I have recently become aware that my attention span is spotty and fragmented, like my Jack Russell’s jumpy focus. I started to read a topical and rather complex article online about converts to the Catholic Church, saw that it was long, scrolled to the end, sighed, and got up to make myself a cup of tea instead.
It seems I’m not alone. According to some social pundits and neuroscientists, your brain is being changed by the internet. (See Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.”) I could blow through the dense “Crime and Punishment” in a week when I was 17, but I would barely make it past the title page now.
What is my remedy for inattention? Attending Mass. First, I shut off my iPhone and tuck it deep in my pocketbook. I enter church, kneel, and breathe deeply. Inhaling the silence of the church and taking a kneeling posture help to center me.
The priest processes in as we sing, and I’m touched by the reverence and purpose of the young altar boy as he walks ahead of him. Everyone takes their assigned places. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” I intone, making the Sign of the Cross. I am putting God on my body—all of Him: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am painting holiness on my flesh.
Confession next—Lord Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy. My heart settles; my breathing slows. I am here. If my thoughts wander to whether I will make grilled chicken tonight or scrambled eggs and toast, the words pull me back into the present. I’m with my brothers and sisters in faith—a family surrounding me. Soon, we sit for the first reading, many following along in the Missal. I prefer to focus on hearing the words, letting them soak into my brain.
A baby wails nearby. I hear the mom or dad walking around at the back of the church, knowing they are jostling that baby, holding her close to their warm heartbeat. How many times have I done the same with my kids? The crying doesn’t bother me, and it strikes me this is one thing the Mass does—it holds us close to God’s heartbeat. It soothes our yearnings and grief about our lives and the world.
The responsorial psalm brings me back from thinking about the baby, and I sing loudly with my husband beside me. The second reading comes—and though it changes from week to week, I’m on a journey with the Church, being pulled along by the narrative of the Exodus of Moses and his complaining people, who remind me so much of myself. Where’s the wine? This manna stuff isn’t as good as meat! I wish I were back in Egypt with the cucumbers and lentils!
Then the Alleluia soars to the high roof of the church, and I imagine the notes floating upward, taking my heart with them as the priest walks to the Ambo and announces the Gospel reading. We all make the sign of the cross three times. Now the words are in my sight, in my mouth so that I might speak them, and in my heart so that I might live them. I am nowhere else but here.
I have become a kind of living icon of God’s words, God’s message, and my connection to the family of God. We are together, all of us—gray-haired, young; fidgety, serene; just born, about to pass on. We’re not separated by our devices, not checking our email every five minutes, and not scrolling through Instagram or Snapchat.
My gaze is fixed on the statue of Jesus on the Cross hanging above. I don’t need anything else. Right now, I am present, attentive, and held close to God’s heart.