Loading...
Loading...
Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Nathan SchneiderMarch 07, 2017
Pope Francis leads the Benediction following eucharistic adoration in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican June 2. Catholics gathered at the same time for eucharistic adoration in cathedrals and parishes around the world for the first Vatican-organized global holy hour. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)Pope Francis leads the Benediction following eucharistic adoration in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican June 2. Catholics gathered at the same time for eucharistic adoration in cathedrals and parishes around the world for the first Vatican-organized global holy hour. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In Joan Didion’s account of the notorious 1989 Central Park jogger case, she refers in passing to the reaction of Donald J. Trump—then merely a flamboyant real-estate developer—to protests against his calls for hastily executing the (wrongly) accused rapists, five black and Latino teenagers. “I don’t mind if they picket,” Mr. Trump told The New York Times. “I like pickets.”

The day after his inauguration, what was likely the largest simultaneous protest in U.S. history took place in cities around the country; one can extrapolate to imagine how little it troubled him.

Politics is not merely a struggle over the command of people. It is a quest to command attention. Good attention, bad attention—the kind matters less than its constancy. The current powers that be have made this more evident than usual. Dissidents might take pause in noticing that, whether one is pro-Trump or anti-Trump—reveling in one of his effervescent rallies or taking a stand in protest—one is still transacting in the attention economy of Mr. Trump. If you are ever-awaiting his next tweet, you’re caught in that power.

Christianity is a religion of attention. Whom does one notice, the beggar or the pharisee?

Christianity is a religion of attention. Attention matters maybe even more than faith, more than works. Attention binds them together. Whom does one notice, the beggar or the pharisee? Which stories does one tell? What verses and scenes do we hold in our hearts? For us, images are not graven if they rightly orient us, if they steer our attention to the God of love. And this religion makes totalizing claims on headspace. As the hymn goes, “How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.”

That heavenly anthem has had unusually loud competition from politicians lately. But we still have a choice to put our attention elsewhere, and I am grateful that I’m not alone in trying to choose.

There’s no rule at my parish that the candlelit adoration before Tuesday night Mass is for college students, but they are mainly who come—they and a few young nuns in habits. Some sit, some kneel. Some read, some stare at the ceiling. Some look at their glowing phones; they’re young enough, I guess, not to consider the devices profane. The choir practices downstairs, their muted sound emanating faintly from behind the Eucharist on the altar. Some listen, some don’t. What you do doesn’t matter so much as whom you do it with.

One student comes to her pew, and a friend asks how she is. “Life,” she says. “Life is happening.”

I do a lot of looking around. The students’ distractions, somehow, all seem to point toward the one thing we have in common, the thing that brought us here. I would be more distracted if it weren’t for them; for the reminder that each of them represents that we do have a choice in what we adore. As the time of Mass nears, our numbers grow from a few to dozens, and then dozens more. I feel the wood beneath me. I am here.

Seeing matters, too. I take off my glasses and can’t see the monstrance, only the glowing candle fires around it, and I have to put them back on. If I were blind, probably the Presence would feel like something else to me. But since I can see, I need to be able to see it—to see Him, the Body, the Criminal.

Where we pay attention, we lend our power.

The novelist Iris Murdoch devoted the last of her philosophical treatises to the moral import of how we learn and choose to pay attention. “The idea of attention or contemplation, of looking carefully at something and holding it before the mind, may be conveyed early on in childhood,” she wrote. She imagined a parent pointing certain things out (and not others) to a child: “‘Look, listen, isn’t that pretty, isn’t that nice?’ Also, ‘Don’t touch!’”

She went on, “This is moral training as well as preparation for a pleasurable life.”

This is religious training, too, and preparation for a political life.

Where we pay attention, we lend our power. We cannot simply ignore power away, however; vigilance over authorities requires attention, too. Yet even vigilance, like protest, can be a kind of fealty.

I do not know what you think about the politics of the present—about the president, for instance—any more than I know what the students were doing on their phones at adoration. This is a time of enthusiasms, of all-absorbing demands on our attention. From whatever direction we look, it’s an especially hard moment to keep our eyes on the center, on the God of love, the body of the Criminal; but for a decent politics, we must.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Richard Booth
5 years 3 months ago

Interesting take, Nathan. No attending, no orienting. No orienting, chaotic mind.

The latest from america

A Mexican soldier patrols outside the Church in Cerocahui, Mexico, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
The bishops’ statement followed the slayings of two Jesuits and a person they were protecting in their parish—a crime attributed to a local crime boss in a part of the country dominated by drug cartels.
President Truman's envoy to the Vatican, Myron C. Taylor, left, has an audience with Pope Pius XII at Castelgandolfo near Rome, on Aug. 26, 1947. (AP Photo/Luigi Felici, File)
The documentation, published amid renewed debate about the legacy of the World War II-era pope, contains 2,700 files of requests for Vatican help from Jewish groups and families.
A school bus in front of a building; the building has a yellow banner on it that says “imagine a future free of gun violence.”
One month after Uvalde, we are growing numb to gun violence. Even so, we must resolve to comfort the mourners, to beat guns into plowshares, and to say “never again” and mean it.
Britt LubyJune 24, 2022
A man bows his head in prayer before a computer screen showing nine people doing the same
As pandemic restrictions have eased, most parishioners have returned to in-person Masses. But some would prefer the option for virtual services to remain.
Keara HanlonJune 24, 2022