By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
A gift arrived in the mail in time for Advent — A Christmas letter from Bishop Thomas Zinkula with “Prayer at Home” guides for Advent and Christmas time for members of our diocese.
My husband Steve and our sons, Colin and Patrick, have established a tradition of lighting the candles on our “Advent” ring each Sunday during the season. Every year, at the last minute, I frantically search for a collection of Advent prayers we have acquired to pray over the “Advent” ring. Advent is in quotation marks because I discovered a few years ago that the ring depicts images of the Christmas story! Rationalizing the use of this beloved ring is easy: Advent invites us to wait, watch and hope for the Incarnation.
This year, hallelujah, we did not have to search for Advent prayers. The prayer guide for Advent provides a simple, eloquent format for families to follow. Designated parts — for leader, reader, minister and all — make the brief prayer service interactive and reflective. The Gospel passage we read comes from each Sunday’s Mass during Advent, which helps the message to sink into our thought processes. Intercessions are included, with the opportunity to add to them. Our family especially appreciated that aspect of the prayer service. All those years of me coaxing everyone to offer his own prayer petitions creates a more meaningful prayer experience, in my mind.
Including this prayer service before dinner works best for us because we are all together on Sunday evenings and prayer naturally begins each meal. Any other time of day, we might otherwise forget and I would not want that to happen!
Our older son, Colin, who is autistic, loves and collects Bibles, and serves as our designated Gospel reader. He enjoys choosing a Bible to read from and, at our request, slows down his typically rapid reading pace so we can reflect on the words.
“It’s pretty awesome, reading a chapter from the Bible from Mark,” Colin told me afterwards, referring to the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent. “When you read it, you have the tendency to feel Christ in your heart.”
As the leader of our prayer service, I prayed the blessing of the Advent wreath (a prayer for the first Sunday of Advent) and Patrick lit one candle. He said he appreciates the prayer service because “it helps bring hope. It’s nice to know there’s something to look forward to, with Christ being in our lives. Every time I light the candle, I think about how it shines light. I think of Jesus saying, ‘Be not afraid, I am with you.’”
The role of minister, leading the prayer petitions, should have gone to Steve, but I inadvertently took that role as well. Steve appreciated the gesture on the part of Bishop Zinkula to send the Christmas greeting and prayer guides to members of the diocese. “I think it’s nice; they care for everybody and in staying in touch,” Steve said.
In this lengthening, uncertain time of the coronavirus pandemic, I am grateful for our bishop’s desire to encourage and support the domestic church, the family, and to inspire our prayer life. That gives me hope this Advent season.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)