The first thing I need to point out about prayer is its absolute necessity to sustain us as living and operative members of the Body of Christ.
“Pray without ceasing.” (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17)
This terse order from God tells it all. We need prayer the way our bodies need air to breathe, and food and water to sustain physical life. This is the first and most basic concept that has to be etched in the back of our mind. However, the need to pray without ceasing reveals to us that prayer is more than mere conversing with God. It is awareness that we are fully alive in Christ. That our life is unfolding around the clock under the watchful eye of our heavenly Father and is secure in his gentle yet most powerful hands.
In that loving embrace there is time for talking, for listening but also and, most importantly, for simply being there, for resting, for silently enjoying each other’s presence: we in the Holy Trinity and the Holy Trinity in us. Do we begin to realize how prayer, considered from this viewpoint, has the power to brighten any gloomy day, to enable us to face any challenge, to free us of fear and anxiety and to fill us with courage and hope?
Speaking of prayer, the readings of this first Sunday of Advent are clearly three samples of prayer along with Psalm 80 about wising up and returning to the Lord. The first reading (Isaiah 63: 16-17, 19; 64: 2-7) shows a wonderful baring of one’s soul before the common Father in heaven. There is brutal honesty in admitting mistakes; there is burning desire for God to quench our thirst; there is the sad realization of bareness and fruitless toil away from the Source of all life; and there is the need to go back to the Lord to relieve the unbearable weight of our guilt. All these very existential feelings are brought to the fore by the recurring acknowledgement of the Lord’s great and awesome deeds of salvation history.
In this part of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (cf. 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9) that makes up the second reading, the Apostle breaks into a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving as he contemplates the works of the Lord in the lives of his faithful living in Corinth. Now, think of how far from that ideal we are in being fully alive, quickening with enthusiasm, and eager to share the Gospel with others.
The Gospel passage (cf. Mark 13: 33-37) proves the crucial importance of training our mind and heart to opt for a silent, constant, uninterrupted prayer of listening. In this prayer, Jesus teaches us about the vital motivation with which we must arm ourselves so that our longing for the Day of the Lord, the day in which the Lord will call us to himself in death, may find us so vigilant that even when our body needs rest and sleep, our heart remains always alert and vigilant.
We desire to learn this lesson because our praying ought to be done without ceasing; because without ceasing, as individuals and as a community, we long for the Lord. We know that we are called to be a noble and vibrant part of the largest community there is, the Community of Saints which, by divine design, should be expanding thanks also to our direct, personal way of preaching the Gospel.
I believe that the Lord will be very pleased with us if we realize that we are truly praying whenever and as long as our hearts are burning inside us for we choose to live with the Word, in the Word and for the Word. The Lord will be very pleased with us if we vow solemnly to learn how to pray or, rather, we let the Holy Spirit pray in us and make us genuine evangelizers.