Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
It always makes me stop and pay attention: each year as we begin a New Year of Grace with the First Sunday of Advent we reset the clocks and begin to unfold Christ in his Mysteries lived in the events and observances of the liturgical year. I guess “observances” is the wrong word, because the Word that we live is anything but a spectator experience. We are not standing by as passive observers. Rather, as member of that Body of Christ, it is we who are literally unfolded and brought to life again each year.
We start that year in the darkness with the light of only one candle—a light that grows, surely—but still one solitary flame. And a quiet call that is heard for the first time probably four thousand years ago by a man who had nothing but hope in a promise that he heard, no credible claim to any solution to the sin and pain that surrounded him in his world. The voice was speaking—why was Abraham the only one who heard it?—but all the same the promise gave him hope to leave his native land and follow a new God who spoke, listened, and responded. The novelty was breathtaking. God speaks. Listens. Responds. And his divine Action requires somehow that we interact, communicate, hear the promise, respond with faith (or not) and live in hope—that all might be fulfilled.
Now we hold on to that candle’s light and quiet Word that begins to grow, to explain and unfold: the Word-made-flesh fulfilled in his utter silence and desolation of the Cross; the flame to be fulfilled in the Easter Candle of resurrection only five months from now, “a flame divided but undimmed” as it is spread throughout the assembly at the celebration of Baptism at the Vigil Mass. By it we are redeemed and our sins forgiven, the promise of new life is real.
“But I don’t know how to pray,” we say. How can I make a return for the goodness of God? I think the first clue is that God has given us this very silence. It isn’t necessary to fill it with our noise. How difficult noise makes our lives to focus, to concentrate on even the things we seek, not to mention the things that we find challenging! When people tell me they don’t know how to pray I always ask them what they are doing? Usually, it is many formulas. Like our words might work some kind of magic spell. Listen, my people: “my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). I propose to you that praying isn’t doing at all. It is adopting a humility that says that what God has to say to me is so much more important than what I might say to him. Doesn’t he already know anything I might say? Doesn’t he know my needs? Would not a loving God then seek to provide a remedy by a message? Praying isn’t doing. Ninety per cent of praying is simply listening. But we need silence and simplicity to be able to do it. Don’t think for a minute that the world doesn’t intentionally bombard us with more data than we can endure, just to keep us from hearing truth.
How can I make a return, then, for the goodness of God? Freely paraphrased by a responsorial psalm setting that I dearly love based on Psalm 116, we learn that prayer is the way we live, receptive to the gifts of God and ready to respond with love when called:
I will take the cup of life, I will call God’s name all my days.
How can I make a return for the goodness of God? This saving cup I will bless and sing, and call the name of God!
The dying of those who keep faith is precious to our God. I am your servant called from your hands; you have set me free.
To you will I offer my thanks and all upon your name. You are my promise, for all to see, I love your name, O God.
So join me as we enter the quiet and Advent beginnings of Christ himself. On a quiet cold night by the light of a candle, he is born in us.
God bless you.