I was particularly struck by the Prayer after Communion on the First Sunday of Advent. After the reception of our Eucharist Lord, the priest prays:
“May these mysteries, O Lord, in which we have participated, profit us, we pray, for even now, as we walk amid passing things, you teach us by them to love the things of heaven and hold fast to what endures. Through Christ our Lord.”
We usually think of Advent as a preparatory season for Christmas but we hardly think of it as a season that trains us to focus on what endures while engaging in things that pass away. In truth, our preparation for Christ’s coming demands that we actually learn how to engage in transitory earthy affairs without losing focus on eternal realities.
According to St. Luke, if we had lived at the time of John the Baptist, the following would be some of the major news items of our time: Tiberius Caesar clocks 15 years as Emperor…Pontius Pilate has become governor of Judea…Herod has become tetrarch of Galilee…Caiaphas has succeeded his father-in-law, Annas, as high priest in Jerusalem, etc. The events and constant changes in the civil and religious spheres would easily dominate the news.
There would be little or no mention of John the Baptist, the obscure, irrelevant, desert solitary who “wore a garment of camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey.” (Mt 3:4) But John the Baptist truly grasped what matters most – the advent of Divine Love and the need to prepare to receive Him by removing the obstacles to His presence and action in our lives. He “proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” because, without true repentance, we would not have a living faith in Jesus Christ. Without such a faith in Jesus Christ, we would not long for His return in glory and we would definitely not be ready to welcome Him when He comes. Unlike the world and religious leaders of his time and their accomplishments, the Baptist’s message would never pass away because they were the very words that God would use to prepare us to receive His salvation, “All flesh will see the salvation of our God.”(See Lk 3:1-6)
In a world of constant change, John the Baptist grasped what was relevant in life because of his extended period of silence with God and his readiness to let God’s words shape his life and conviction, “The word of God came to John, the son of Zachariah, in the desert.” A desert is a place of silence with God, where we focus on Him without distractions. It is a place of decision where God brings us to decide to do His will or our own will, to trust and depend on Him, or to continue to depend on our resources and ourselves. It is also the arena where He brings us to decide to either hold on to our desires or allow Him to place His own desires in our hearts. These times of silent prayer with God are the moments when we allow God to teach our fickle and wayward hearts what really matters in life in the midst of all the passing things and events of our lives.
St. Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Philippi shows us God’s undying desire for us and our need to focus on the right things, “And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless before the day of Christ.”(Phil 1:9-10) In addition to growing in love and knowledge, we must also seriously discern what is of lasting and true value if we are going to welcome Christ with the purity that He demands of us.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in a world of constant change where things, events, and persons come and pass away. Even the viruses come and go! The Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus that dominated the headlines a few weeks ago has now given way to the Omicron variant. Likewise, our desires and focuses change and pass with time. Let us remind ourselves that God’s desire for us does not change but remains the same – sanctity now and fullness of life with Him in heaven. The means to this life with God also do not change – it is always a living fellowship with Jesus Christ, His Son. That is why we must not lose this focus on God’s saving plan even as we engage in passing things.
How then do we enter into this desert prayer? Let us focus first on the quality of this prayer time and not on quantity because we understandably cannot be in prayer for long hours in the day. Aware of God’s presence, we humbly express to Him the desires of our hearts without holding on adamantly to those desires. We remain open and ready to receive the word that God is offering to us then. This word will teach us what is truly relevant for us, our families, Church, and the world at that time. Praying like this allows God to transform the desires of our hearts or make us see these desires in a new way, i.e. to see them in God’s own way.
Without such desert prayer that brings us to hold fast to what really endures, our constantly changing desires will grow and multiply, leaving us both confused and frustrated. St. James warned us of how such unruly and inordinate desires kill love in our hearts: “What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”(James 4:1-3) It is impossible for such a heart in turmoil to have a deep longing for the return of Christ and be ready to receive Him when He comes.
The Eternal Word is coming to in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He comes to teach, guide, and strengthen us by His grace to seek and embrace what really matters in this world of passing things. He longs to speak to our hearts in silence. If we enter into moments of desert prayer with Him, we will be engaged in worldly affairs without being swept around by the currents of world events and changes. This way we can learn what Advent actually teaches us – to be engaged in this world while keeping our desire for Christ intact. This is the only way that we can be prepared to receive and welcome Him when He comes again in glory.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!
Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash