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A Prayer-a-Day for Advent

by Michael J. Daley

In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, St. Th—r—se of Lisieux writes that Christ was most often present to her not "during my hours of prayer...but rather in the midst of my daily occupations."

The time leading up to Christmas, though, is not a good time to talk about things ordinary. Life seems anything but. What with gifts to buy, parties to attend, homes to decorate, travel plans to finalize, meals to cook, who actually has time to stop and reflect about the presence of God in their daily midst?

Yet, Advent's invitation concerns just that. In a culture which sings, "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why...," the Church offers us another tune: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."

Advent is here to allow us time to focus on who's really coming. In Advent, the Church has traditionally offered the followers of Jesus, those who follow in the footpaths of the Magi of old, three comings to think about—Christ's incarnation 2,000 years ago, Christ's continued presence in our midst to this day, and Christ's anticipated glorious return in the future.

In this Update, let us focus on Christ's presence in our ordinary lives. For if we miss Christ in our daily lives surely the utter ordinariness of a child born in a feed box (a manger) will pass us by as well. The reflections that follow offer an antidote to the cultural pull of busy-ness and commercialism and invite us to see something new. Where we often discover God—and where God most often discovers us—is in the midst of ordinary, everyday lives.

First Sunday of Advent

      Open the door. In his book, The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking, Brother Rick Curry tells the story of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez. He was so able a spiritual guide that he was made the porter, or doorkeeper, at the Jesuits' college on the island of Majorca. He quickly became a favorite there as he tried to see God in everyone. Every time there was a knock at his door he would answer, "I'm coming, Lord."

     Lord, help me to open our doors to those needing welcome.

Monday of the First Week
(Is 2:1-5; Mt 8:5-11)

Faith—use it or lose it. Like all things, faith is only good if we live it. It's one thing to say we have it, another to practice it. According to Jewish legend, the Red Sea did not first part when Moses stretched out his hand. Only when the first person jumped into it did the promised miracle occur.

     God, be with me when I take the risks that faith requires.

(Is 11:1-10; Lk 10:21-24)

Be playful. This past summer I was able to spend extra time with my toddler-daughter. One of the things that we enjoyed doing together was visiting the park. Just to watch her at play—swinging, going down the slide, climbing around, interacting with other children—the excitement, innocence, trust that she displayed was awesome. God too is a lover of children, a lover of play. Too much of our life is spent at supposed serious things.

     Lord of Joy, enliven my heart!

(Is 25:6-10; Mt 15:29-37)

Give without cost. St. Nicholas is a perennial Advent favorite. Little is known of him, though there are some wonderful stories that have survived. One tells of how he rescued three young women whose father was about to sell them into prostitution for lack of a dowry. Hearing of this, Nicholas secretly tossed three gold bags through the home's window. It was enough to pay for each dowry.

     Help me to be generous and cheerful to the poor,
as Nicholas was.

(Is 26:1-6; Mt 7:21, 24-27)

Expect the unexpected. A lesser-known but no less important figure of Advent is St. Ambrose (d. 397). When he was sent to quell an uprising in Milan over who was to be the next bishop, a voice shouted, "Ambrose for bishop!" The crowd agreed. Ambrose was taken aback—he wasn't a Christian, let alone a priest. After a little resistance, he accepted, convinced that it was the will of God.

    Teach me to love the unexpected, Lord, and to answer
when you call.

(Gn 3:9-15, 20; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Lk 1:26-38)

See heaven on earth. English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once described the beauty of creation and God's presence in it with these words: "Earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes, the rest sit round and pluck blackberries." If only we, like Mary and the saints, had such eyes.

     Lord, open my eyes and my heart to the splendor of creation.

(Is 30:19-21, 23-26; Mt 9:35—10:1, 6-8)

Choose wisely. During the Middle Ages there was a popular morality play entitled Everyman. Surprised by Death's arrival, the hero asks if he can spend a few moments conversing with his friends—Money, Fame, Power and Good Works. Death agrees. When asked to accompany him to the next life, all refuse except Good Works.

     Be with me, Lord, when I make the many choices of each day
that add up to a life.

Second Sunday of Advent

     It's not about us. It's easy this time of year to get selfish. Our culture almost mandates it. John the Baptist's message was different though. He was preparing the way; he was not the way. For John someone greater was to come. For me the children among us have only reinforced this idea. The love we offer our children is preparing the way for their future.

     Help me take the steps to get ready, Lord, for your new
arrival in my life.

Monday of the Second Week
(Is 35:1-10; Lk 5:17-26)

Extend a hand. Those who care for young children often take walks with them. What a familiar sight is the outstretched hand, waiting to be held. As much as the child needs it for steadiness, the caretakers need it to be reminded of the power of touch. It's so freeing, so healing, so loving to hold a child's hand.

      I extend my hands, O Lord, to you, to the world, to my neighbor.

(Is 40:1-11; Mt 18:12-24)

Visit Bethlehem here. In this new millennium, there is much talk of pilgrimage, of going somewhere. Perhaps we need to stay closer to home. Dom Helder Camara, former archbishop of Olinda and Recife and fearless champion of Brazil's poor, once said: "Why should I go on pilgrimage to Bethlehem...when I see Christ being born here....Oh, how blind we are, how deaf we are! How hard it is to grasp that the Gospel of Jesus is still going on!"

     Help me, Lord, to see the Gospel story in the people around me.

(Is 40:25-31; Mt 11:28-30)

Welcome home. Whenever I turn the corner and head toward home, I can't help but smile. Whatever happened during the day, its various frustrations, mishaps and pressures, leave me as I picture my child waiting for me. As I walk up the steps I can't ask for a more welcoming gesture than her beaming smile and tight hug around my legs.

     Let the children teach us, O God, to welcome with open arms.

(Is 41:13-20; Mt 11:11-15)

Tell your story. At a certain age, most kids won't go to sleep without first reading or hearing a story. After bath time, the anticipation mounts for the fun and closeness of story time. Children love stories. More importantly, we are living stories. Elie Wiesel, author and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, says that the reason God created is because God loves stories.

     God, author of life, show me today how my story fits
into your Story.

(Is 48:17-19; Mt 11:16-19)

Pray for interruptions. Whether it's sleeping, taking a shower, reading a book, relaxing, you name it, with a little child running around the house it's sure to be interrupted. Sometimes I wish for a day of no interruptions, no obstacles to get in the way. Then it hits me: Without interruptions where would the newness and freshness of life be?

     Lord of surprises, help me to find you in the interruptions
of my day.

(Sir 48:1-4, 9-11; Mt 17:10-13)

Stay alive. In his book, Trappist, Michael Downey tells of a conversation between a visitor and a monk. The visitor asks, "What is the toughest thing about the monastic life?" The monk responds, "It's not obedience. It's not celibacy. It's certainly not that we don't have our own bank accounts and credit cards. It's staying alive to it, doing the monastic thing day after day."

     Let me stay alive today, O Lord, in your light and love.

Third Sunday of Advent

     Cultivate silence. I have an old car, a very old car, in fact. One thing I'm glad that doesn't work after all these years is the radio. Not having it allows me time to think, to listen, to reflect. With so much noise elsewhere, it's the one place that I know will be quiet.

     Show yourself to me in the quiet moments of the day, Lord, whether they be few or many.

(For December 17 or later, see Late Advent)

Monday of the Third Week
(Nm 24:2-7, 15-17; Mt 21:23-27)

Expect great things. So often we sell short ourselves and our families. Where does holiness reside? Jesus tells us again and again, holiness is all around us, every day. Yes, we need sacred places and sacred actions, but God speaks to us everywhere.

     Lord, help me to look close at hand for your revelation.

(Zep 3:1-2, 9-13; Mt 21:28-32)

Listen to the poor. Many of us close ourselves off from the world, seeking shelter from the world in safe homes, easy living. There's nothing wrong with safety, but the gospel instructs us never to neglect our neighbors, especially the poor. When we reach out to our neighbor, we are reaching out to Christ.

     Help me to hear the cries of the poor, and to act in solidarity.

(Is 45:6b-8, 21b-25; Lk 7:19-23)

Proclaim the Kingdom. How can we be Kingdom people? Jesus tells us the signs: The blind see, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor hear good news. How can we be good news in our homes and to society's poor? Where is blindness, paralysis, shame and deafness that we can help to heal?

     Lord of life, help us to see your face in the people we live with, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.

(Is 54:1-10; Lk 7:24-30)

Prepare the way. Did you ever show up at a party or a restaurant in the wrong outfit? It happens to everyone sometime. Without preparation, we really can't enjoy the action as fully as we might. But when we think ahead, we're ready for good things!

     Make straight the crooked paths in our hearts, Lord, and let us be ready for your love.

