The image of a young woman absorbed in prayer appears in the second pane of our Advent calendar in this week’s Catholic Messenger (Pages 6-7). Accompanying the photo is a caption that reads, “Use this Advent season to ready your heart for Jesus. In what ways can you improve your relationship with him?” A simple, but essential question for us to contemplate these next four weeks and beyond.
Prayer, as the image in the calendar suggests, provides us with a foundation, but the question suggests intentionality in prayer that can be challenging this time of year for all of us caught up in the demands of the secular world. We must be vigilant in hearing the voice of God, who calls us to reach out to others in the public and private spaces we inhabit. We, as a society, and as people of faith, must allow prayer to soften our hearts so that we can shed our self-righteous, winner-take-all mentality to improve our relationships with one another, and in turn, with God.
The readings for the first Sunday of Advent (Nov. 27), call us to vigilance. Paul says, “… it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11-14). Matthew tells his audience, “Therefore, stay awake!” (24:37-44). “The secret to being vigilant is prayer,” Pope Francis tells us. It keeps the lamp of our heart lit, brings us back to God and reawakens our soul from slumber so that we can focus on what matters, on the purpose of existence (Vatican News, Nov. 29, 2021).
Prayer “ought to animate us at every moment,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. “We must remember God more often than we draw breath” (No. 2697). We exercise our prayer muscles in many ways, among them, the Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina, Contemplative Prayer, eucharistic adoration, the rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet and the Daily Examen. Learn more about these prayer forms online or in a Catholic bookstore. Here’s a sample of websites for prayer resources:
• U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website (usccb.org/catholic-prayers).
• USCCB Daily Scripture readings, (bible.usccb.org/daily-bible-reading).
• Word on Fire Daily Gospel Reflections (https://tinyurl.com/ka4p5544).
• Ignatian Spirituality website for the Daily Examen (https://tinyurl.com/4wrs79au).
• Catholic Relief Services website for prayer resources (crs.org/get-involved/prayer-resources).
• Diocese of Davenport website — prayer resources for various needs (davenportdiocese.org/ liturgy-resources#VariousNeeds).
When we are attentive to God’s voice in our prayer, we are able to respond to God’s nudges to do something! We become aware of the “burdens that weigh on the shoulders of those around us” and can ask ourselves, is there something I can do about it? “This will help us to avoid falling into apathy,” Pope Francis said (Nov. 29, 2021).
Look around: does your neighbor need a ride to the doctor’s office or for you to pick up groceries? Does your child, spouse, parent, sibling or other relative need you to stop what you are doing and listen attentively? Does the parishioner recuperating from surgery or dealing with a serious illness need a meal or a visit? What about the couple down the road who just had a baby? Could they use a care package?
Would it help to send a hand-written note to someone with whom you have been at odds and follow up with an invitation to coffee? Could you offer to take a person with disabilities to Mass? Can you make time to volunteer at a food pantry or meal site or to read to a child in school? How might you respond to the man or woman begging on the street corner?
The late Father Henri J.M. Nouwen, prayed, “Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day…”
We begin, but do not end Advent with prayer if we are committed to improving our relationship with Jesus, who calls us to feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the ill and visit the prisoner. Let us pray for our growth this season.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor