December’s Universal Intention of Pope Francis – Pray with the Pope for a life of prayer: to pray that our personal relationship with Jesus Christ be nourished by the Word of God and a life of prayer.
‘Today I announce great news to you’ proclaims the Christmas Scripture, words that we wait to hear over the four weeks of Advent. This December, we know that we need more than ever to hear those words; we long to hear them.
If we pray with the Pope this month in the words he suggests to us, we will be asking to be given a life of prayer. If we ask, we will receive, as we have heard from Scripture. And what we will receive is the gift of prayer, the grace of a life of prayer. We will begin to remember, or perhaps realise for the first time, the deep truth of St Paul’s insight that it is the Spirit of God who prays within us (Romans 8:26-27). That will not excuse us from making a certain effort. We each need to be intent upon prayer, doing our best to make time and space available for prayer, disposing ourselves for it and developing helpful habits. If we remember that we’re preparing ourselves to receive a gift, and to respond to it, we will find that the Spirit is indeed praying in us, in our hearts.
The Pope’s suggestion this month tells us that the life of prayer, for which we ask, will ‘nourish’ our relationship with Jesus; for such a personal connection is our ultimate aim. Scripture, the Word of God, also nourishes. It calls our attention to the many people in those gospel times who wanted to see Jesus. Those rather scruffy Bethlehem shepherds were among the first, then soon afterwards those mysterious and fabulous travellers from a faraway land – and not forgetting Herod, whose motives were so much darker. All were, in their own ways, in relationship with the God who was calling them and were responding to the Spirit who was moving within them. Without realising it, they were sensitive to the voice of God calling them and the Spirit’s desire to pray within their hearts.
In your prayer this Advent, try something else – a little bit extra – or new to you? The daily readings for Mass all speak in various ways in hope and belief that the mysterious infinite God once again will approach us in solidarity and compassion.
Three prayer proposals for the month ahead:
1. Make an Advent mini retreat. Resolve to make time and space gently available, each day, to read and absorb the Mass readings of that day. Allow your heart to be lifted by those inspiring passages from Isaiah, or of Mary and Joseph as we get near to the Nativity. It might not be possible to do this at the same time each day but if you can, do so and it will quickly become a special moment that you’ll look forward to.
2. Intensify your prayer about the middle of the month by turning to the ancient ‘O Antiphons’, chants sung or recited at the beginning and end of Mary’s Magnificat during Evening Prayer on each of the days leading up to Christmas Day, from 17–23 December. You do not need to have a breviary to do this as they are easily found online. If you don’t already, consider trying Evening Prayer each of these days. It is, of course, very easy and fruitful to pray with others.
3. As we reach Christmas, follow the guidance of St Ignatius as he suggests a Nativity contemplation. This would probably take a bit longer so give yourself a little more time for this, as a Christmas present to yourself and to the world.
A Nativity contemplation:
St Ignatius suggests we imagine ourselves with the Holy Family, really present at the Nativity scene as described in St Luke’ Gospel. Place yourself there, in the imagination; see the people, the surroundings, sense the cold, even the smell of the farmyard animals. Let Our Lady beckon you to come close to the newborn child. Then let her say what all proud mums might say to their friends; she asks you if you would like to hold this little one in your own arms for a moment. Accept her offer. As you imagine yourself holding, with great tenderness, the infant saviour in your arms, what do you notice? What words might you want to say to him, and to Our Lady? Give thanks for what you receive in these moments.