Stay awake, praying at all times...

November 24, 2021

Advent!  In the Sunday Gospel passage Jesus is saying, "Stay awake, praying at all times".

Praying at all times? Is it possible? Is it even safe? If you are driving a car or performing a surgical operation reading a prayer-book, for example, isn't advisable. Well, try looking at it this way: If a mother is holding a restless very young baby on her hip while adjusting the flames on the stove she can't be concentrating on the baby – at least, not explicitly. But at some level deep down in her mind she is aware of the baby (otherwise she'd drop it!). The quality of that awareness depends on how she relates to the baby at he times when she is free to.

Or a different example: you are a passenger in a car driven by your friend. You both have all sorts of things to talk about that occupy your mind. And yet you do get to your destination. The driver has been concentrating on what you have been saying... and concentrating too on the road, but at a different level of awareness. The quality of that concentration depends on how well you relate to each other when you're really free to, and how well the driver concentrated on driving when learning to.

So if we give our full attention to prayer or prayers when we have the opportunity there'll be a deep level in us where a sort of prayerfulness trickles on at other times. So I think Jesus means, let everything you do and the way you do it be because you want to live my Gospel to the full, you want to imitate me in my heart and my values (you can't “imitate” me as a Palestinian carpenter but your heart and mind can be in tune with mine thanks to the prayer you pray when you can).  

Each year around the end of November the Church changes gear in the liturgy, stops, re-starts and puts the accent on justice and integrity – and praying too - to prepare for Christmas and for our eventually meeting Christ face-to-face.  And a sign of that stopping and changing is the colour-switch from green to a more sombre purple. So, are we back at the start? Not really – with the Holy Spirit we're spiralling deeper, year by year. Or, to put it another way, spiralling closer to full union with God, who has never left our side.

A change of colour... and a change of Evangelist: now begins Luke’s year. He is the one who most stresses how the Church is forever open to change in order to stay the same living Church of Christ our living Lord. Here's a suggestion, if you have a spare half-hour :- Take the Acts ofthe Apostles, which is Luke's Volume 2. Read chapter 10 of Acts, put yourself in Peter's sandals and sense the way in which he realises that he and the Church are being asked to change … and yet stay the same followers of the same Christ.

Fr Tom Shufflebotham SJ

Image credit: Jonannes Plenio via Unsplash. Alttext: a lamp shining in a narrow alleyway.

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