Now here we are in Advent. The next four weeks are meant to be a time of preparation, of prayer and sacrifice and good works that will turn our hearts and minds to the coming of Christ. Though filled with expectant joy, the season of Advent nevertheless is tinged with penance, an acknowledgement that we must clear from our lives those things that seek to draw us from the Way and the Truth and the Light.
Our faith teaches that there are three comings of Christ: his birth, the anniversary of which we celebrate on Christmas Day; the Parousia, when he will return at the end of time to judge humanity; and his coming into our lives at each and every moment.
It is this third coming that I am concentrating on during these four weeks of Advent. The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent had these stark words from Jesus: “Stay awake! … [B]e prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” This warning could refer either to our death or the end of the world, but I can’t think of any better preparation for that hour than to become aware of Christ’s presence in my everyday life.
“Let’s try to ask ourselves: Am I aware of what I am living, am I alert, am I awake? Do I try to recognize God is present in daily situations, or am I distracted and a little overwhelmed by things?” Pope Francis asked these questions in his Angelus address on the first Sunday of Advent, and I have to admit that I am more than a little distracted and overwhelmed by things: today is the day before deadline and rather than participating fully in Morning Prayer with the bishop and the funeral Mass of a former co-worker, I focused primarily on the fact that the two combined took almost two hours of time that otherwise would be devoted to pre-production. Once I shut off my computer I would like to go to the gym, but I’m wondering whether a lingering injury will prevent that. I need to go to the grocery store to pick up the ham needed for the soup planned for dinner, though I did remember to put the beans in to soak before I left this morning.
While I’m working on the ability to be detached from worldly concerns, I’m already benefitting from a suggestion from St. Teresa of Avila, the 16th-century Carmelite famous for her writings on prayer. While reading her book The Way of Perfection, I was struck by her admonishment to “consider whom we are going to speak with, and who we are” when we pray.
After reading that, I paused for reflection. God is the creator of all things, the first and the last, who is and who was and who is to come. Who am I, what am I, to approach him? I tend to think of myself as the center of the world, but in fact it is God who not only created but also sustains the world, and me. I am only a creature, and yet he loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, who gave permission for me and all humankind to call God our Father.
“Just because [God] is good doesn’t mean that we should be rude,” St. Teresa chides, and I am embarrassed by the number of times my prayer has consisted of complaints about how God is running the world, as though he were CEO of a corporation I do business with; or of thinly veiled bargaining for what I want, as though he were a shop owner who might give me a bargain. This type of “prayer” gives no consideration to the omnipotence of God, who is so great that the human mind cannot conceive him.
Even here, though, St. Teresa offers sound advice. Rather than “draw out a lot of concepts or make long and subtle reflections with your intellect” about God, she said, merely “look at him. … He will not abandon you if you do not abandon him.”
This, then, is my Advent prayer, that every moment of each day I strive to not abandon him who will judge me on the last day.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at email@example.com.