by Fr. Timothy Guthridge, C.PP.S., Director of Initial Formation
In the opening line of the Gospel of the First Sunday in Advent, Jesus says to his disciples, “Be watchful! Be Alert!” The last word of the Gospel, which Jesus says to all, is “Watch!” Throughout the years, many have interpreted this passage as a call to be on guard because we do not know when either death or the Second Coming of Christ will come. This is understood in the interpretation of the second line of the passage, “You do not know when the time will come.” I think the passage is about there, here, and now—and I mean right now!
During the season of Advent, Jesus calls us to be attentive to God’s grace at all time. This doesn’t mean we think about God all the time. It does mean we live our lives in such a way that our hearts are open the grace of God all the time. This includes regular participation in the sacraments, and regular prayer practice outside of Church that actively opens our hearts to God’s transformative grace.
For centuries, monks and nuns have practiced Lectio Divina as a way of carrying the work of God in their hearts. As Christians we believe that God’s word is a living word: Scripture not only gives us something to think about, but also transforms us. To carry a sacred work or phrase from the Bible throughout the day is a way of always carrying God in our hearts.
In the 13th century, Meister Eckhart said that through an inner spark (scintilla animae) of the soul, one could acquire mystical apprehension of the divine. Experience of the divine is the heart of mysticism, and not something outside human experience. People’s hearts are changed and transformed by God grace all the time. The Precious Blood of Jesus makes this possible.
As a way of being watchful and alert, for the last several decades, Fr. Thomas Keating, OCSO has been enabling people to open their hearts to the divine spark through Centering Prayer. People are encouraged to take a sacred word, phrase, or image, one given to them by the Holy Spirit in prayer, and quietly sit with that word twice a day for 20 to 30 minutes. Tens of thousands of Christians testify that their lives have been transformed by God’s grace through Centering Prayer.
Begining in 1975, at Ealing Abbey in West London England, Benedictine Monk John Main began teaching Christian meditation using the word Maranatha (Come, Lord) as a Christian mantra. John saw Christian meditation as a way of developing compassion and unity among different Christian churches and groups. In the meditation process, a person, by oneself or in a group, prays the mantra Maranatha for 20 to 30 minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon or evening. In 1991, the World Community for Christian Meditation began what now has over 100,000 members in 114 countries committed to this practice (their website is wccm.org).
For the last eight years, I have been using the Jesus Prayer—used for centuries by Orthodox and Oriental Christians—as my own personal prayer practice. The most common formula is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Most people use this prayer as a form of mantra to center themselves in the presence of Christ.
The goal of all these prayers is to quiet the mind, and sit quietly and peacefully in the presence of God. Resting in the presence of God is one of the best ways of being watchful and alert.
Sometimes I wonder if in Roman Catholicism there isn’t so much emphasis on the intellect and dogma that we forget there is joy and peace to be experienced in our faith. Jesusdoes not want us to be watchful and alert so he might catch us napping and then punish us. Jesus wants us to be alert and watchful, with our hearts open to God’s grace, so there will be peace, happiness, and joy in our lives.
The Christian way of life is to be a healthy way of living. Christianity is a faith to be experienced, not just talked and read about. Jesus wants happiness and wholeness to be a part of our lives. Jesus shed his blood upon the Cross so we can experience and share a spark of divinity of the Holy Spirit. I hope this Advent Jesus will find us watching and waiting. More importantly, I hope Jesus finds us happy, healthy, and at peace.