If we are honest with ourselves, we know the difficulty in staying focused during prayer. It can seem like every time we kneel to pray our minds travel somewhere else. Even the saints struggled with distractions during their lifetime.
Before St. Francis of Assisi would enter a church to pray he would reportedly say, “Worldly and frivolous thoughts, stay here at the door until I return.”
St. Francis knew what he needed to do to combat distractions, and so in a similar way we should take appropriate measures to reduce needless distractions that prevent us from conversing with God.
One of the primary causes of these distractions during prayer could be the fact that we have not set our priorities in life. This means that everything in our mind is on an equal playing field. “God” and “prayer” receive the same amount of attention as “a project at work” or “household chores.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
“The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction. It can affect words and their meaning in vocal prayer; it can concern, more profoundly, him to whom we are praying, in vocal prayer (liturgical or personal), meditation, and contemplative prayer. To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart: for 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” (CCC 2729).
This profound paragraph from the Catechism reminds us of two important truths. The first is to resist the temptation to actively engage distractions during prayer and “hunt” them down. What results is that we spend our prayer focusing on our distractions and not on God.
The second is to set our priorities. If we place prayer above all the other tasks that we have, our mind knows what is most important and will focus on that.
The next time you spend time in prayer, take notice what distracts you and resolve to let your relationship with God be more important than any “worldly or frivolous” thoughts.
Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (United States)
Philip Kosloski is the Digital Content Manager for the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network (USA) and is also a spirituality writer for Aleteia.org and has been featured on such places as The Huffington Post, Crisis Magazine, The Catholic Herald, Catholic Exchange, National Catholic Register and EWTN Radio.