Sunday, April 14, 2013

3rd Sunday of Easter
Focus Amidst Distraction
Picture: cc ]babi]

Sisters and brothers, have you noticed how the students of today seem to have the uncanny ability to focus even while being subjected  to great distraction? What am I talking about? Well, if you were to visit certain crowded cafés or fast food restaurants around the island–like that Starbucks next to Coronation Plaza, for example–you’ll probably see many students studying there. And some of these students may even be found wearing headphones. Little speakers connected to devices playing music so loud it can be heard even by innocent bystanders. Now, if a concerned parent were to enter such a café, s/he might be excused for quickly jumping to the conclusion that these kids are doing nothing more than just distracting themselves. Rather than truly studying. How can it be possible to do any serious work in the midst of all that noise?

And yet, that’s exactly what these students are doing. Or at least appear to be doing. Instead of being distracted by the noise, or the loud music, they seem to be able to remain focused on the task at hand. To somehow tune out the noise and tune in to the homework. Of course, a bystander can’t really say for sure whether the student is actually studying or just having a good time. It’s hard to determine, there and then, exactly how much work is actually being done. But there does come a time when the truth finally comes to light, doesn’t it? A day of reckoning, as they call it. Isn’t this what tests and examinations are meant to be? Ways to demonstrate how much has actually been learned. Means to discover whether a student has truly been able to focus even in the midst of distraction.

The ability to remain focused even in the midst of distraction. Isn’t this also precisely what we find in our Mass readings today? In the gospel, for example, it’s not too difficult for us to imagine what might be going on in the minds and hearts of Peter and his friends at the beginning of the reading. Which is a continuation from the one we heard last Sunday. As you will recall, in last week’s reading, the risen Christ had given the disciples something to do: Peace be with you, he said. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. The disciples had been sent on a mission. So it’s not unreasonable for us to suppose that what is being described for us in today’s gospel is no ordinary fishing trip. It’s not too farfetched for us to think that the reading is actually telling us how Peter and his friends went about trying to fulfil the task Jesus had given them last week. It’s quite possible that their whole fishing expedition is actually a mission trip. It isn’t really fish they are trying to catch, but people.

Which would make it all the more discouraging and disappointing for them to have worked hard all night and caught nothing. Not a single thing. What failures they must feel themselves to be. Unable to make any headway in the task given to them by the Lord. Very likely, they would be plagued by all kinds of doubts. Doubts about themselves. About their own abilities and worthiness. And perhaps even doubts about Jesus, and the mission he had given to them. In other words, even if it may be very quiet on their boat as they return from their failed fishing/mission trip, it’s very likely that the disciples' minds and hearts are filled with all kinds of distracting noises. Those troublesome interior voices that are all too familiar to those of us who have ever experienced failure and disappointment.

And yet, a remarkable thing happens. Even while being subjected to this painfully distracting interior noise, the disciples are still able to hear and to obey the voice of Jesus. In the midst of their confusion, they are able to focus on the enlightening voice of Jesus, telling them exactly what they need to do to transform their failure into fruitfulness. Throw the net out to starboard and you will find something. Even more important, in the midst of their disappointment, the disciples are able to hear the encouraging voice of Jesus, continuing to call them his friends. Have you caught nothing friends? And, in the midst of their tiredness, they’re able to hear the caring and compassionate voice of the Lord, inviting them to a meal that he himself has prepared for them. Come and have breakfast. Like students studying in a noisy café, the disciples are somehow able to tune out their doubts and to tune in to the voice of the Lord. They are able to remain focused even in the midst of great distraction.

And this is true not just of the gospel, but also of each of the other two readings as well. In both the first and second readings, we find disciples being subjected to the distracting noises that come with persecution. In the first reading, the chief priest fills the air with loud and intimidating demands. We gave you a formal warning, he says, not to preach in this name. And yet, in the midst of this distracting noise, Peter and the other apostles are somehow able to remain focused on the task at hand. Boldly they tell the chief priest that obedience to God comes before obedience to men. And, even after having been flogged, they continue to remain focused on the mission received from the Lord. The mission to bear witness to Christ.

