By Father KENNETH DOYLE
Q. Because of what has been going on in the world lately (the pandemic, difficulty finding work, etc.), I am having trouble concentrating when I pray. Any suggestions for avoiding such distractions? (Portland, Oregon)
A. First of all, don't be discouraged -- or surprised. Distraction is a normal companion to prayer. The holiest people we've known, some of the best-known saints, have spoken of their struggles to focus while praying.
St. Therese of Lisieux (the "Little Flower") had a "trick" that she would use. She explained, "I also have many (distractions), but as soon as I am aware of them, I pray for those people the thought of whom is diverting my attention, and in this way they reap benefit from my distractions."
It is important, I think, for us to set aside certain times exclusively for prayer. Sometimes I do pray when I am doing other things -- driving a car, even working out on a stationary bike. But those can't be the only times that I pray -- I need, too, to pray when I am doing nothing else.
And I can't rush in from a busy day, plop down in a chair or on my knees and expect to focus immediately on the Lord; instead, I need some moments to settle and catch my breath before I start to pray.
The saints seemed to do this a bit more easily. St. Francis of Assisi, when he was about to enter a church to pray, would say: "Worldly and frivolous thoughts, stay here at the door until I return." So when you meet with distractions while praying -- as inevitably you will -- don't panic. Simply pause, refocus and then continue your conversation with the Lord.
Q. We have been parishioners for more than 25 years in a small-town Catholic church. Last Sunday at Mass, we were asked to pray for President-elect Joe Biden. Then we were asked to pray (as always) for an end to the taking of unborn lives. No connection was made -- just two separate petitions. We were outraged and walked out of Mass.
Afterward, my husband went to speak to the priest, who said that my husband needs to examine himself for his anger in not wanting to pray for someone. With that, my husband gave him our collection envelopes and said that these were our last two. The priest gave back the envelopes and said, "We don't need your money."
The next day, my husband emailed the priest, apologized for allowing his emotions to get the better of him and asked for a sit-down discussion with the priest. The priest's response was, "Sure, but let's let some time pass before we meet." We've donated a lot of time and money to this parish. We feel that the priest has overstepped his bounds and would like some advice on how to handle this spiritually. (Massachusetts)
A. I admire your husband for his apology, and I am encouraged that he and your parish priest will have a further conversation. It does seem proper to me to offer prayers for our president-elect; and while I disagree strongly with President-elect Biden on the issue of abortion legislation, I can understand your priest's feeling that the prayer of the faithful was not the proper setting to argue our case.
On Nov. 7, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement congratulating President-elect Biden on his election and praying that the Blessed Virgin Mary may "help us to work together to fulfill the beautiful vision of America's missionaries and founders -- one nation under God, where the sanctity of every human life is defended and freedom of conscience and religion are guaranteed."
On Nov. 12, Pope Francis called President-elect Biden to congratulate him. No account of their conversation was released by the Vatican, but Biden's transition team said that the president-elect "expressed his desire to work together on the basis of a shared belief in the dignity and equality of all humankind on issues such as caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities."
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.