The Advent Season is upon us once again. Amid the ubiquitous busyness that the season brings, to stop and be still may seem strange. And yet, the Lord undoubtedly invites us to quiet down and reflect, if only for a while to veer away from the festivities, merry-making and gift-giving now so strongly associated with Christmas and shift our sights on to what really matters at this time.
Advent, following right after the feast of Christ the King, begins the Liturgical Year of the Catholic Church. Next to the Lenten Season, it is the most important time for Christians. Of course, the Season of Advent heralds the celebration of Christmas, which we all enjoy. Yet in truth, we must take care not to let Christmas overshadow Advent, for Advent is so much more than Christmas. During Advent we are especially called to carve out moments of quiet and open ourselves to God’s abiding presence. It is a time for commemorating Love, come to Earth to free us from sin. It is a time of expectation and anticipation; a yearning for deliverance; a preparation for receiving the Lord anew.
In order to explore what it means to “prepare for the coming of the Lord,” may I offer two simple prayer exercises which, given a little time and attention, may move us inward, a little closer into the core, where very real encounters with the Lord can take place.
The first is St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Consciousness Examen Prayer, through which we use the events of each day, week, month, or year, in order to grow in sensitivity and openness to the Spirit’s movement in our lives. In the process of going deep into ourselves, we can unravel the real meaning of the words we have used, the actions we performed, as well as the thoughts and desires that filled our mind and heart. This awareness can help us determine what we must do to eliminate the things that come in the way of our progress towards God, leading us to achieve greater spiritual freedom.
1. Prayer of Thanksgiving
Begin with the awareness that ALL IS GIFT. As you look over the events of the day (or any period you are examining), don’t choose what you think you should be thankful for; instead, simply let the events and people of the past pass before your mind’s eye and give thanks for all you have been given. A sense of gratitude, evoked often, could change your perspective and transform your life into a thanksgiving.
2. Prayer of Openness to the Spirit
Invoke the help of Divine Light to see more clearly into spiritual matters or into your true self. Ask God to allow your insight to grow, that you may become more and more open to all the ways which the Spirit speaks to you, so that you may let your life be directed more and more by the Spirit.
3. Prayer of Examination
Look back slowly over the events, persons, and circumstances you have encountered. Allow God to show you where He was being present: meeting, encountering, challenging you. Do not force yourself to remember things, but let them surface in their own way. Some questions to ask might be: For what moment of this day am I most/least grateful? When did I give and receive the most/least love? When did I feel most alive? When did I feel life draining out of me? When did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, to others, to God?
4. Prayer of Confession
Look over the past again, this time asking for grace to recognize your sinfulness. Wait quietly until the Spirit reveals what needs attention. What ways did God use to invite you to further conversion or transformation? When did you ignore or turn away from God’s call? Where did you fail to respond to God’s love? Which relationships were hurt by your behaviors, and how? Were you faithful in carrying out your vocation in the world? Pray for God’s Spirit to cleanse you and set you free from sin. Give thanks for God’s faithfulness.
5. Prayer for Guidance
Get in touch with the feelings within you: sadness, discouragement, comfort, hope, fear, gratitude, etc. Where are these feelings rooted? Look ahead to the next day, week, month, or year. Offer your hopes and concerns to God. Ask God to supply your needs. Give yourself into God’s care, and rest in the comfort of God’s everlasting love. A good way to end this is by praying The Lord’s Prayer.
The second prayer exercise is a list of suggested meditations intended for when the family gathers around the lighted Advent Wreath. Celebrating with an Advent wreath during the weeks prior to Christmas is a great way for Christian families to keep Christ at the center of the Season, and for both parents and children to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake!…You do not know when the Master of the house is coming.'” Mk13:33
O Jesus, your voice sounds through the house of my world: Be on your guard! Stay awake! Yet I hardly hear you. Busy with so much, I go about the things I do like a servant trapped in household routine, hardly giving a thought to what my life is about. My spirit within has grown tired and you, my God, seem far away. How can I hear your voice today? Speak to my heart during this season of grace, as you spoke to your prophets and saints. Remind me again of the journey you call me to make and the work you would have me do. I am your servant, O Lord. Speak to me in this holy season and turn my eyes to watch for your coming. O Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, desire of every nation, Savior of all peoples, come and dwell among us.
“When John the Baptizer made his appearance as a preacher in the desert of Judea, he began to proclaim: Reform your lives. The reign of God is at hand!” Mt3:1
O Jesus, in an empty desert your prophet John proclaimed: God is here, at your side. God has come to bring about a kingdom where injustice and suffering will be no more, where tears will be wiped away, and where those who turn to God will feast at a banquet. “Turn now, your God is standing at your side. Reform your lives, God’s kingdom is at hand.” In an empty desert John said these things. Give me faith like John’s, O Lord, strong enough to believe even in a desert that you and your kingdom are no farther from me than my hand. Make my heart strong like his, not swayed by trials or snared by false pleasures. Give me courage to be faithful until your promises are fulfilled. O King of all nations, Jesus Christ, only joy of every heart, come and save your people.
“John’s disciples said to Jesus, “Are you ‘He who is to come’ or do we look for another?” In reply, Jesus said: “Tell John what you hear and see: the blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, and the poor have good news preached to them…” Lk3:10
O Jesus, I rejoice at the signs that say you are near. Your power is everywhere if I could see it. Yet my eyes often see only darkness and what has yet to be done. I believe in you, yet when I look around evil seems so strong and goodness so weak. If you have come, why is there still so much suffering and why do the poor still despair? Where are your miracles today? Your grace, O Lord, is more fruitful in my world than I imagine. I know your power is everywhere around me, if I could only see it. Show me today where the blind see and cripples walk. Make my vision sharper than it is.
“The angel Gabriel said to Mary, “Do not fear, Mary, you shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus. Great will be his dignity and he will be called Son of the Most High…” Lk1:30-32
O Jesus, I believe you were born of Mary and are God’s Son. Your mysterious coming is beyond understanding. Like your holy mother, Mary, I wish that you come to me, for you promised you will. Let me serve you in any way I can and know that you are with me day by day as my life goes by. Like Mary, your mother, though I know you only by faith, may my whole being proclaim your greatness and my spirit rejoice in your favor to me. O Wisdom, holy Word of God, Jesus Christ, holding all things in your strong yet tender hands, come and show us the way to salvation.
As much as Advent is our time for preparing to receive Christ’s redemptive love anew, it is also our time to prepare to present God with our own love in return. Reflection in prayer, because it heightens our awareness of where we are in our spirituality, allows us to hold that love, as it were, and giftwrap it for the Lord. Have a joyful, fruitful Advent. ‘Tis the Season. Let us behold Truth, come to free us. Let us contemplate Life, here and beyond. Let us celebrate Love, for that is God.
Consciousness Examen Prayer adapted from a prayer by Marlene Kropf
Advent meditations from The Passionist Missionaries