Which is also what John continues to do in the second reading. Despite having been imprisoned on the island of Patmos, John does not let his exile distract him from his mission. Instead of allowing himself to give in to the interior noises of loneliness and self-pity, of discouragement and despair, John remains so focused on his mission that he receives a powerful vision. He hears the heavenly hosts singing the praises of God. And not only does he hear their voices, he is also drawn into their song. Like the disciples in the first reading, John is able to praise God even while undergoing persecution. And this ability to praise God for the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name is a sure sign that the disciples are truly remaining focused on Christ even in the midst of great distraction.

Focus in the midst of distraction. This is what we find in our readings today. Focus in times of failure. Focus in times of persecution. Focus while going through the normal routine of daily living. Focus when the day of reckoning finally arrives. Focus on Christ. Leading to fruitfulness in mission. And isn’t this something that we modern-day Christians need very much as well? We who live in a media-saturated world. A world filled with all manner of distractions. Distractions that come with success, as much as with failure. Distractions that come with being blessed with plenty, as much as with being stricken by poverty. Distractions arising from enjoyment, as much as from deprivation. Distractions that often prevent us from living more fully, from fulfilling more deeply, the mission that we have each received at our Baptism and Confirmation. The mission that we will recall and receive anew at the end of this Mass, when we will hear the words, go and announce the gospel of the Lord. The mission to continue bearing witness to the love of God poured out for us in the Dying and Rising of Jesus Christ the Son.

Sisters and brothers, in the midst of the many distractions in our everyday lives, how can we remain focused on the Lord today?


  1. Dear Risen Lord & Saviour,

    Thank you for speaking to me so clearly in and through this sermon! Deo Gratias!

    Thanks ever so much for this ILLUMINATION - for flooding my soul and my being with YOUR BRILLIANT LIGHT - a light which cannot be dimmed or outshone in any way!

    Thank you, Lord, for a new lease of life - for resurrecting me in my doubts, fears and anxieties.

    Lord, i am ever grateful for You have taught me to FOCUS ON YOU, as MY GOD, the Centre and the ALL of my life.

    With God as the Centre and MAIN FOCUS in my life, everyone and everything else becomes a distraction...

    Lord, show me how to let this truth sink into me, to become a part of me. Teach me to keep YOU always as the MAIN FOCUS in my life. Amen.

    Pax et Bonum

  2. Dear Fr Chris:
    The Good News Ministry website is down today 16th April so I ventured into your blogsite, which never fails to inspire me.
    The difference between the "focus" and "distractions" of students with tiny speakers in their ears poring over their course materials/textbooks, and those of the apostles and John is simply one of a momentous, irrevocable encounter. The apostles had encountered the LORD before, so to re-focus was relatively straight-forward. Methinks some of the students were employing music as a "distraction" to drown their study woes. If only their teachers made a fraction of the impact on their lives as Jesus did on the lives of His disciples! S G Lee.

  3. Friday - 3rd Week of Easter 2013

    O Risen Lord and Saviour,

    Thank you for teaching me to deepen my FOCUS ON YOU, throughout this week..

    Despite my daily challenges, LORD, I THANK YOU for showing me to KEEP MY FOCUS ONLY ON YOU.

    Despite the painful distractions of my ongoing interior voices - voices which seem to lure me away from you - voices of doubts, self pity, despair and darkness etc - LORD, I THANK YOU for gently guiding me back to YOU and to YOUR LOVING EMBRACE!

    Like a sheep who had gone astray - a lost sheep whom YOU had saved and redeemed, I now feel very safe and secure in You, MY LORD MY SHEPHERD, for only in You will I find my life's happiness and fulfilment.

    Lord, please lead me back to You, each time I stray and go out of focus. Lord, may I never be parted from you, for without You, I am nothing and I can no longer exist.

    Deo Gratias for this precious lesson - a lesson to KEEP MY FOCUS ON GOD AND GOD ALONE.

    Peace and All Good

  4. I remember listening to the radio while studying, as studying alone can be a bore. Radio made the drudgery a bit more bearable. Right now, we have SO many distractions - work, children, friends, Internet, TV, parents etc. Life is very busy, and it's easy to forget or neglect God and our faith as it's invisible.

    I wonder if God then should be my radio, to make life more bearable. If I tune in to God, then life is not such a whirlwind of "busyness" and scurrying around ...


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