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Sr. Helena Burns: Some prayer tips for Advent

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  • December 8, 2021

Advent, like Lent, is a prayerful time of joyful expectation of a major feast of the Christian year.

Most of us resolve to “pray more” during these liturgical seasons. And even though our best-laid plans often fall through, it still matters that we want to “pray more,” and that we keep trying! It’s not about perfection in execution. It’s about perfection in love. In fact, just the desire to pray is incredibly pleasing to our Lord.

Advent, like, Lent, is also a prayerful time of sorrowful expectation. This side of Heaven, joy is almost always tinged with some sort of sorrow. There are always souls in need of saving and sanctifying — especially our own! Since we are particularly called to repent of our sins during the pre-Christmas and pre-Easter seasons, be sure getting to Confession is on your Christmas list. Blessed Fr. James Alberione was fond of saying: “What could be more urgent than my soul?”

  1. When is the best time to pray? When we will. Daily prayer must be part of every Christian’s life. What kind of prayer, the when and the how of it will greatly differ for everyone. However long or short our quotidian prayer times are, we must be as faithful as possible to them. Why? Because we’re meeting with a real Person each time (a King, actually), and we don’t want to be rude, late or worse: a no-show. If your prayer plans never seem to work out, tweak them until they do. Fr. Alberione also often told his Daughters of St. Paul: “If you cut short your prayer? You may very well be cutting short graces!”
  2. Prayer is not a technique. If you can text, you know how pray. If you can chat with a friend or family member, you know how to pray. If you can listen to podcasts or music, you know how to pray. Prayer is two-way communication with God always and in all ways: human and divine. It’s possible to respect and revere His august majesty while, at the same time, familiarly chatting with Him throughout our day, sharing our joys and struggles, adoring Him, thanking Him and petitioning Him. Anything that makes prayer sound “hard” is not from above. Come as you are. Be yourself. Be real. He knows everything anyway, so there’s no need to be fake.
  3. There is no such thing as distraction in prayer. I did an informal poll recently, asking people (who believe in God) what is the reason they don’t pray and “I get distracted” was the number one reason. But distractions in prayer don’t actually exist. Say you sit down to pray in the midst of a busy day. Your mind is racing, it’s hard to calm down. “I forgot to feed the cat” keeps rolling around your brain instead of the sweet praises of the Lord. Feeding the cat is important. We don’t want Fluffy to starve! Write it down. “I’m so mad at him!” is your next thought/emotion. Ah! Is this something to write down and forget? No! This is fodder for prayer! Take that to the Lord! See? No distractions, just important items to remember and dismiss in “memos to self” and important items worthy to pray about.

As far as making time to pray and actually fulfilling proposed prayer times, it’s well to consider this truism: “We always find time to do those things we really love.” Even on our fullest days, do we still find time to squeeze in an episode of our favourite show? To scroll through Instagram for minutes on end?

Certainly, it’s healthy to unwind, but does not this ability to “squeeze” mean we can also squeeze in a few minutes of unwinding prayer? However! Do not be discouraged and quit aiming at and attempting regular prayer if you find inescapable, time-swallowing roadblocks in your path. God completely understands, especially if these involve others who rely on us or are in serious need of our help. Another truism: “Charity above all.”

My mum fell at the beginning of December and wound up in hospital. All my lovely, daily Advent plans for more silence, Scripture-reading and contemplation were whisked away in the crisp December wind. But then I heard God whisper to me, as I spent days and nights helping mum get better: “She is your Advent.”

(Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. HellBurns.com  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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