It’s the stray cough from your neighbor or the crying baby in the back row. Sometimes, it’s the fidgeting toddler in front of you or the couple whispering two seats over.
We’ve all been there: distracted at Mass.
Whether it’s the fault of another congregant or the incessant nagging of your grocery list in your head, we have all experienced moments of distraction during Mass, especially during the homily. Full disclosure, I thought of this column idea during the homily at Mass this week.
When I first became aware of just how distracted I had become, my husband Matt suggested a trick he had learned in his divinity school studies at Yale. He said rather than fighting the distraction, follow the distracted line of thought, pray about it and resolve it. For example, if it’s a grocery list that your mind is making, take a moment and pray in gratitude for being able to afford groceries and resolve to come back to the list at another time. If it’s worrying about cleaning the kitchen before an evening dinner party, take a moment to pray in thanksgiving for being able to host said dinner party and for the friendship of your guests.
This follow-the-distraction-in-prayer trick certainly works, and I’ve found it to be helpful to acknowledge my distractions and quickly move past them in Mass. But author Matthew Kelly also gave me another idea that I find just as useful, if not more so, especially during a homily. When I remember — this week I did not — I slip a small notebook and pen into my purse and quietly slip it out after the Gospel reading and I take notes.
As a newspaper reporter, I’m rather quick at taking notes, but I don’t spend the entire sermon scribbling away as I would during an interview or at a press conference. Rather, during homilies, I just write down key points or phrases that really jump out at me while the priest is talking. I don’t need to remember the football joke, but it is nice to jot down the true gems that I want to remember throughout the week.
This practice, albeit a little strange, has actually helped me walk away with — and better remember — themes from homilies and the Gospels. When I remember my notebook, I’m more likely to remember what was talked about during Mass and think about it more often during the week.
In early December, I was reminded by a visiting priest to St. Thomas More in New Haven that true joy comes from God and we are called to relish God’s blessings and not be too focused on ourselves. The visiting priest from New Britain gave us homework: try to make other people happy and joyful in God’s grace. That’s quite an assignment, but writing it down helped me to think more about pointing out God’s blessings, rather than focusing on negativity in conversations with friends and family during the week. I think without my notebook, and the act of writing down that assignment, I wouldn’t have remembered the assignment past Communion.
It’s a habit I’m still learning, but I’ve brought a notebook often enough to miss it when I forget it at this point. And I’m hoping to continue the practice throughout this new year. After all, if I’m only in Mass one hour a week, shouldn’t I make the most of it?
ANNA JONES is a writer who lives in New Haven. She and her husband are members of the St. Thomas More Chapel and Center Community at Yale University.