As our Advent reflections draw to a close, we should examine how our prayer life fits in with our preparation for the coming of Jesus. Prayer is how we communicate with the Triune God and is absolutely necessary when making a home for Him in our hearts. Imagine living in a home with someone – a spouse, or a child – and never speaking to them. In the context of Advent, imagine anticipating the person coming home from school or work and then saying nothing upon his or her arrival. We have an innate understanding that relationships, families, and homes require a regular practice of communication. Then, the depth and intimacy within that communication determines the depth and intimacy of the relationship. This is true for our relationship with God as well.
The Catechism quotes two Saints and their definitions of prayer. As you read them, think about how closely they resemble your own understanding of prayer. St. Thérèse of Lisieux says, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy,” (CCCC#2558). Then, St. John Damascene says, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or requesting of good things from God,” (CCCC#2559). Note that in both definitions, the Saint recognizes the need to turn toward God intentionally with love and the acknowledgement of His goodness in order to enjoy that communication with Him. God honors our free will and will only come into our hearts if we invite Him. We have to make the first move. St. Thérèse’s definition is strikingly emotional as she uses words such as “surge,” “cry,” and “embracing,” showing that her understanding of who God is stirs within her heart a passionate desire to communicate with Him in prayer. Do we share that same passionate sentiment in our own desire to communicate with our Lord?
The Catechism goes on to say that the foundation of prayer is humility (CCCC #2559). When we properly understand the nature of the God toward which we turn, we cannot help but to be humble and contrite. With that disposition, we will realize that all of our prayers and all that we have to offer will be imperfect before our perfect Lord. It is from that point that we are ready to receive all that Jesus has to offer us so that He can then exalt us. You can sense the humility in the previously mentioned quotes on prayer from our saints. They are holy in their humility before their God. As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, can we look honestly at areas in our prayer life and see where we might be able to humble ourselves a bit more so that we can make an even more hospitable home for Him in our hearts?
While it is true that He will not interfere with our free will and force us to communicate with Him, he does thirst for us, seek us, and invite us to encounter Him in prayer (CCCC #2560). He loves each and every single one of us with a love greater than we could ever fathom and that communion with us in prayer is something He desires greatly. As we respond to His yearning and turn toward Him, our understanding of who He is grows and our growing love for Him, in return, follows. When you are in constant communication with other people – and Jesus is a person – you get to know them better. You start to understand their natures, their desires, their pains, their joys, etc. and a deep and intimate bond forms. In other words, the more you respond to Jesus’ thirst for you, the more your thirst for Him increases and the more you reach out to Him for more. As your prayer life deepens, your relationship with God deepens.
So, what might the effects of a deepening prayer life be? In week two of Advent, we discussed how we could grow closer to God by immersing ourselves in His Word and that as we do so, we are less inclined to sin because we are more in tune with His will. Well, our prayer life is the other side of that same coin. If you are intimately connected to someone and so in tune with who that person is, you are probably not looking for opportunities to hurt him or her. As a matter of fact, you’re likely considering how to avoid hurting this person when certain situations or circumstances arise. When you have a close relationship with a person and something arises where you have to choose option A or option B which will effect that person, what do you do? You will probably carefully consider all of the ramifications of either choice and desire the choice that causes either no pain to the other, or at least as little as possible. You might also turn to that other person and ask them directly which option would be best for him or her, and for the relationship as a whole, so as not to damage that relationship in any way. The same is true in our relationship with God. If we are not communicating with Him regularly, when choices are presented to us, we don’t give Him a second thought when choosing. However, when we are in union with Him through prayer, we will stop to consider His will for us and recognize the choices that will do more or less damage to our relationship with Him. We are also more inclined to turn to Him in the midst of a dilemma, ask Him what His desire is for us, and we will listen better as He communicates His will to us. Thus, a direct effect of a strong prayer life is the rooting out of sin in our lives, which in turn, prepares us for the coming of the Kingdom.
Hopefully, regardless of where you are in your prayer life, you’d like for it to deepen. Our faith life is a journey and we can always move closer and closer to God. As we are preparing this Advent, we should take the time to carefully examine how we can deepen our prayer life, either in big ways or by baby steps. We can and should utilize the many resources our Church provides for us to learn more about the gift of prayer. Your parish might offer ways to deepen your prayer life through communal opportunities or workshops. There are many books available on the topic of prayer. We can meet with a priest to discuss the specifics of our prayer life and how we can take a next step. Perhaps you can implement a practice of introducing prayer to a specific time of day, taking the time to talk to God at the same time every day. Or, you can ask a friend about a time their prayer life deepened and the effect it had on them. Perhaps the best suggestion I can offer is to ask God to give to you the desire to deepen your prayer life, because He wants nothing more than to offer that to you so that you turn to Him always in all things. Do not be discouraged. Jesus is coming and with Him will come Peace, Love, and Joy.
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