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Question Corner

First slide

Distracted during prayer

Q. Because of what has been going on in the world lately (the pandemic, difficulty finding work, etc.), I am having trouble concentrating when I pray. Any suggestions for avoiding such distractions? (Portland, Ore.)

A. First of all, don't be discouraged — or surprised. Distraction is a normal companion to prayer. The holiest people we've known, some of the best-known saints, have spoken of their struggles to focus while praying.

St. Therese of Lisieux (the "Little Flower") had a "trick" that she would use. She explained, "I also have many (distractions), but as soon as I am aware of them, I pray for those people the thought of whom is diverting my attention, and in this way they reap benefit from my distractions."

It is important, I think, for us to set aside certain times exclusively for prayer. Sometimes I do pray when I am doing other things — driving a car, even working out on a stationary bike. But those can't be the only times that I pray — I also need to pray when I am doing nothing else.

And I can't rush in from a busy day, plop down in a chair or on my knees and expect to focus immediately on the Lord; instead, I need some moments to settle and catch my breath before I start to pray.

The saints seemed to do this a bit more easily. St. Francis of Assisi, when he was about to enter a church to pray, would say: "Worldly and frivolous thoughts, stay here at the door until I return." So, when you meet with distractions while praying — as inevitably you will — don't panic. Simply pause, refocus and then continue your conversation with the Lord.

Holy Name Society?

Q. Some of my fondest memories of parenthood include attending, in the 1960s, Mass and a breakfast meeting afterward with my four sons that was sponsored by an organization called the Holy Name Society. It seemed to me an effective way to involve parish families in worship and fellowship. Does such an organization still exist; and if not, what caused its demise? Could it and should it be revived? (Minong, Wis.)

A. The Holy Name Society does still exist, although its numbers have dropped over recent decades. An article a few years back in the Baltimore archdiocesan news outlet The Catholic Review noted that, whereas once the society listed 40,000 members within the archdiocese, membership in 2012 numbered some 700, with chapters in 30 parishes.

The society was founded in the late 13th century, when Pope Gregory X commissioned a Dominican preacher named John of Vercelli to encourage respect and devotion to the name of Christ to combat a heresy of the time that held that Jesus was not divine.

The society's agenda broadened over the years to include promoting the spread of the Gospel message, pledging a life of personal prayer, raising funds for Catholic education and encouraging the corporal works of mercy, especially by feeding the poor and finding shelter for the homeless. Although founded initially as a male fraternity, in many parts of the U.S. the society has opened its membership to women in recent years.

Only the faithful departed?

Q. I have often heard in church the prayer that goes, "May his/her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace." It has caused me to wonder why we pray only for the souls of the faithful departed. Shouldn't we also pray for the souls of those who may have struggled with their faith or who may never have had the opportunity to learn about God? Could we pray instead for "the souls of all the departed children of God," rather than focusing only on those who were faithful? (Indianapolis)

A. I couldn't agree more: We should pray for all those who have passed from this life into eternity. And we do. Prompted by your question, I decided to take a closer look at the four eucharistic prayers for the Mass, one of which is commonly selected for use at parish Masses — and I think you will be comforted by the language.

In each of the four prayers there is a section that commemorates the deceased. The first eucharistic prayer, I would agree, could be used to bolster your contention; that text says, "Remember also, Lord, your servants who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace. Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light and peace."

But the other three eucharistic prayers are more clear that the prayer is universal in scope. The second one says, "Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and all who have died in your mercy; welcome them into the light of your face."

The third reads, "To our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom." And the fourth eucharistic prayer is even more specific: "Remember also those who have died in the peace of your Christ and all the dead whose faith you alone have known."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021