Blessed Distractions

When I was a newly ordained priest, I made an effort every day to pray in church. Usually this prayer time happened before or after the Mass I celebrated. Inevitably, almost every day, I would be interrupted by a parishioner as I was praying. After a while, I became quite frustrated, so much so that I shared this frustration with my pastor. He simply said: “Dave, the life of a priest is a life of interruptions.”

Indeed, there are many interruptions that come with being a priest. These interruptions emerge through phone calls, texts, emails and doorbells, from parishioners stopping by off hours seeking a Mass card, or a hospital or nursing home calling for a patient who needs anointing; still other times, it is just someone who needs to talk or a staff member with a pressing concern.

No doubt we all embrace this Advent season with all kinds of plans: starting over in the spirit of the new liturgical year; trying to be more patient as we enter into this time of waiting for the coming of Jesus; or perhaps simply to listen more, talk less and become more reflective in this great season of wonder.

While it is good to have plans, we must never forget that old saying: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” With all due respect to our plans, there always will be interruptions. And yet, interruptions need not be obstacles but opportunities. They don’t have to be burdens but moments of grace. True ministry is all about embracing the interruptions that come our way.

As priests, we also face a fair number of distractions, which are a type of interruption that can weigh heavily upon us. We can become so preoccupied that it takes us away from being fully present.

Recently a co-worker made an observation about me. She said, “Father, although you are always present, you are not attentive.” It was her way of saying that I was distracted.

Like any human being, we priests can become distracted for various reasons. It is important for us to be aware of these distractions, own them and pray about them. When we succumb to distraction, we may be present but not fully attentive.

The holy season of Advent will contain its own share of interruptions and distractions. How we deal with them will determine in large part how well we enter into this beautiful season of waiting in joyful hope for the coming of Jesus.

This year, with the way the calendar falls, some of us may be distracted by the fact that the Fourth Sunday of Advent is on Dec. 24. Needless to say, this will be a busy 36 hours with the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas celebrated back to back. Obviously the proximity of these two celebrations could have a rippling effect on homily preparation, church decorating and sleep. Sunday stands to be a really long day, with the regular Sunday Masses coupled with the vigil Masses for Christmas.

As priests, we need to face the interruptions and be aware of the distractions — both of which, when entered into in faith, can be assets to our priesthood. Remember, we are not the only ones facing these challenges. The people whom we serve face the same realities in their lives. C.S. Lewis offers some sound advice to us as we face interruptions: “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is, of course, that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day.”

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 13 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, follow The Priest on Twitter @PriestMagazine and like us on Facebook.