December 27, 2010

Thoughts at the Consecration

Once in a while a strong thought arises for me very suddenly at the time of the consecration. Sometimes it will be a certain spiritual insight, and other times a particularly outrageous temptation to distraction.

When I was first ordained, this used to annoy me very much, no matter what sort of thought it was. I was trying to concentrate, to speak the words of institution distincte et aperte and with a clearly formed intention to do what the Church intends, and I was bothered by the idea of being distracted at this most sacred moment. But as anyone who has tried to practice interior asceticism knows, we only make our situation worse when we add an emotional charge or self-conscious judgment to any sort of arising thought.

I've come to accept the phenomenon. If, as my ordaining bishop recently reminded us, my speaking of the words of consecration is the center of each of my days, why shouldn't this be the moment of special graces of spiritual insight? In the same way, why should this not be the moment when the devil sometimes attacks me with his most desperate tactics?


GirlCanChant said...

Well, it certainly makes me feel better to know that priests go through this, too.

God Bless you, Fr. Charles, and Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

If you think it's appropriate, please share some of the spiritual insights you've received during the Consecration. I'm sure these are very special.

I agree with GirlCanChant. I feel better knowing I'm not alone in fighting off distractions!

Merry Christmas, God bless you and thank you for your blog, Fr. Charles.

Jeanne said...

Our Hindu and Buddhist brothers and sisters tell a story about a seeker begging a wise old hermit to teach him the secret of meditation. The hermit tells the seeker he must sit for an hour and contemplate the glory of God...without thinking about a monkey. The seeker goes off thinking "that's easy" but every time he sits to pray, all he can think about are monkeys! That is how the mind works - the more we try to chase away a thought, the more the mind focuses on it. So yes, when you must concentrate on those words, every temptation will arise to distract you. But you'll prevail. Hopefully the guy meditating and thinking about monkeys did too!

Greg said...

Thanks for this insightful post.

My daughter brought to my attention how difficult the staging is in the modern Mass, with the priest facing the parishioners. Not sure if that contributes to distraction—I imagine it could.

At Mass I become aware of so much taking place, seen and unseen, that I've learned to honor just being there and allowing all manner of event to unfold as it will.

In other words, I try to greet distraction with the same gentle presence as everything else. Once one enters Mass and heads down the aisle "to heaven on earth," one steps out of normal time and the peace that ensues can embrace all manner of distraction as our normal concerns become so minor we can smile at them.

Jeanne's story of the monkey is so appropriate. (I believe that is why Buddhists call the mind that hands us all manner of random input the "monkey mind.")

The lesson seems to be the more we try to hold something tight and make it perfect, the more it squirms in our hands. Perfection may have to come in the letting go.

Your comment, Br. Charles, about the devil or demons looking for opportunity, however, rings very true. More than we commonly admit, demons line up against the entire activity of the church. (Francis was very aware of this.) We tend to "psychologize" that aspect of the faith too often, which is a mistake.

My approach, once I am "inside" "heaven on earth" is to greet such with a warm thought — ah, you have come to step into the light and be transformed?

Greg said...

Fortuitous timing. A few of the thoughts I expressed in the previous comment I discovered are explained artfully in the exegesis of Francis' Admonition 27 by Robert Karris OFM.

In this admonition, Francis cites Luke 11:21-22. Karris ties together the writing of Francis with John Cassian, St. Benedict, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Giles of Assisi in a beautiful tapestry that speaks to the "protected courtyard" that I perceive in the Mass.