Sunday, March 30, 2014

Distractions During Prayer

A reader left me a comment asking what they could do to minimize distractions during prayer, and especially while praying the Rosary. I have taken this problem to confession on the occasions where I thought I did not work hard enough to focus and lift my mind as well as my heart. One of my confessors, who is in his late 80's, told me he hadn't found a way yet to overcome distracted prayer during the Rosary. Another confessor likened distractions to a pile of debris floating down the river.

"Don't poke a stick in the pile," he told me. " We have this need to take a stick and poke apart whatever makes up the pile. That's exactly what we do every time we chastise ourselves for giving in to distraction. Let go of it as quickly as possible and return to your prayer. "

Sometimes if I am saying the Rosary versus praying the Rosary, I can almost hear a voice bringing me to a halt and asking:  Is this how you address My mother?

It certainly isn't the way I want to pray the Rosary and so if I find this happening to me a lot there are a few things I do.

One, I have a lovely book of chaplets that includes a beautiful set of mediatations for every decade in the original 3 mysteries. It takes a little bit of juggling but I read the fruit of each mystery at the start and then each of 10 thoughts or meditations for each Hail Mary in the decade.  The book was compiled by Patricia Quinallanti and is available through Leaflet Missal Company.

For instance, the first sorrowful mystery is Christ's Agony in the Garden. Each Hail Mary honors some aspect of what took place in Gethsemane.

-to honor Christ's desire to be comforted by an angel
-to honor the beads of sweat and blood that poured down His face
-to honor the love He had for Peter, James and John in bringing them with Him to the garden
-to honor His haste in healing the ear of the servant

And so on.  If you pray these meditations often enough they will be easy to call to mind.

Another thing to consider is where you pray. I'm not an advocate of multi-tasking while praying the Rosary, such as cooking or doing other household chores.  To each his own but it's not something I'd make a habit of. I have found that it is impossible for me to pray a Rosary before bed. It's a struggle to stay awake until the end and feels like something I squeezed in instead of making the time to pray it right. I might pray an extra Rosary this way but again I don't personally find it something I want to do on a regular basis.  I also don't find it is efficacious to pray the Rosary in the car unless I have a CD to pray along with, like the one I bought last year from St John Cantius in Chicago. One of my numerous shortcomings is yelling at other drivers who act like fools on the highway. I don't really want to interrupt a Hail Mary with "get in your own lane you (fill in the blank)!"

The place I am least likely to be distracted is before the Tabneracle or Monstrance, particularly if there is a Crucifixion scene above them.  This is not always possible and for some of you it may be a rare opportunity, depending on where you live. I am fortunate that I live in a city where there are a number of chapels or churches that offer adoration. If you don't have access to such a chapel, find a quiet corner in your home. You can also find Eucharistic Adoration on the Internet.  When a priest I knew could no longer make it to chapel, he kept his computer open to a perpetual adoration chapel that had live streaming. 

I have no shortage of religious statues, etc and I find it is much easier to pray while at home if I have one of these images before me.  You could even print an image you like from the Internet. 

Perhaps the thing that helps me most of all is pleading for Jesus and Mary to assist me to pray with focus, reverence and devotion. I also try to clear "the tape that keeps running in my head", as one priest described it, well before I get to the chapel.  

I wouldn't fret too much about distractions and I certainly would never let them deter me. I have come to understand that nothing prolongs distraction like self-attachment, so cleaning up one act will help to clean up another, so to speak. 

St Teresa of Avila likened distractions to bees. You wave them away and then you carry on. Souls are depending on us. Let's continue to labor for them and, ultimately, for Jesus. 

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