Center of Attention
Attention spans have never been good, but research shows it’s getting even worse. In a quick internet search I discovered that in the year 2000 the average attention span was 12 seconds — not minutes — seconds. As of 2015, it’s down to 8.25 seconds. Obviously, we are easily distracted.
We can all attest to the difficulty of staying focused. I often reach for my phone, even in the middle of watching something on television. I also find myself skipping social media posts that are too wordy or that don’t catch my attention fast enough.
All of this comes into play in our life of faith too. If trying to last more than a couple of minutes in quiet prayer often feels daunting, attempting to pay attention for a whole Mass is practically impossible.
But this is not the full picture. Other research shows when we are involved in a task, especially one we enjoy, it is easier to keep our attention focused.
A particular verse from Acts jumped out at me recently from the daily readings: “Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying.” (Acts 16:14).
What jumped out is that the Lord opened her heart to pay attention. I thought, I wish He would do that to me at Mass! My next thought was: Maybe I should begin to pray for that to happen.
Now, every time I kneel before Mass, I have added this simple prayer to my routine: “Jesus, help me pay attention today, and Lydia, pray for me.”
The simple truth is we are not powerless before the diminishing attention span, nor are we incapable of mastering our desires and other whims of the flesh. On one level we are physical creatures who have impulses that can seem to rule our lives, but we are also children of God enlivened by the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of Jesus Christ.
Simple prayers, like the one above can go a long way to assist in taking back the reins of control of our impulses. But even more powerful are the graces that come from the sacraments, like the ones we encounter at every Mass.
Here are a few ideas on how to stay focused at Mass.
- Pray that God will help you pay attention and that He will speak to you today.
- Come early and read the readings ahead of time.
- Open the song book and sing along.
- Come prepared with your list of venial sins and be ready to confess them as you say, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”
- Bring a notebook and take notes during the homily.
- Read along with the Creed so you don’t daydream through it.
- During the Eucharistic Prayer, pay close attention when the priest prays the words of institution (“This is my body, etc.”) and praise God for the miracle you are watching.
- When you return from receiving Communion, speak to Jesus who is inside you at that moment and tell Him your most important intentions.
- Think of one thing you want to take with you from this Mass. Maybe it was a line from Scripture or a song, or a thought from the homily. When the priest says, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord with your life,” take that insight with you into the week ahead.
Paying attention at Mass takes work on our part and grace from God, but when these two come together, amazing things can happen.