Distraction comes quite easy to me. It lingers in all shapes and at all times. Even when in quiet prayer, it finds me. Sometimes it hides under the guise of a ticking clock on the wall. While I should be focusing on my prayer, all I hear is “tick, tick, tick”. Distraction can even manifest itself in social settings. While in the middle of a meal with friends, I feel my gaze shift off them and onto the TV playing highlights from a game. Even if it was a team I had zero interest in (say one with a Wolverine mascot), I’ll still pay attention to the replays instead of my friends. In these instances, I lose out on a fruitful conversations and the chance to delve deeper into friendships. I can’t help but feel that many of us are battling with this vice. This constant need to satisfy our senses and keep our minds occupied. It seems like this is a recurring theme in this era of distraction.
Pause. Take a moment to reflect on your own life and the relationships you’ve built. Challenge yourself to observe your habits and monitor how much time you spend on meaningful relationships. How quick do you reach for your phone when you see a notification? How easy is it for your eyes to shift from a friend to a TV screen? How often do you push all electronics aside to truly focus on the person in front of you?
As a priest, my deep desire is to help guide people into a sincere relationship with God. Yet, we are all easily distracted. Sometimes these diversions can be as simple as a text or fantasy football. Other times, it is laden with hurt and betrayal, like that of a public scandal involving the Church or its members.
Over the past fifteen years, I ,too have been scandalized and hurt by news stories of the individuals in the Church. Specifically, I’m speaking of those who have victimized the vulnerable or their superiors who have poorly handled their situations. I have had to process the betrayal and mourn the loss of my innocent assumption - that everyone who serves the Church is perfect and striving for holiness.
Then, the Lord reminded me: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
God was calling me not to get distracted even in the midst of a storm of scandal and hurt. He reminded me of my calling, which is to be a disciple of Jesus and His Holy Church. I found myself reflecting and praying with the Apostles, Judas and Peter: “While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him’” (Matthew 26: 47-48).
It’s easy to look at Judas as “the enemy” of Jesus. However, the Gospels are clear that Jesus called Judas to be an Apostle, just like he called the other eleven. Judas walked with Jesus for many years but temptation lured him into scandal and betrayal. Not only did he betray Jesus, he did it through a symbol of friendship and love: a kiss.
There were many others who were close to Jesus and abandoned or denied him. Peter, my namesake and patron saint, was called by Jesus to be the rock on which the Church was to be built. He was chosen as the leader of the Apostles and the first pope. However, he too denied Jesus, not once in a time of weakness, or twice because he was scared, but on three occasions. Peter had multiple opportunities to align himself with Jesus and acknowledge that he was a disciple. Instead, he took all three opportunities to deny his Lord.
It is important to note that Peter was remorseful of his denials and the scandals of sin among the leaders of the Church. “The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62).
Today, dwelling with us are a myriad of distractions and scandals. We are living in a time when it has become far too easy to throw our hands up and say “this is too much” or “why should I follow the Church?”
Why you ask? Because, Jesus. Because he is the resurrection. He is the focal point of the Church. We cannot allow these hurtful distractions to be the center of our faith. Deception will rear its ugly head in times of trouble. It is in difficult circumstances like those we face today, when negativity echoes louder than positivity. We tend to overlook the overwhelming amount of good occurring. This type of goodness is not loud, it does not boast but it is there. There are hundreds upon thousands of men and women in the Church who live every day to help others attain peace and happiness. They accomplish this by spreading the love of God. These are the Church’s humble and holy servants, the ones that are often overlooked. Looking at past centuries we can see examples of this goodness through the holy saints. Many of our saints gave their lives defending their fellow man, and the truth of Jesus and his holy Church. Within our own Chaldean culture, tracing back no more than fifteen years ago, you’ll find martyrs of faith. Those who continued to defend the church and serve their people even to their last breath.
Thus my prayer for all of you is this: be aware, be more conscious, and make meaningful decisions. You can either let yourself get lost in distraction, gossip and negativity, or you can choose not to indulge it. Think of those distractions and scandals that affected your faith. Can you recall moments when you felt a similar form of discord in your spiritual life? Maybe it was invoked when you were reading about Judas and Peter’s denials of Jesus. Or when you reviewed the imperfect history of past actions carried out by individuals in the Church. Maybe you are troubled by the negative news articles regarding recent scandals in the Church. Or possibly you were personally hurt or offended by certain individuals in the Church.
In any of these cases, I urge you to acknowledge your feelings. Contemplate your hurt and sadness, don’t run away from it or turn it into gossip. Pause. Give time to reflect. Most importantly, allow God to heal your faith with his precious blood and “let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Fr. Pierre Konja was ordained a priest in 2011 and is the associate of Holy Cross Chaldean Catholic Church in Farminghton Hills, MI. Konja.Pierre@gmail.com