We've all done it...some of us quite frequently. We rattle off an Our Father or a Hail Mary or a Glory Be with our minds wandering far afield and then wonder what in the world we just said. We slog through our daily prayers only half awake, mumbling them from memory or letting the words of our prayer books slide by without stopping to think about what they actually say.
Catholics are especially susceptible to these kinds of problems. The prayers we memorized as children glide off our lips and can escape without a second thought. We have at our fingertips collections of beautiful prayers written by devout men and women and designed to deepen and enrich our spiritual lives, but it is very easy to read them quickly and then forget about them.
In order to break this all-too-familiar pattern, we must move from rote to reflection, setting aside time each week or even each day to meditate deeply on familiar memorized or written prayers, draw out the depths of their meaning, and apply them to our lives.
Let's look at an example. Today's closing prayer from the Liturgy of Hours reads as follows:
Lord our God,
help us to prepare
for the coming of Christ Your Son.
May He find us waiting,
eager in joyful prayer.
This seems like a simple little prayer, and on the surface it is...just five short lines appropriate to the themes of the Advent season. But when we stop for a few minutes to reflect on these words, we recognize the extent of their wisdom.
“Lord our God...”
Isn't it a miracle that we can even talk to God? Think about Him for a moment. He is all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-holy, yet He still allows us to address Him. He is so far above us, present everywhere and seeing everything, yet He stoops to hear the smallest of our prayers. He is our Lord and our God, but He wants a personal, intimate relationship with each and every one of us. Now that's amazing!
“...help us to prepare for the coming of Christ Your Son.”
These eleven words pack a huge punch of meaning. First, we learn that we are not alone in our Advent preparations. God helps us. He gives us the graces we need to prepare our hearts for the coming of His Son. It's good to remember this during the busyness of the Christmas season when we feel overwhelmed with a thousand things to do and very little time in which to do them. We can ask God to help us prepare, and He will...as long as we respond with openness and cooperation.
These two lines also tell us what Advent is all about, preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus came among us as a tiny Baby on that first Christmas, but He also comes to us every day, every moment, in our prayers, in our daily activities, and through the people around us. Are we prepared to recognize and accept Him? He comes to us in Holy Communion, too, in a most intimate and profound way. Are we properly disposed to receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity? How about at the moment of our death when we meet Christ the Judge? Are we ready to stand before Him?
It wouldn't hurt us either to take a few moments to reflect on Jesus Christ as the Son of God, equal to the Father, God from all eternity, and the Father's living Word.
“May He find us waiting, eager in joyful prayer.”
Our final two lines instruct us in the attitude we are to assume during the Advent season (and throughout our lives): waiting, eager, and in joyful prayer. Waiting suggestions recollection of God and a consciousness that something important is about to happen. It also speaks of patience and perseverance, of openness to the future, and of trust in the God Who comes to us. This waiting is not to be mournful or boring, however. It is to be eager. We're preparing for the wonderful event of Christ's coming, so why wouldn't we be like excited little children, ready to greet Him at the moment of His arrival? And while we're waiting, we're to spend our time in joyful prayer...not dull, weak, inattentive recitation but loving, trusting, intimate communication that strengthens our relationship with the Blessed Trinity.
This little meditation has merely scratched the surface of our model prayer, but the more we spend time spend reflecting on our “everyday” prayers, both memorized and written, the more we will recognize their depths, appreciate their beauty and complexity, and, through them, grow ever closer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.