Turning our Attention to Jesus

I recently read an essay by Simone Weil about the relationship between academic study and our love of God. She wrote the essay in the early 20th century to encourage eighth graders in their studies. Weil promotes the concept of attention in her essay. Namely, that both academic studies and prayer require our attention. While we are tempted, and indeed rewarded, for measuring academic success by grades or other external factors, Weil argues that the quality of attention matters more, both in academics and in our relationship with God. 

Today’s Gospel brings to mind this idea of how we give our attention and how we measure the fruitfulness of that attention. Jesus has just fed the 5000 by multiplying the loaves and fishes. After working this miracle, his disciples retreat across the sea to Capernaum and encounter Jesus walking on the water three or four miles from shore (Jn 6:19).

While we can’t tell from Scripture, the crowds might have witnessed this scene since they knew where to find Jesus even though they knew that he did not initially leave the shore with the disciples (Jn 6:22). The crowd followed Jesus to Capernaum.

John tells us that these people were “seeking Jesus” (Jn. 6:24). They were giving Jesus their attention. But much like our efforts today, the crowd’s efforts were flawed. Jesus told the crowds that they were seeking him “not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (Jn 6:27). Jesus admonishes the crowds not to labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life.   

The crowd is so relatable. They seek Jesus, but for a reward or a particular result. How often do we do this too? We pray for the resolution of a crisis. We pray for our families. We even pray for sports games and parking spots! But how often do we pray simply to sit at his feet and give Jesus our attention? 

In Weil’s essay, she reminds us that when we focus our attention on grasping truth, we “acquire a greater aptitude for grasping it, even if the effort produces no visible fruit.” Prayer is a lot like this. Whenever we turn our attention to God, we grow in relationship with him. When we simply give God our attention, what we find is that his attention is fixed squarely on us. So let’s figuratively follow Jesus across the sea to Capernaum today. But let’s follow him there to give him our attention and to spend time simply being in prayer with our Lord.

Contact the author

Elizabeth Tomlin is the author of Joyful Momentum: Building and Sustaining Vibrant Women’s Groups and contributing author to the Ave Prayer Book for Catholic Mothers. She is General Counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. Elizabeth is an Army wife and mother of three and currently lives in the DC area. She blogs at JoyfulMomentum.org or @elizabethannetomlin on social media.

Feature Image Credit: diearle, https://pixabay.com/photos/sea-of-galilee-israel-water-2442442/