Weekly Homilies

Training Our Spiritual Minds (Mark 1: 20-28)

January 28, 2024 Fr. Mark Suslenko Season 7 Episode 6
Training Our Spiritual Minds (Mark 1: 20-28)
Weekly Homilies

Hi everyone, and welcome to Weekly Homilies with Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. We are part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. I'm Carol Vassar, parish director of communications, and this is Episode 6 of Season 7 for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 28, 2024. Our Gospel reading is from Mark, Chapter 1, verses 21-28.

Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 

In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"

Jesus rebuked him and said, "Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, "What is this?A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

The Gospel of the Lord

“Training Our Spiritual Minds,” by Father Mark S. Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut

One of the experiences we all share in as human beings is dealing with distraction,  Not only do we all deal with distraction, but we're also very frustrated at times by distractions presence in our lives. And it may come at a time when we're trying to learn something new and absorb some knowledge, and our drifting thoughts bring us away from what we're trying to read, what we're trying to absorb, and interrupts our ability to comprehend and to remember what is before us. Other times, we're going about a particular task or trying to listen to a particular person, and something from outside of us distracts us and takes our attention away from what is currently before us.  

Whatever form distraction takes, we all deal with it in one way, shape, or form or another. Sometimes, these distractions come from outside of ourselves. Sometimes they generate from within ourselves. Sometimes, the distractions are more controllable. Other times, they are beyond our control.  So the question really becomes, what power do we give distraction over us? Because in addition to those examples I already gave, we do, at sometimes, purposely employ distraction in our lives to prevent ourselves from dealing with something else that needs attention.  We purposely seek a diversion so that we don't have to look at or attend to what really needs attention.  

And so, what role does distraction play in our everyday lives? Because if we're bombarded with distractions as we go about our daily business, it's also going to interrupt our prayer and our relationship with God. 

You know, if we look at St. Paul's writings throughout the New Testament and the letters that he wrote to the particular communities at the time,  there are themes that emerge that can be found in all of his compositions. And three that are a bit more prevalent are this: he instructs those early Christians to be free from anxieties, to be free from anxieties.  He instructs them to have an adherence to the Lord without distraction,  an adherence to the Lord, without distraction.  And he also instructs them to pray unceasingly, to pray unceasingly.  

Now, let's step back for a moment and look at the content of our daily lives, what we're asked to do, what we want to do, and how things unfold as each day goes into the next,  and listen to what he's asking of us once again,  to be free from anxiety,  to have an adherence to the Lord without distraction,  and to pray unceasingly.  

As you hear those words and as you understand those words,  are they things that you see yourself being able to do?  Or do you look upon the substance of your life and say there's too much going on for me to even hope to be able to do any of those things? I'm filled with worry and anxiety.  I don't adhere to the Lord without distraction, and I allow distraction to enter into my life,  and I don't pray unceasingly.  And so, concluding that those things are out of our reach, we simply dismiss them and leave them for someone who may have the time and the attention and the desire to actually do them.  And if we find ourselves coming to that conclusion today,  then maybe we need to understand what is behind those words a bit more. 

As we look at the substance of our lives, we have to define what we mean first by prayer.  When we hear that word, prayer, perhaps we start thinking of individual prayers that we are akin to taking time for prayer, saying our prayers. We treat prayer simply as an activity, amongst other activities that I embrace. I have my prayer time,  and once the activity is over, we then go on to the next thing and jump into the next venue that is before us and requiring our attention. And so, if we look at prayer as just another activity and we hear those words to pray unceasingly, we say to ourselves, how can we not do anything else other than pray?  And so we reason that it's impractical even to attempt to do so.  

But if we look at prayer and our relationship with God with a bigger lens in the way that St. Paul was looking at this, because don't forget those early Christians live life as we do. They had their jobs. They had their responsibilities. Some of them were married, some of them were not. But they all were the mix of folks that you and I find ourselves to be. And in just different ways than we see today, they had their commitments and their responsibilities, but he gave the same instructions to them as well.  

The question really becomes, for you and I, as we go out into the world, as we conduct the business of our lives, what do we bring with us?  What state of being do we bring into the world, into our work, into our homes?  How do we look at, through what lens do we analyze things? Do we evaluate things? Because there's so much coming at us, and even the young folks today,  so much is presented to you through the internet. How do you begin to look at that stuff and evaluate what is healthy versus unhealthy, good versus bad, real versus fake?  I mean, let's admit it, we can go on the internet, and what appears to be real really is not. And so we live in this world that is asking us to evaluate and to make our way through is what can be kind of treacherous territory and territory that can end up hurting us if we're not careful.  That's why parents are so concerned about what their kids are embarking upon when they get on their phones and in their chat rooms and all of the other stuff that plays out. What state do we bring with us?  

