First Sunday of Advent year A 2016:
I just love Advent. It has always been one of my favorite seasons. I can remember being a kid and just loving to see the Advent wreathe go up in Church. It meant 2 great things. 1, school was coming to an end for vacation soon. 2, Christmas was right around the corner with feasting and presents. I have always loved Christmas like no other day. So to see these candles on display meant the time was coming near, the wait was almost over.
But, as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to value Advent in a new way. No longer do I see it simply as a time of waiting for Christmas. Now, I see it as a time of preparation. And a time of preparation not only for celebrating Christmas as a parish. But, Advent is also a time to prepare for meeting Jesus. I don’t want to sound morbid, but we will all meet Jesus someday. We don’t know the day nor the hour. But, he is coming for each one of us. Advent is a yearly reminder to be on watch for him. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret: the Advent of Jesus is not simply something that happened at Christmas, or something that will happen at the end. The Advent of Jesus takes place every day.
If we want to be prepared for meeting Jesus, we have to meet him in our daily lives. If we get to know Jesus while in this life, then we will have communion with him for eternal life. But, on the other hand, if we don’t know Jesus in this life, we won’t be able to recognize him on the last day.
So, make this season of Advent a powerful time to refresh your relationship with Jesus. Get to know him all over again. Of course, the key to any good relationship is communication. When it comes to communicating with Jesus, we call this prayer.
During the next 4 weeks here at St. Jude we are going to reflect on prayer. So, if you already have a perfect prayer life, I want to apologize right now. Because the next 4 weeks are only going to be important if you feel like prayer is a challenge, if you feel like you would like your prayer life to improve. It will only be good if you need some guidance on facing the challenges and obstacles of prayer. But, if you already have those things all handled, it might be a bit dry for you. If so, please bear with us…
Today we begin by simply trying to answer the question: what is prayer? If I had you write down answers to this question, what would you say? For some people, prayer is specific: the rosary, or the mass. For some it’s really generic: it’s having a nice thought… But, I think for most people prayer is something sort of ambiguous or difficult to pin down. Well, if we don’t have a good understanding of what prayer is all about, it’s going to be really hard to have a good prayer life.
So, here is a definition that I like: prayer is living with God. Prayer is living with God. This definition is simple to remember, but it includes perhaps the most important part: prayer is about our experiencing God in the midst of our lives. Think about the people you live with: maybe a spouse, a sibling, parent. What kind of a relationship do you have with that person? Maybe some days it’s great. Maybe somedays it’s a fight. Maybe some days there’s lots of communication, maybe some days it’s just peace and quiet. But, if you think about these people you will see that there is sharing. There is a sharing of space, a sharing of thought, a sharing of burdens, a sharing of joys, blessings, food, etc. The one thing that is usually implied when it comes to living with people is sharing.
So, what about seeing your life as being lived with God. Do you see him as being a living part of your everyday lives just like those very real and tangible humans with whom you share your life? Or, does God seem distant and remote? Prayer is living with God. So, it means sharing with him. Share your burdens at the beginning of a stressful day. Share your morning cup of coffee with him, and just chat away like you might with a friend. Share your blessings, your joys, your griefs, your struggles, your pains. Most importantly, share, talk, love, laugh.
In my experience as a priest, when I say prayer, I’m suggesting the building of a living relationship with the living God. But, when people hear “prayer” they think of specific concrete forms of prayer, like Mass, Adoration, Rosary, Divine Mercy, etc. Of course, all these prayers are great, and they certainly have a place in a prayer life. But, I’m not just telling you to add one more thing to your already busy life; rather, I’m saying we need to make our lives prayerful. Prayer is living with God. It includes prayer events, but it’s also a mindset, a lifestyle, a way of seeing the world that could change just about everything.
So, take some time this week and think about your understanding of prayer itself. Do you see it as something overly formal, something overly general, do you have a solid understanding of what prayer is all about? Do you live your life with God?
Now, I should warn all of you. Living with God is not easy. It’s not always easy to live with other humans either. But, living with God is certainly worth it. Having God in our life literally changes everything. Jesus wants us to be prepared for that day when he will come to meet us. The only way to be prepared for spending our eternity with God is to live with God now. Make this Advent a month of prayer and discovery so that you can grow in your relationship with God.