Disengaging Autopilot This Lent

reflective womanI think we’ve all done it, though few of us would care to admit it. I’ll step out on a limb and admit it: I recently caught myself thinking about my dinner plans right at about the same time as our priest was holding up the Body of Christ during the consecration. I have been known to stop my prayer mid-sentence because my lips are moving, but my mind is in another place entirely. Sometimes at night when I review my day in the Examen, I can’t even remember the grace I prayed for that morning. I don’t always think about what I’m doing or saying. Sometimes, I admit, I am running on autopilot.

My autopilot mode was jostled lately by Pope Francis’s words during one of his weekly audiences: “How do we experience the Eucharist? When we go to Sunday Mass, how do we live it? Is it only a moment of celebration, an established tradition, an opportunity to find oneself or to feel justified, or is it something more?” This startled me, perhaps because I consider church to be my “go to” place when I need to escape the world outside of its doors. Sometimes this leads to Mass becoming routine and all about me. Did I let the Eucharist, this great gift from God, become rote and ordinary? Have I let autopilot get in the way of something more?

Autopilot gives us a sense of ease and comfort as we go about our lives. Routine feels secure. But does anyone really find God on autopilot? Jesus never said, “Come, follow me; it will be easy and you won’t really have to think about it.” I know in my heart that I cannot be Christ for others when I am not fully present in the moment. No, I desire something more.

All of this leads me to my Lenten promise this year: disengage autopilot. The grace I seek is to be fully present, to live each moment fully engaged. How am I going to live that out? I suppose that’s what the Lenten journey is all about. Maybe it starts with aiming for at least one moment each day that I step out of my own little world and focus on serving the person before me. Maybe it means ticking off little marks on a sheet of paper each time I catch myself spacing out during the day. The goal is clear, though, and that is when the Body of Christ is held up for me to behold next time, I will have only my crucified Christ—who is always fully present to me—on my mind and in my heart.


  1. Cara, your comment about what Jesus never said, ” …follow me, it will be easy and you won’t have to think about it,” just struck me today as pretty funny. It was spot on. Since discovering the Jesuit way of spirituality I do find that I think about intentional acts of kindness more and more. Keep up your good work 👍

  2. Exactly what St Ignatius calls us to, to see our Lord in everything, to be present to Him and our mission …to desire to follow Him ever closer.
    Lovely reflection, thank you.

  3. This certainly spoke to me on zoning out at Mass. Thank you it’s good to know others do that, too. This was a good reminder.

  4. Amen to what you said Cara. And thank you to all others who find themselves zoning out during Mass. It’s something I find myself
    doing also. Hard as we try . . . we are all human. God bless us to stay focused.

  5. Listen. To be fully present, we must fully listen; for in nature, loved ones, co-workers, etc Jesus is speaking; as He speaks in the breaking of the bread and the cup.

  6. This is spot on for me today! I use a Missal at Mass because I realized I too was fully distracted to Mass. Now I am able to focus and feel so connected to the Eucharistic celebration. Thank you for your encouragement.

    • Thanks Eileen! This is what I do too. I try to focus even on certain words or phrases that might have a special impact or meaning for me that day. I know my reply is long in coming, but it is wonderful when we hear of others that use this same thing to stay focused and that we are not alone with being distracted at times. Mass is such a great time to slow down and be immersed in God’s love and using the missal helps me so much. God’s many blessing to you and all!

  7. Thank you, Cara. I too so often find myself somewhere else during Mass, yes, even in those most sacred moments, bringing myself back to the presence of Christ and then drifting away yet again. Even wondered at one point if daily Mass had just become a habit to perform, so insulting to Jesus that it would be better to stop going. But then asked myself what better place to be to ask for help in recognizing God’s unending desire and love for me, flawed human that I am. Your words are helpful to me. Thank you for being a conduit of grace for me today.

  8. I find sitting in the front pew keeps me focused on the Mass and I too love the prayer “My Lord and my God”. I also find that closing my eyes during all the readings help me to hear and understand them better and I can in my mind feel like I am in the reading–contemplative prayer. Blessings to all

    • June – I sit near the front, too, and have been closing my eyes during the readings for the last few years. I do find it really helps. I had not, however, entered the readings contemplatively as you do – I will definitely give that a try. What a wonderful way to be present!

  9. Pope Francis has spoken so meaningfully about renewing our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and our focus during Mass. He spoke out against idle chatter in church! No one is addressing this issue from the pulpit. We need to return to silence and reverence .

  10. Cara, I need reminder after reminder to be more present. Thanks for being another one of God’s graces for me this morning.

  11. Hi Cara, thanks for being honest, I believe despite our good and sincere intentions we sometimes go adrift during Holy Mass. when I find myself in that situation I quickly ask theHoly Spirit to take away my distractions. At the Consecration I try my best to focus on Jesus outpouring love for me when the Host is lifted up.
    Have a blessed Lenten journey

  12. This ties in so well with today’s other blog on mindfulness. And both are of particular relevance to me because I spend most of my life zoned out! In my case it is a habit I developed as a child to protect myself from my environment. At 70 years of age, I’m still struggling to break the habit. What I do find useful is to spend some time in contemplative prayer. I’m hoping this will spill over into the rest of my life.

  13. If we say the prayer of St Thomas: “My Lord and my God” when we see the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Consecration, then we will keep our focus.

  14. Thank you, Cara, for sharing this. I fully endorse what you have to say. It makes me feel a little less guilty for letting my mind wander during sacred moments – its a very human trait. Like you, I will try to focus on what is really important. You have helped me today.

  15. Cara, thank you for this, it’s something I really struggle with. I keep reminding myself to come back into the present moment, and then the thoughts come in and I realise Mass is nearly over. Maybe the answer is to stop struggling so much and trust God to help me. God bless, Barbara

  16. Hi, Cara,
    Your words really spoke to me. So often I find myself looking past who or what is right in front of me and thinking three or four steps ahead.
    A couple of years back, when I was able to spend time with my Mom towards the end of her life, I would just come and be with her. I pray for the grace to return more and more to that way of being, so as not to miss out on the presence/present before me.

  17. I find this post of some concern because no-one wants to be on autopilot in charge of a motor vehicle for example. Sometimes through illness people have found themselves in that position – however no thinking person, spiritual or not, would wish to fall victim of accident from a motorist on autopilot.
    When the Body of Christ is held up I lower my head. My vision is not of Christ crucified but of Christ in the prayer ‘Christ before me’. So sorry to have expressed my concern so strongly at the beginning.

  18. Cara, this is certainly an excellent reminder to be intentionally present no matter what we are doing – but especially to be present to our Lord. Have a blessed Lenten journey.

  19. Hi Cara, thanks for sharing your experience. I too, and probably others, zone out at embarrassing moments and find that I have to return to small steps of intentional consciousness in order to live in the present moment fully alive to its call . Great Lenten reminder.


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