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Discerning the Laity: Preoccupation

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Apr. 03, 2012

            There are a thousand things that you need to do; and not only do you need to do them, but you need to do them well.  The lives of college students and young adults sometimes morph into an elaborate scheme that treats you like a ping pong ball, being knocked about swiftly and divergently—clearly directed, but to you it all seems very harsh and aimless. 

            It is in the craziest, most chaotic moments of our lives that we can begin to see who we really are, and perhaps who we are not.  When all the world is calling our names, asking for our time, demanding our attention we must use this moment to discover what we will heed.  When everything must be done, what becomes our priority?  What do we find ourselves addressing first?  The answer is telling—the answer is what we would call our preoccupations.

            ‘Preoccupation’ is a great word—it means ‘what seizes you beforehand;’ literally showing us what absorbs our mind and mental faculties without effort, by default.  Most people think preoccupation stands for wandering through the world inattentively.  However, preoccupation is a very focused state-of-mind—the only problem is that it focuses on one thing.  Our preoccupied minds are not able to pay attention to anything else except that single, ultimate concern that while the rest of the world burns down around you, you are fixated on it.  You are caught by it—grasping it, but more importantly being grasped by it. 

            Everyone of us in the Laity are preoccupied.  We are anxiously navigating a sinful world, we are being pulled at, tugged at, urgently hearing the demands of this-and-that-and-everything being made of us.  In the midst of dizziness and whirlwind, where do we put our attention?  What is our priority?  The things we let preoccupy our minds are the things in which we put our trust—the things we will grasp upon, the things we will seize upon without a fight, with open-arms.  The Laity have so many candidates offered to us on a platter—money, good grades, jobs, prestige, sorority/fraternity, sex, family, parties, largesse…you name it.  They all want our attention, our focus.  They can be achieved, if only they are given the coveted position of being our preoccupation. 

            Whichever candidate you pick, whatever preoccupation you possess, it is this thing that takes precedence over all others—it is your preoccupation that you build your life around.  Everything else fits along the circumference of this single, solitary point, the ground that we stand upon so firmly and rooted.  Our preoccupations are our foundations—they dictate how we build our lives because they dictate from what and for what we build our lives.  And when all the world is hurling its enormous demands you will unveil the one thing you will not compromise.  And, again, I ask: what is that thing for you?

            The whole issue with preoccupations isn’t that being preoccupied is wrong—on the contrary, being preoccupied can be very much a good.  However, the Laity’s position in the world is not to demonstrate how effectively one can do this-or-that, make this-or-that, build this-or-that.  The Laity are called to bring Christ into the world—to be Christ in the world.  The problems that are so desperate in the world today are derivative of people being preoccupied with the wrong things.  And that is precisely where the problem begins—things. 

            Things are not bad, stuff is not evil.  Yet, stuff and things are not our ends—they are our means.  If we seek to be preoccupied, we ought make it count—we ought be preoccupied with an end, not a means.  Reject the preoccupation of things, and begin to discern how we can more effectively be preoccupied with a person.  Indeed, “all things are right and proper in their setting.  But the basis and meaning of the Church is a person.  And not a vague person, but one with a specific name: Jesus Christ” (Kasper, 15).  If He is not our preoccupation, then how does the Church become the basis for society—how does God’s Kingdom come? 

             Unless we are preoccupied with Christ, unless He is the sure footing upon which we stand, when the Cross is offered to us on the smorgasbord of life, what would motivate us to embrace it?!   The Cross is ever within our reach, but our hands are simply not reaching for it—they are busy stretching in other directions.  We run when times get tough—we hide like our forefather Adam.  If we won’t embrace the Cross, if we will not heed Christ, then we can’t reasonably expect the next person.  Yet until we all get on board (in fact, nailed to the board), then we will remain anxiously waiting and unsatisfied.  So long as we are running in frantic circles, we will find ourselves grasping for mere things—clutching for decay, scrapping for lowliness, scuttling for quicksand.  Just as in all things Catholic—if you want to change the world, you must change yourself.  Your preoccupation will not begin to occupy the world until they have truly preoccupied your heart, preoccupied your mind.  The world needs examples, the world needs saints!  Recall St. Faustina’s words: “Jesus, I trust in you.”  Be preoccupied with Jesus!