Third Sunday of Advent Year A 2016:
Well you have to love this Sunday. It’s called Gaudete Sunday, which means rejoice. It’s one of only 2 days in the year where the Church puts on the Rose vestments, which are symbolic of Joy. It’s almost Christmas. Hooray.
But, we still have 2 weeks. We still have 2 weeks to get ready. Yes, buying presents, baking cookies, having parties, and all that. But, also spiritually, we have 2 more weeks of Advent to prepare to meet our Lord.
Here at St. Jude we have been focusing on prayer during this season of Advent. The first week we discussed a definition of prayer as ‘living with God.’ This is a good reminder that we should live our daily lives in union with God who is always there with us. Last week we discussed some difficulties in prayer. This week I want to talk about some different prayer styles.
St. John the Baptist sends messengers to Jesus to ask a simple question: who are you? Isn’t that the most important question ever? Who is Jesus? If Jesus is just a regular guy who said some nice things, his existence wasn’t a big deal. But, if Jesus is the incarnate Son of God sent by the Father to bring Good News of eternal life to his people, it makes a huge difference. The identity of Jesus has a huge impact on history.
The identity of Jesus also has a huge impact in our lives. If Jesus is a living, breathing, real person, with whom we interact on a daily basis, then it will change the way we think, act, work, play, live. Living with Jesus will fill our lives with joy, he will be there when times are tough. But, if Jesus is a story in a book, if he is abstract, distant, or theoretical, then he won’t have a huge impact in our lives, and we will be missing out on his presence.
So, think about your own life. How much does your relationship with Jesus affect how you live, how you think? Don’t worry, when it comes to prayer and relationship with Jesus it is never a game of perfect. It’s not like we have to grow to a certain level and then we are just done. No, we are always in process. But, it does take a process. We need a plan if we are going to improve in our spiritual life.
I heard a quote one time from a football coach on TV (I can’t remember if it was Tony Dungy or Herm Edwards) and I thought it applied to so many things in life. He said “anyone can have a goal. But, a goal without a plan is just a wish.” Isn’t that great? A goal without a plan is just a wish. When I heard that for the first time, it made so much sense. So many of my goals and aspirations were just that, wishes. I didn’t have plans in place to help me to grow. One place I saw that was in my prayer life. I wanted my prayer life to improve, but I didn’t have a plan in place. So, let me give you three areas of prayer so that you can try to formulate plans in each area. If you do this, you will really see your life of prayer grow every day.
First, private prayer. Private prayer is the living relationship that each soul has with the living God. Private prayer can be as simple as thinking about God. Private prayer is where we share with God the deepest part of our hearts, we lay bare our souls, we communicate with God on a deep level. We can do this in many different ways. Some people stick to mental prayer, just having a verbal dialogue with God in our minds. Some people use prayer books for inspiration. Some people will pray the rosary, read the scriptures, or pray the divine mercy chaplet. All these different tools for prayer or different styles of prayer help us to connect with God in the depths of our being.
But, in addition to private prayer, there is public prayer. And just a little hint, we are doing it right now. Because we are body and soul creatures, we have to make sure that prayer is touching both aspects. Private prayer is a great way to pray inside of us. But, public prayer is just as necessary so that we are praying on the outside too. Mass is the most important public prayer. Mass really helped me to grow as a disciple of Jesus. I started going to daily Mass in my early 20’s and it really changed my life. Confession is another great public prayer (of course it’s more private) but it helps us to connect with God on the outside and on the inside. Also, families, do you pray together as a family? Try to plan on how your family is going to be able to be a family that not only prays to God on the inside, but on the outside as well.
Finally, spiritual reading. So, private prayer and public prayer are great ways to connect to God. But, spiritual reading is important because it helps to keep the content of our prayer fresh and up to date. I’ve definitely noticed that in my life I can hit a little rut in prayer. I can find times where it seems like I just go over the same things in prayer, or like I don’t have new ideas. This is where spiritual reading comes into play. By picking up a good book, I get challenged with new ideas. I get new words that can form the dialogue that I have with God. Now, the problem with spiritual reading is that everyone ends up liking different books. You have to find the books that are right for you.
I remember my first year in seminary lots of people recommended books to me. Each time, I would start the book and I would find that it just wasn’t doing anything for me. In fact, after a couple months I was starting to wonder if maybe I was in the wrong place. I mean what good is a priest who doesn’t like reading about God right? But, then I found a book that really connected with me. It was the Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. I really enjoyed that book and it helped me out. Then I found CS Lewis and his book Mere Christianity. Then I found Crossing the Threshold of Hope by John Paul II. You get the picture. I’ve found numerous books that have helped me to grow as a Christian. But, at first, I was disappointed because it didn’t seem to be going well. So, my recommendation: if a book still seems boring or dry after a couple chapters, just stop reading it and get a new one. Spiritual reading is not going to help you at all if you don’t find books that inspire you.
So, these are three areas of prayer: private, public, and spiritual reading. If you can develop a game plan in these areas you will see your prayer life take off. Also, check the bulletin because in my column I describe other styles of prayer. Each one of us will have a different plan, a different style. That’s ok. We are all different people after all. But, hopefully we are all heading in the same direction. It’s the direction of Advent: we are all heading towards welcoming Christ into our lives..