Make this a year of prayer, patience

  • January 9, 2014

Someone asked me recently, “After the Year of Faith, what will be the Church’s theme in 2014? How does the Pope designate a theme for the year?”

The idea of a holy year goes back to Pope Boniface VIII who designated 1300 a Jubilee Year. Since then, up to the Great Jubilee 2000, there have been 25 ordinary holy years and 13 extraordinary holy years. The Year of Faith was the 16th extraordinary holy year. However, every year does not have to be declared a holy year. Extraordinary holy years are normally proclaimed for special anniversaries and major events in the Church or in times of necessity or to focus attention on a particular mission of the Church.

Without pretending to be a consultant to Pope Francis, I told my interlocutor that I would recommend that the new year be declared the Year of Patience and Prayer, a year when we embrace anew the realization that even though we have time in our hands, we are living in God’s time, and that God’s clock does not tick like a human clock.

God acts outside our own time zones and timelines. Therefore, we need to develop the spirituality of waiting upon the Lord as well as an openness to understand time in the light of God’s plan, especially in the face of evil, natural disasters, disappointment and even death.

Our lives are filled with deadlines, timelines, appointments and events. We plan our lives and chart our paths. We have work commitments, social engagements and financial obligations. Those who are married or in love have dreams of a joyful future. But few of us plan for death or the unexpected or the painful. So when things do not unfold as we planned, what do we do?

I take the subway to work every day. I like the Toronto subway because even though it is among the most crowded subways I’ve travelled, there is an amazing order, gentleness and calmness when the train pulls up and there are hundreds of people exiting and hundreds entering. If there is a delay, people are told of the problem and how long it will take to fix it. If the problem cannot be quickly fixed, buses are usually arranged to move commuters to their destination.

Life, however, doesn’t always work that way. We face interruptions to our plans without being provided an easy remedy, or setbacks in our life without being shown a detour. Sometimes, serious incidents cause us to completely change course, and sometimes there are deaths and tragedies which derail our plans and dreams.

In these moments, our faith should lead us to accept in humility and hope that God operates outside our timetable. So if there is death within our human time, there is new life within God’s timelessness. If there is disappointment or delay in our plan, God can and does offer us new pathways according to His timeline.

This is where prayer and patience come together for Christians. We often hear that God has a plan for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and that God loves us. We believe God owns time and even though human time is specific, God’s time is non-specific. So what we consider to be a delay in our timeline is not a delay in God’s plan, because His way is different from ours.

Prayer helps us to wait upon the Lord. It prepares us to pay attention to the signs God uses to direct our minds and hearts towards what really matters. Prayer places the heart of an attentive Christian at the very heart of God, so there can be an uninhibited transmission of what God desires for our human fulfilment. Through prayer we learn to walk with Jesus in patience and humility as we travel both the smooth and rough paths of life.

It was this spirit of prayer and praise that welled up within Mary when she replied to the angel: Let it be done to me according to Your will. Mary did not know how the great events of history would unfold for human salvation through her, but her openness to God and her generosity made her a fitting vessel for God’s gift of incarnate love.

Our motto in the new year should echo Mary’s magnificat. We need to wait upon the Lord and allow God’s will be done in our lives, especially outside of the narrow confines of our own plans and timelines.

(Fr. Chu Ilo is the founder and executive director of the Canadian Samaritans for Africa.)