The Word Among Us

January 2018 Issue

The Sunday Struggle

Triumphing over distraction to discover more at Mass.

By: Nicole Lavagnino

The Sunday Struggle: Triumphing over distraction to discover more at Mass. by Nicole Lavagnino

Have you ever been late to Mass and had to sit in the front row? That’s where we ended up last summer while on our family vacation.

We got lost on our way to Mass, and the usher kindly escorted us to our seats—right up front. God had a funny sense of humor that day because one of my biggest pet peeves is to have to sit in the front row, and one of my husband’s biggest pet peeves is to be late for Mass. I was totally distracted and upset by these things. But then, I felt the Lord speaking to my heart. “I want you to have a front row seat to the Mass,” he said. “I want you to see the amazing miracle that is taking place on the altar.” If I had been in the back, I might have missed out. But God used the readings, the homily, and even the initial awkwardness that day to soften my heart to hear his voice. It wasn’t about where we sat or when we arrived but the fact that he was there to feed us with his very Real Presence. That Sunday was a new awakening for me.

The Struggle on Sunday. I am the mother of three young children, so just getting to Mass can be half of the battle. My prayer is often “Thank you, Lord, for helping me get everyone here with both shoes on their feet.” It’s hard to come with an open heart when it takes so much energy just to leave the house.

The other half of the battle is against distraction—the couple whispering in front of us, the child who sneezes messily just before the Sign of Peace, or the gentleman to the left who is singing off-key. Sometimes it isn’t until halfway through the Mass that I realize where I am.

But no matter how many noises or disturbances occur, the Mass provides a tremendous opportunity for me to do what I was made to do, which is to praise God, to hear his voice, and to receive his life within me. So the real battle—the spiritual battle—is to enter into the presence of the Lord and to listen for the things that God wants me to hear.

Sometimes all it takes is a prayer at the very beginning: “Lord, please open my eyes to see you and my ears to hear you!”

Be Honest with Jesus. The first time I remember experiencing the Lord’s still, small voice at Mass was when I was twelve years old. My parents’ finances were tight, and my grandfather had just passed away. My heart was hungry for God’s presence. Sitting in the back of the church, I prayed, “Jesus, I believe in my head that you are truly here, but I’m having trouble knowing it in my heart. Please show me.”

When the priest held up the Host for the consecration, I felt a new and powerful sense of peace and joy. Jesus was really present! I didn’t see anything, but I knew deep down that he was there. After Mass, the priest stunned me by saying that God had brought me specifically to his mind during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus had answered my prayer. It was comforting to know that I was not alone in that challenging time of life. After that experience, I started praying, “Lord, I believe; please help my unbelief” every time I went up to Communion. It became a small way for me to tell God that I want to have faith and to know him more and more each week. Moments like these have been some of my most powerful experiences of prayer.

Make Each Mass New. One of my favorite priests once suggested that I think about how each Mass would change for me if it were my very first Mass or my very last. When I did this, I found myself paying closer attention to all of the parts of the Mass. For example, I have been drawn into the Collect lately. That’s the opening prayer that the priest prays after the Gloria. My mind used to glaze over as the priest intoned these words, until I started listening more closely.

A recent Collect (they are different each day) prayed this way: Amid the uncertainties of this world, may our hearts be fixed on that place where true gladness is found. That’s a beautiful prayer! I experience the Lord’s touch through prayers like this one. I also love to think about each line of the creed and to pay special attention to the Communion Antiphon that is read right before everyone goes up for Communion.

Besides the “first and last time” strategy, I try to prepare for Mass by praying through the readings ahead of time. This allows me to listen for God’s word to me specifically when the word is proclaimed to the whole congregation.

Jesus lived two thousand years ago, but he is present in every chapel, basilica, or altar where Mass is offered. I’m just beginning to realize the immensity of this gift, and I pray that my children will come to this realization as well. God wants Mass to be a time of encounter when he speaks to us and sustains us. In our ups and downs, as we offer him a little bit more of our attention and our heart at each Mass, he will be faithful.

Nicole Lavagnino lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband and three children.

Dive deeper with our NEW Something More series!

Week in and week out, we go to Mass, and morning and night, we say our prayers. Of course God is pleased with our efforts, but he wants these times with him to be more than religious obligations. How can Mass and prayer become grace-filled moments in which we are nourished and encouraged by the Lord?

As a special resource for parishes or for any Catholic, The Word Among Us is launching the Something More Faith Series, edited by popular author and speaker Mark Hart.

Getting More Out of Mass and Getting More Out of Prayer, the first two booklets in the series, accompany readers step-by-step as they discover that “something more” that God desires for them. Designed for use by small groups, couples, or individuals, each booklet offers five short sessions, with each including a Scripture passage, questions for reflection, and follow-up prayer exercises. The third booklet in the series, Getting More Out of Confession, is scheduled to release in August of 2018.

Getting More Out of Mass and Getting More Out of Prayer (softcover, 40 pp) are available from The Word Among Us at 1-800-775-9673. For more information about the Something More faith series visit