December 1, 2002
“Be watchful, be
Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. Advent is about prayer
and waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ. It's about living
in hope and peace, turning to God, getting ready, living in expectation,
and keeping watch.
This passage from the end of the Gospel of Mark has Jesus' final words
just before he is arrested and killed: "Be watchful, be alert, stay awake,
what I say to you, I say to all, Watch!" So advent is about keeping watch
On this first Sunday of Advent, the Gospel invites us to be contemplatives,
to be people of prayer, to be wide awake, to never sleep, to be spiritual
insomniacs for Christ, always on the lookout for Christ, loving and serving
one another, generous and alert.
I would like to propose that each one of us take fifteen minutes or
more of silent contemplative prayer each day from now to Christmas. I'm
not talking about reading the Bible or saying the rosary or going to Mass
or praying in your truck as you drive through the desert. I presume we
will still do that.
I'd like to invite us to take time in the morning or evening, to light
a candle, sit in a chair, close our eyes, take a deep breath, and try
to imagine you are with God. Perhaps imagine that Jesus is sitting there
next to you. Imagine Jesus looking at you. What does he look like? What
does he say to? Maybe God says simply, "I love you, I'm with you, I'm
happy to be with you. I want you to be with me."
That's what I mean by contemplative prayer and keeping watch: sitting
with Christ, developing and deepening our relationship with Christ, talking
to him and listening to him.
Now you may say, "That's nice, Fr. John, but there's no way I'm going
to do that."
Prayer is the simplest thing in the world, the easiest thing in the
world, and the hardest thing in the world, that's why so few people like
to sit still in silence and prayer.
Athletes do physical exercises to get in shape physically; we have to
do spiritual exercises to get in shape spiritually. I'm your coach urging
you to go back in there and sit in prayer with God.
I know Trappists monks who live in monasteries and spend seven hours
a day in silent contemplative prayer, and have been doing this for years
and will do it for the rest of their lives, keeping watch for Christ.
When I entered the Jesuits twenty years ago, they said I had to spend
30-60 minutes a day in prayer. They put us on a thirty day silent retreat.
We couldn't talk to anyone for thirty days. We had no TV, no radio, no
mail, no newspapers, no phone calls, nothing; just total silence, and
five hours a day contemplating the Gospels. Each year, we're invited to
make an eight day silent retreat.
Each day now I try to take quiet time with Jesus in contemplative prayer,
to try to live in relationship with him, so that he knows me and I can
try to know him and he can help me and I can be his instrument of love
I think Christ wants to be with us, he wants to come to us, but few
people want to spend quality, intimate time with him. Advent is a good
time to try to deepen our spiritual lives, to go deeper into prayer.
Keeping watch with Christ in prayer means waiting for God, thinking
about God, being with God, listening to God, loving God, and adoring God.
In this world of violence, greed, injustice, and war, prayer can heal
us, disarm us and lead us to Christ's peace.
Advent is a time to prepare ourselves again for Christ's coming to us
in our hearts and our world. This week, I also invite you to discuss your
prayer life with each other: What happens when you pray? Whom do you pray
to? What is your image of God? How do you imagine God? Where do you experience
God? Where are you finding God these days, as you keep watch? These are
important questions to ask.
My hope is that this Advent can be a holy season, a time of grace, for
all of us to deepen our contemplative prayer, to keep watch with Christ,
to disarm our hearts and prepare for his coming and his gift of Christmas
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