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November 2, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Q. When I pray, sometimes during Mass, or when reading Scripture, or saying the rosary, I am plagued with unholy, impure thoughts directed toward holy persons or objects. I don’t know why I have these thoughts, but I do not want them. What is the answer to my problem? — Name and State Withheld.
A. A priest we know recently gave a talk to young adults about overcoming impure thoughts while praying. Here are his comments:
Regarding distractions in prayer, the Catechism says that “the habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction” (n. 2729). How easy it is for any of us to be saying our prayers, or reading Sacred Scripture or another spiritual book, and then to realize our minds were somewhere else, thinking about all kinds of extraneous things. These distractions occur because we are people with senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch — and what we sense can easily distract us. Moreover, we all have many responsibilities and may lead very busy lives; the agenda we face each day can easily lead to distraction. Therefore, we must realize the pitfalls that set us up for distraction and take preventative measures.
First, we must guard our senses. Noise, other people, the smell of cooking, a hot, stifling room, or an activity going on where we are trying to pray can lead to distraction. Remember Jesus said, “Whenever you pray, go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private” (Matt. 6:6). We need to find a quiet place by ourselves to pray. Sure, we could be by ourselves in a garden and pray, but one could easily be distracted by noticing what needs to be pruned or weeded! Nevertheless, it is in the quiet that the Lord speaks to us. For instance, the Lord told Elijah to stand on the mountain to await His passage. Elijah did not find the Lord in the strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but rather in a quiet, whispering sound (I Kings 19:9-12).
Second, we must pick a good time to pray. We may be able to say a few prayers or talk with the Lord while we cook dinner, drive the car, ride on the bus, or wait for an appointment, but most likely we will not have the atmosphere we need for good, concentrated prayer devoted to the Lord. We ought to take time in our day, when we are not too tired or rushed, for prayer. Here again we have to be careful. Sometimes I am so busy from leaving what I was doing before starting to pray or thinking about what happens next that I find myself not really concentrating on my prayers as I should.
St. Charles Borromeo (d. 1584) addressed this issue with his priests: “Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into Church to pray the Office or to celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God. But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for the Office or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain recollected?”
Third, we need to focus on our prayers. Although memorizing prayers or having a regime of favorite prayers is a good discipline, we must guard against becoming lax or absent-minded in reciting them. We could easily “whip-off” the words, but not concentrate on the meaning. I think all of us have probably said the Our Father, the Hail Mary, or a decade of the rosary, finished the prayer, and then wondered, “What did I just say?” Again, these formal, memorized prayers are beautiful and essential to a good prayer life. However, we need to slow down as we say them and concentrate on the meaning of the words we are saying.
Finally, we need to open ourselves to God’s grace through the sacraments. The Sacrament of Penance cleanses our soul so that the union between ourselves and the Lord is in the best possible spiritual condition. The Blessed Sacrament intimately unites us with the Lord through the reception of Holy Communion and enwraps us in His presence when we pray before the tabernacle. St. Thomas More (d. 1535) stated, “If I am distracted, Holy Communion helps me to become recollected.”
These are some preventative measures to arm ourselves against distraction. If we find ourselves being distracted, we pause, refocus our attention, perhaps repeat the prayer or the reading, and move forward. However, I think we must also at times take heed of the distraction. The Catechism notes, “A distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for Him, and lead us resolutely to offer Him our heart to be purified. Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve. For instance, if when we prayed, we always ended up thinking about work, about other people, about money, or some activity, we would have to ask, “Who is really the Lord of my life?” Just as we put aside everything to be with someone we love and to share good times with that person, how much more so must we do the same with the Lord whom we ought to love above all things.
I think, too, that sometimes God puts a distraction in our mind. Sometimes while praying, I suddenly have a thought about a person or a situation enter my mind. I believe here the Lord is saying, “I have listened to you, now I want you to look at this person or situation and come to some resolution.” For instance, we may carry a hurt or a sin from a past situation, or have a difficulty with a particular person. Our Lord may well be telling us to pray about the matter, because until we bring it to resolution we will never have a full union with Him.
Yes, we all face distractions in our prayer life. Nevertheless, we must be vigilant in our prayers and struggle to grow stronger in the discipline of our prayer life. St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, captured what is necessary for a good prayer life: “For me, prayer means launching out of the heart towards God; it means lifting up one’s eyes, quite simply, to Heaven, a cry of grateful love from the crest of joy or the trough of despair. It’s a vast, supernatural force which opens out my heart, and binds me close to Jesus.”

Q. Is there any artistic license afforded to those tasked with distributing Holy Communion at Mass? For example, can one trace a figure eight in the air with the Host when presenting it to a demolition derby enthusiast? I have seen Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion raise the Host high in the air before presenting it to the communicant. Another traced the Sign of the Cross for each recipient. Some even address the communicant by name. — R.T.C., via e-mail.
A. No, there is no “artistic license” when it comes to distributing Holy Communion. According to the “Norms for the Distribution of Holy Communion under Both Kinds,” which is Part II of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, “Holy Communion under the form of bread is offered to the communicant with the words ‘The Body of Christ.’ The communicant may choose whether to receive the Body of Christ in the hand or on the tongue. When receiving in the hand, the communicant should be guided by the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem [d. 386]: ‘When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive Him, taking care that nothing is lost’ ” (n. 41),
Similarly, “the chalice is offered to the communicant with the words ‘The Blood of Christ,’ to which the communicant responds, ‘Amen’ ” (n. 43).
This doesn’t say anything about waving the Host in the air, or about tracing a figure eight or Sign of the Cross. Common sense should tell us that the EM should simply present the Host to the communicant, with no extraneous gestures, and say, “The Body of Christ.” Also, he or she should not call the communicant by name. This is not part of the rubrics and, since the EM would not know the names of everyone coming to Communion anyway, it would also be demeaning to those not called by their names. That’s all we need — to have some people coming to Communion annoyed or insulted because their name was not said.
For Heaven’s sake, literally, people should stop trying to make the Mass about the priest, or the EM, or anybody else. The Mass is about Jesus. Don’t say or do anything that distracts from the awesome privilege of receiving His Body and Blood.

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