Pay attention

July 29, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Luke 9:43b-45.

While they were all amazed at his every deed, he said to his disciples, “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

This is another one of those puzzling passages to me at first reading. Why would Jesus tell them to pay attention, but then hide the meaning of his instruction to them?

The voice of God coming from within a cloud had just told Peter, James, and John on the mountain after the transfiguration to listen to His son. Now, Jesus was reinforcing it. I can’t remember another verse wherein Jesus said, “Pay attention to what I am telling you.” Those are the exact words I told my kids when they were young usually in a stern or commanding voice. I’m sure they were afraid to tell me that they didn’t understand what I was telling them either.

The disciples were all ordinary men, not stupid but not wise either. They were continually amazed by the miraculous deeds that Jesus was able to perform, impressed by the enormous crowds he drew, and hung on the words of his teachings which was so radically different from what their own experiences had taught them. This is the second time that Jesus told them that he was going to be handed over to men who held the power of life and death in their hands. No wonder they didn’t understand. It didn’t make sense in any ordinary way of thinking. Jesus spoke to them with such command that they were reluctant to expose their inability to understand, their cluelessness.

I think I’m clueless a good deal of the time. I’m so wrapped up in my own life, its challenges and demands, that I can’t immediately understand or apply Jesus’ teachings in my daily life. He tells me time and again to pay attention, but I’m so distracted by everything else going on that I find it hard to do. When I do divert my attention to him and to his words, often I can’t at first understand them clearly. It’s only when I slow down, really listen to him, and process what he’s telling me without interrupting him with my needs and petitions, that I begin to get it. That’s what discernment is all about — “about living out your faith in the real world” as James Martin writes in the chapter titled “What Should I Do?” in The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.

My life gets in the way of my relationship with Jesus. We have a lot of family coming at the end of this week for a long stay. While I enjoy them, it’s also stressful. I get in a tug of war with my mother-in-law, each of us trying to wrest control from the other. Cindy and I become overly sensitive to one another, taking offense where none is really intended. It doesn’t take long before I’m a mess. It’s an emotional state that Martin calls “feelings of spiritual ‘desolation,’ which Ignatius describes as movements to ‘disquiet from various agitations and temptations,’ [that] signal that you’re on the wrong path.”

Maybe I should say that my life diverts my attention from Jesus. That’s when it’s especially important for me to slow down, pay attention to his words, and discern his intention for me. Martin writes, “Ignatius realized that if you act in accord with God’s desires for you, you will naturally feel a sense of peace. That insight — that following God’s invitation leads to peace — is a central part of Ignatian discernment. If you are in accord with God’s presence within you, you will feel a sense of rightness, of peace, of what Ignatius called ‘consolation.’ It is an indication that you’re on the right path.”

I think I need to find a hermitage this week! But, of course, that’s not going to happen. I need to find that accord with God’s spirit within me and then my life will reflect my relationship with Jesus instead of getting in the way.



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