Well, this fellow by the name of Meister Eckhart, a 13th-century mystical writer and also a philosopher, and you're thinking, perhaps, what does somebody in the 13th century have to say about what we're doing now? Well, quite a bit, because the wisdom is age to age and always relevant regardless of whether, how, whether, and how times change.  And he says, you have to, in your spiritual life, train yourself to be in the right state, to train yourself to be in the right state. And he says you have to train your inner mental processes to turn toward and strive after God. To turn toward and strive after God. Now, when we put this into perspective, it makes perfect sense.  You know, a lot of us, when we were growing up, got involved in sports. A lot of the young people here today play a sport, football, soccer, baseball, whatever it might be. A lot of the girls are invested in dance,  and there's one thing we all know about something: if we want to achieve a goal, if we want to do something, if we want to be good at it. We have to practice and practice and practice and practice. We have to want to be good. We have to want to be able to be a significant part of what we're investing our time in. And so it doesn't matter if the practices are in the afternoon for two hours. If the goal is to really produce and to be a viable part of this team, then I'm going to give it what is required. And I'm gonna fail, and I'm gonna succeed, and I'm gonna pick myself up, and I'm gonna try again, and we're gonna do what needs to be done until I'm proficient at the task at hand. 

Well, it's no different with our spiritual lives, as we have to train to become proficient in worldly things. We have to train even harder to become proficient in our spiritual lives and in divine things. It's not going to just happen.  We have to train our inner minds to turn ourselves toward God and strive after God and make that conscious choice, and then call ourselves back to that choice and remind ourselves of that choice until it becomes a part of us and we own it.  And as it becomes a part of us, Meister Eckhart tells us we're going to be able to receive God as God reveals himself to us in all things,  and our minds are going to be trained to also see God's presence in all things and in our desires and in our love.  And we're going to find ourselves falling in love with this mystery of God.  And as we do so, we take baby steps and we find our way along.  

And so I'm sure all of us at some point or another have sat down to pray, and maybe we've taken some rote prayers that we know, like the Our Father or the Hail Mary or the rosary or whatever form of prayer we may want. Maybe we read scripture.  And we find ourselves, our minds begin to wander as we pray, and we get frustrated with ourselves because we can't seem to stay focused,  and we consider this perhaps a failure, that because I cannot stay focused, then I'm not succeeding. And so if I can't succeed, then this is useless, and I'm going to put that away.  And so our attempts at prayer get tabled because we don't feel that we can give it the attention.  

Well, consider this: distractions are a part of life. It's what we do with them that makes the difference. If we allow the distraction to get the best of us, the distraction will get the best of us. If we try to curb the distraction, the distraction will not have as much power over us.

So it works like this: if you take 15 minutes of time for prayer,  and during those 15 minutes, you find yourself distracted 50 times.  If, 50 times, you turn yourself back to the task at hand and continue to do so, that is far better than not taking the time for prayer at all because the desire to turn yourself back and refocus your attention is really an act of love.  What you're saying is it is good to remain committed in this time and in this relationship, even though it's difficult to keep me here without distraction for this moment.  God sees that as an act of love.  

And so when we put it into this context, what actually happens is prayer begins to change in here.  It becomes less about a moment in time or an activity and more about the acquiring of a disposition of changing how I see life and how I understand things and what's gonna happen over time as we begin to practice and practice and practice \and fail and pick ourselves up and try again and devote more time and create more of a relationship, we're going to see our life-changing. How we make decisions is going to change. What we see as important is going to change. What we allow to come into our worldview from the internet is going to change. What we take is true, and right is going to change. We're going to find ourselves more focused because we're going to be going into life with the right state of mind. 

So, in that context, then,  are St. Paul's words really all that out of reach?  To live with freedom from anxiety?  Well, worry and fears will go away and be diminished at least, the stronger our relationship with God becomes.  To adhere to the Lord without distraction will become less of a difficulty because the power that distraction can have will be lessened,  and we will find ourselves praying unceasingly because every breath of our life will then become a prayer because it's filled with the power and presence of God himself. Because isn't that another one of St. Paul's teachings to put on Christ and to become like Christ? Well, that's what happens when we develop a firm habit of prayer and train ourselves to be in the right state of mind. 

Father Mark Suslenko is the pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Learn more about our parish community at www.isidoreandmaria.org. And follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our music comes free of charge from Blue Dot Sessions in Fall River, Massachusetts. I’m Carol Vassar. Thanks for joining us.