(Is 56:1-3, 6-8; Jn 5:33-36)

Praise the Lord! Late in Advent, our excitement builds for the coming holiday. Amidst the gift-buying and holiday preparations, let's be mindful of the incredible gift that God gives to us every day in Jesus. It's the gift of life, the gift that keeps giving.

     You are great, O God. Thank you for the gift of life, the wonder
of all creation.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Find God in the details. All of history had been leading up to the Incarnation—God made flesh. Imagine a surprise weekend trip a mother and child plan for Dad. They might say later that the trip wasn't the only fun. Most memorable might be all the planning of the mother and child: directions, lodging, food, money, packing, all done with loving care. In human history leading to the Incarnation, God has been doing the same all along.

     Let us know your care and concern, God, in the events
of our lives.

Late Advent

December 17
(Gn 49:2, 8-10; Mt 1:1-17)

Get with the plan. Now is the time to remember! We enter the late days of Advent, joyously tending to the last-minute details, and welling with excitement like a child before her father's surprise party. Let's remember what we're about, and make sure we are ready for the king's arrival.

     Make your ways my ways, Lord, in everything I do today.

December 18
(Jer 23:5-8; Mt 1:18-24)

Look out for angels. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place! After finding out that Mary, his betrothed, is pregnant, Joseph is confused and troubled. He doesn't know what to do. There appears to be no other possibility than adultery—that is, until an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream.

     Speak in my heart, O God, and through your messengers who reveal your ways to me.

December 19
(Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25; Lk 1:5-25)

Remain hopeful. Childless and now too old for children, Zechariah and Anna must have experienced the fine line between patience and hopelessness. Many newborns don't arrive on time but are days or weeks overdue. God's time is different from our time. During the time of waiting, new parents—especially moms—become more focused and alert for any signs of labor.

     Tune me in, O Lord, to the signs of your presence in Advent.

December 20
(Is 7:10-14; Lk 1:26-38)

You are the chosen one. Picture this: Betrothed in marriage, Mary, a young teenager, is visited by the angel Gabriel and asked to do that which at best seems improbable—to bear the Christ child. She knows all too well the penalty for adultery in her culture—death. Despite the possible misperceptions, she cannot avoid the fact that she has been chosen by God. In an act of great bravery and trust, Mary responds, "May it be done to me according to your word."

     Help me to listen, like Mary, Lord, and to open my life
to your will.

December 21
(Sng 2:8-14 or Zep 3:14-18; Lk 1:39-45)

Keep it in the family. Family photo albums can be fun, revealing, comforting. If I ever need to relax and "find" myself, they are one of the first places I go. There is always a sense of anticipation, excitement and newness—our dating years and engagement, our wedding and first house, family vacations and get-togethers, and the birth of our daughter.

     Lord, you show us the Incarnation in the people we love.
Help us to love freely.

December 22
(1 Sam 1:24-28; Lk 1:46-56)

Discover the other. The Magnificat, named from the first word of the Latin translation, is such a traditional Catholic prayer. It is also a very Jewish prayer, based upon Hannah's words in the First Book of Samuel. It reminds us that Jesus and his family were Jewish, that we ourselves have Jewish spiritual roots. In finding out about another, we discover things about ourselves.

     Jesus, help us to love Judaism, to respect all of the faiths where people seek your presence.

December 23
(Mal 3:1-4, 23-24; Lk 1:57-66)

Be excessive. A little-known saint celebrated during Advent is the Polish priest John Kanty (d. 1473). He was known to be a kind and humble man. As the story goes, one day he was robbed by thieves. Asked if he had more money, he said no. Later, he discovered coins in his pocket. Shouting, he chased the thieves down and gave them what he had. In response they could only give back what they had initially taken.

     Show us your generosity, Lord, and help us to imitate it.

December 24
(2 Sam 7:1-5, 8-11, 16; Lk 1:67-69)

Rejoice! The season of waiting ends. The entrance antiphon for this morning's Mass says it in the spirit of St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians: "The appointed time has come; God has sent his son into the world." As we move into the Christmas celebration, let us remember that the Incarnation is our key to the future.

     Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
Shine on us!

Michael J. Daley is a teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has a B.A. in theology from Xavier University (OH) and an M.A. in religious studies from Villanova University (PA). His articles and book reviews have appeared in St. Anthony Messenger, Momentum, Youth Update, America and Religion Teacher's Journal.

Next: The Mass: What's Ahead?
           Preview of the Roman Missal's New Instruction
            (by Father James Moroney)


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