Written by: Bro. Brian Poulin
December 3, 2022 – Memorial of St. Francis Xavier, Priest and Religious
I’d like to think that I notice an awful lot. Doing so however, takes energy and focus. The expression “pay attention” really means something to me, because the effort of observation costs me something. I don’t say this as a plea for pity, but rather as an attempt to understand how I can take in minute details of the world around me one moment and at other times fail to notice familiar people in a hallway, large objects, or a significant change to a building I pass by every day. I’m forever zoning out, realizing that I’ve zoned out, and zoning back in. I try to focus, especially in conversation with other people, but it doesn’t always work.
It will shock exactly 1.7% of readers to know that Mass is one of those situations in which it is very hard for me to maintain focus. Mass of course matters greatly to me or else I wouldn’t bother participating in the first place. I believe there are important things happening, and that Christ’s Body is really truly present in both the gathered community and the consecrated host. Yet, I drift in and out of awareness, sometimes numbed by familiarity, sometimes distracted by a tangential musing or whatever my pressing concern of the day might be.
On Thanksgiving Day, I went to Mass at St. James Cathedral in Seattle and it was beautiful. There was a lot to take in, partially because I hadn’t been inside that particularly church since my childhood. You can imagine me looking around at the various statues and windows, looking throughout the congregation, enjoying the hymns, all while hopefully saying the correct responses and maybe even listening to the priest’s homily, which was very adequate as I recall. I got up to receive Communion, zoned out a bit, and was already on my way back to my seat before I refocused.
It certainly wasn’t my first time receiving Communion absentmindedly, but on this occasion it really struck me. Here I was on Thanksgiving Day, celebrating the Eucharist, which comes from a Greek word meaning “to give thanks”, and I was not able to be sufficiently present to actually feel gratitude at the moment of reception. Of all the times to enter the oblivion of autopilot!
And I was reminded of Moses and the burning bush. Moses experienced this sign of God when he was about his daily shepherding routine, which made me wonder how long that bush might have been burning without being consumed, with God waiting all the while for him to pay attention. And I think that God spends an awful amount of time waiting for us to take notice, particularly when we are about our daily affairs and it doesn’t occur to us that God is in our midst.
St. Marcellin Champagnat encouraged the early Marist Brothers to “practice the presence of God” as one way of bringing prayer into their daily activities and interactions. He was not alone in recommending this attitude of Christian mindfulness, but neither is this an instinct that has filtered into the wider Church. How often do we see people operate as if they are trying to relegate God to a given building at a certain time of week?
During Advent, we typically focus on our wait for Christ’s coming at Christmas and again at the end of time. We wait for a God who is already here with us. Maybe there is an opportunity here for us to spend this Advent trying to discover the God who is waiting for us to pay attention and to actually behave like we live in a world where we cannot escape God’s company.
When I occasionally go to Mass in a Melkite Catholic Church, I am struck by the lector’s admonition prior to the proclamation of each Scripture reading: “Let us be attentive!”
Good advice, indeed. And also a challenge.
For everybody who was wondering just how long it would be before I featured Taylor Swift as ‘ear candy’ on this blog, your wait is over (just in time for Advent)! This song is featured not because it is a teenage love song, but rather because of its depiction of waiting to be recognized, much how God waits to be recognized by us. The ‘brain food’ is a selection of 24 Christmas-related quotations, published with some brief commentary by the author. And because there’s 24 of them, you can even use them as an Advent Calendar as you wait for Christmas!
Ear Candy: “You Belong with Me” by Taylor Swift
Brain Food: “24 Christmas Quotes about Faith and Justice” by Olivia Bardo
Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!