this last Sunday both at the 8 AM and 10:30 Masses – more than it usually is. I can’t help but think that that is precisely the time when God would want to reach into people’s hearts. So I can’t help but think that that is precisely the time when Satan would most want to distract and discourage them.
But really, wasn’t that how the original Holy Week went down, too? Call it a “dark comedy”, but there is nothing more tragically comedic than God’s people not noticing God himself walking through his own temple and his own city, Jerusalem. It’s like a mother telling her son to clean up his messy room, and him, sitting on a pile of dirty clothes, Legos strewn all across the floor, and bed with a blanket bunched up at the foot of it, saying “Messy room? What messy room?” Jesus was right there. God was right there in their midst. But they were distracted with their own ideas of what a Messiah should look like. Or they were distracted by their fear of the Romans and what they would do if Jesus really tried to make himself king. Or they were distracted by the numbing effects of a comfortable lifestyle. Or maybe it was all of it. They had ears, but they couldn’t hear. They had eyes, but they couldn’t see the Messiah – the one they’d been waiting for for centuries.
And the more I think of it, Holy Week for them and Holy Week for us is the challenge for us every single day. Jesus is speaking to me through my children, my wife, and my work life. He’s trying to show me something about Himself and trying to use me in the lives of others. And really, it’s understandable why we get distracted. Being the father of three kids seven and under, life is crazy on a daily basis. I feel the weight of anxiety over finances, the latest fire in family life that needs to be put out, the relentless nature of work. Some seasons in life I’ve felt like I’ve had not even a moment to think. But if I let myself get distracted by the burning palm branches, fire alarms, my own preconceived notions of how Jesus “should be”, my own inadequacy in fulfilling my daily duties, and all those little worries drip-dropping throughout life, I will miss God walking, in plain sight, through all of it.
But how do we focus on what’s important? It’s easy to say, “Hey, stop being distracted.” Everything is easier said than done. It always takes work, but here are a few practices that have helped me (when I have taken the time to actually do them).
1. Spending time with God in the morning. I try to make it a habit to read the Bible passages for the day in the Catholic calendar, pray about them, and attempt to discern what God wants to say to me before the world wakes up, and I’m off and running. It’s even better when I can get to midweek Mass in the morning. However crazy yesterday might have been, this time is like a reboot. I get to start over fresh.
2. Consecrating every portion of the day to God. Another practice that I have been taught is to, before some new event or meeting or circumstance in the day hits me, consecrate that particular section of it to God. For me, since I give private music lessons throughout the day, this means taking particular lessons with particular students and giving the student, myself, and everything involved in that time over to God. I invite Him into the moment to do what He wants with the time. In this way, I am kind of “praying without ceasing” and keeping God in front of me throughout the day so I don’t miss something He might want me to say, do, or notice.
3. Looking back on the day with Jesus. Another practice that is helpful is to, at the end of the day, look at the day’s events with Christ. First, I examine my day myself. I try to remember people I talked to and how I felt about my interactions with them. What expressions were on their faces? How did I feel when they said certain things? Did I feel hurt? Encouraged? Then, after I do this, I ask Jesus to look at the day with me – ask him what He notices. Sometimes, when I do this, I will remember how a particular student seemed more agitated than usual, or another appeared sad and I didn’t say anything or do anything about it – didn’t even notice it at the time! And I pray for them. When I practice this, I find that I especially appreciate my children more – the moments they start singing spontaneously, or say something funny. I think of how fleeting this time of life is with them and how I’ll miss it when they grow up.
I don’t do any of this perfectly. Number 3 I’ve even let fall by the wayside a bit. But there is no hard and fast rule for how to declutter your thoughts and focus on Christ. Only try to see Him, and trust that, wherever you are at, God will meet you there.
*I am indebted to Fr. Sweeney for introducing me to the second and third practices above. You can watch him describe #3 yourself here.
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