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home : bishop : columns

9/24/2015 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
God pays attention
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


"No one pays attention to me!"

It's tough enough, in our busy, often multi-tasking lives, to pay the best attention all the time to what we are doing. But when a loved one like a teenage daughter or son comes to us with words like this, it melts our heart. Deep down we know (and they know) that what they are really saying is that they feel "nobody loves me."

Let me take the intuition within that common experience one step further to suggest that the capacity to love may be in direct proportion to the willingness to pay attention. I say "willingness" since I believe that, like love, listening or paying attention is an act of the will.

Difficult though it may be at times for all of us, am I being too optimistic in thinking that our capacity to pay attention is not limited and can always grow -- at least, with patience, practice and prayer?

Prayer, in fact, is sometimes described as "paying attention to God." That's all well and good, but is it not more accurate to say that prayer is really tuning in to the God who always pays attention to us?

If, as St. John tells us, God is love, and if love is shown by paying attention, then is it not true that we can learn a lot about love by paying attention to a God who makes it His business to do that all the time?

One way to start is to find a time and place where, reliably, one can always be in God's presence, distraction-free. That may seem like a tall order -- especially for, say, a single parent with no easy way of taking time away from child care. For any homebound person, it may mean the only place is at home on the porch or in the kitchen, and the only time is when everyone else is sleeping.

It's good to know, however, that there are places throughout the Albany Diocese where those who can sacrifice the time can pray -- often, directly in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. However, to get the most out of such precious moments, it might be constructive to practice paying attention more to what is happening when we are not intentionally praying.

It may well be that our difficulty in praying is directly tied in with our lack of practice in paying attention. Of course, God can and will give us any grace that we really want and ask for -- if it be for our good.

But there is an old and sound saying that "grace builds on nature," meaning that, barring a supernatural event -- a miracle -- God ordinarily encounters us where we are in life without messing up our lifestyle choices, our emotional and mental furniture, even if it would do us some good to let Him do just that. That is not how God usually starts.

St. Ignatius developed a method of reflection which is based upon the presupposition that God is always gracing us throughout the day and night in everything we do: work, leisure or even sleep.

St. Ignatius encourages taking time -- after lunch or before bed, for example -- to review the events of the hours before, asking the Lord to look at us and show us what He wants us to see in them and learn from them. We're just giving God permission, so to speak, to see what is happening in our lives through His eyes.

This makes perfect sense when we consider that God is paying attention to all of these details of our lives all of the time -- even when we are not!

St. Ignatius, incidentally, did have an usual, life-changing experience in which his formerly cavalier and extravagant lifestyle was suddenly changed by a cannonball blast which severely maimed him. It was the occasion that forced him to reflect -- the only way, it seemed, that God could get his attention.

Why wait, though, for God do take such an unusual course of action?

Speaking of practicing for prayer by practicing paying attention, though God again is not in the habit of messing up our lives, He does want to enter them where we are. That means that, if I have my TV or iPad on (maybe both!) and I decide I want to ask Him something, He's not going to zap them with lightning. I have to turn them off myself!

It means that even if am not actually using my mobile phone, I will probably have to put it on silent mode -- or just power it off. This may be a courageous act, but the world will not end. It is also a loving act, a way of telling God (and myself) that no one is more important to me than Him. Does God deserve anything less?

Here is the point, though. God wants to give me His undivided attention all the time. Who else in the world or anywhere else can do this, and in such a way that my life can actually be transformed? Everything that is going on that might be on my mind and distracting me from God can be freely and consciously placed in the heart of Jesus Himself. An excellent way to be sure that this is done right is to begin by invoking the name of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary, as we may recall, is the one who was and is always present to her Son. She is the one through whose heart we can have direct access to the heart of Jesus, for she knows what leads there and what it contains for us.

In a way, all that I have been reflecting on is a kind of "networking," is it not? We try day in and day out to make connections with family, friends, loved ones and those who help provide for the needs and desires of a happy life. The great thing is that God is always directly accessible to us, regardless of the vehicles or devices we possess.

God, as it were, possesses us: holds us in the palm of His hand, close to His heart, ready to be there for us wherever and whenever we are to Him.

God is paying attention.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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