The season of Advent is upon us. During this season we look forward to the coming of Christmas as we recognize Christ’s presence among us through His becoming one of us in His Incarnation. We associate Advent with expectation as we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth. We also associate it with expectation as we hurry back-and-forth shopping, sending greeting cards and preparing for Christmas day. It is likely that some of that activity will be different this year in view of the social limitations placed upon us. Perhaps that will give us an opportunity to reflect more upon the meaning of Advent and help us to understand better the true meaning of the season.
The word advent is a translation of the Greek word, parousia, which actually means presence or even more accurately, arrival. An arrival is the beginning of a presence and in ancient days the word was a technical term for the arrival of a ruler, such as a king, who bestowed his parousia on the place to which he came and upon those he visited there. The season of Advent, with its sense of anticipation, reminds us that God’s presence has already begun in our lives and that we are able to be in touch with Him in the very place of our existence here and now. However, His presence is not yet complete and is continually moving to its culmination, especially when we will encounter Him in the fullness of life in His Kingdom.
Prayer is an essential part of Advent as it is every day of our lives. However, the season of Advent is meant to give us a time of quiet in which we can enter into the presence of God through prayer in a more deliberate manner. Again, this year especially, we may find that time more readily than we have in past years when so much preparation distracted us and even caused us stress. We can make a determined effort to enter more deeply into prayer this Advent so that we may encounter the presence of the Lord already among us each and every day.
During the months of October and November this year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, used the occasion of his Wednesday audiences to give a catechesis on prayer. It is worth looking at and reflecting upon the Pope’s words on prayer during the season of Advent to help us grow in prayer. Pope Francis spoke in a manner that relates well to all of us. That manner was down to earth, but at the same time extremely deep in understanding the meaning of prayer as he used the prayer of Jesus as His basic point of departure and reference. He emphasized that, “Prayer is the rudder that guides Jesus’s course.” The Pope expressed that someone told him that he talks too much about prayer and he responded that he does because, “Prayer is like the oxygen of life. Prayer draws down upon us the presence of the Holy Spirit who always leads us forward. For this reason, I speak a lot about prayer.”
Pope Francis expressed how the prayer of Jesus was the prayer of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus experienced at His baptism, the Holy Spirit took possession of His person as the voice of the Father came from heaven attesting to the reality that Jesus is His beloved Son. In the Gospels, we find Jesus spending so much time in prayer, from early morning to late in the evening. He deliberately went off to pray in solitude and this enabled Him to pray in the presence of the people who surrounded Him in His ministry. Jesus prayed in a manner that let the Holy Spirit speak within Him to His Father, even in the most difficult of times, especially on the Cross.
The great Saint John Paul II was a man of deep and mystical prayer. It is no doubt that this was an element of his life which was a factor in Pope Francis’ decision to canonize him shortly after the beginning of his papacy. Saint John Paul II spoke and taught frequently how the Holy Spirit is the one who prays within us and that we must be open to letting Him speak within us to the Father. This is well expressed by Saint Paul, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; we do not know how to pray as we ought but the Spirit Himself intercedes with inexpressible groaning” (Rom 8:26). In fact, when Saint John Paul II was asked how he prayed, he expressed that it was best to ask that question of the Holy Spirit.
In this regard, Pope Francis exhorts us to pray by listening to the Holy Spirit within us so that we can hear the Father’s words of love for us, especially within our weaknesses. He tells us that during those periods when we feel “sluggish and empty,” and when “it seems to us that life has become completely useless,” it is then that we entrust ourselves to the Lord who prays so that we may hear, “a voice from heaven, louder than the voice rising from the depths of ourselves, and we will hear this voice whispering words of tenderness: ‘You are God’s beloved, you are a son, you are the joy of the Father in heaven.’” We need to hear these words so necessary for us during the Advent season and at any time of the year. As Pope Francis expresses, “Precisely for us, for each one of us, echoes the words of the Father: even if we were rejected by all, sinners of the worst kind. Jesus did not descend into the waters of the Jordan for Himself, but for all of us.”
During the weeks of his catechesis on prayer, Pope Francis gave many insights into prayer which is so necessary as the oxygen of our lives. He spoke of how prayer must be persevering, tenacious, silent, trusting, honest, affirming of our dignity as made in the image and likeness of God, and humble. As we begin the season of Advent, especially during this challenging year, to realize that the Lord is already with us, no matter where we may be or what our state in life may be, helps us to move forward with joy and hope. It is prayer which is at the root of finding ourselves as we encounter the Lord.
A blessed Advent!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 27, 2020