3 Possible Advents, 3 Prayers

It is the second Sunday of Advent, and we light the “Bethlehem Candle” of faith today, or the candle of “preparation.” Advent is really all about preparing to give birth to, and sustain, new life – to allow the Holy Spirit to do a new work in our hearts and our walk with the Lord. That is why the rhythm of the Church doesn’t start with Christmas. Our hearts cannot welcome the birth of Christ without preparation. Part of that preparation is a realization of the long groaning of all of creation throughout the centuries of salvation history.

But another important part of Advent is to recognize what Christ still means to fulfill in our individual lives. We are still waiting for the complete fulfillment of the promise of that covenant relationship made so long ago to make all things new and for our Father to fully restore us to himself. The Advent of our King was not a one-time event. It is a once-for-all-time event. Which means that his coming in our lives – and the new life he births in us because of his birth – is reoccurring – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.

So the question that I have for you in the middle of your Advent season is this: What is it that Christ wants to give birth to in your life this Advent? What is he preparing you for, and how is he preparing you to walk more closely with him?

I want to use a pregnancy analogy (since I’m currently 34 weeks pregnant), to help describe three possible seasons of Advent that may be happening in your heart right now. Think first of the woman whose pregnancy and expectation of a new life is filled with nothing but joy. Everything about it is wonderful and exciting. My first pregnancy was like this. It’s a happy time…not without its overwhelming moments of how life will change…but you are preparing for this new birth with a welcoming joy.

In the spiritual life, these are the easiest and best Advent seasons, aren’t they? Preparing for what God is about to do, for the unique way that he appears to be coming in your life, is full of joy. During this time God may be giving birth to lots of exciting new things and wonderful insights. It might be a time of blessing, and you are probably being called to bless others through that blessing. This may be a time when you are experiencing a lot of spiritual consolations too. These are good times in the spiritual life. But these are not always the only seasons of Advent that God has for us. Continue reading “3 Possible Advents, 3 Prayers”

In Advent, Get a New Heart

Advent is upon us. It is an anticipation-filled season of preparation. We are making ready our hearts to celebrate our savior’s birth; and for that reason it is a penitential season as well. If we are truly entering into the fullness of preparation, then we have to be thorough. When we ready our home to welcome our holiday guests we dust out the cobwebs from corners and clear clutter that has been collecting in the spare bedroom. Must we not do the same in our hearts for the Advent of our King?

I have recently been listening to “Clean Heart,” a powerful song off of Matt Maher’s newest album, and it totally reminded me of Advent’s penitential role in preparing us for the celebration of Christmas. (In fact, I added it to my Advent Playlist on Spotify.) The lyrics capture what should be the disposition of our hearts during this time:

“When everybody’s looking for another fight;

when trouble’s on the rise, no end in sight;

oh, Savior won’t you come and make the wrong things right.

Let me be the place you start…give me a clean heart.”

So often we look to the external problems as the cause of our fractured world and disconnection to God. However, Maher’s words remind us where all repentence and restoration must start — internally, in our own individual hearts. The heart that enters Advent asking God to fix her own brokeness first is the humble soul that will be able to be used by God to redeem external brokeness according to his will and kingdom purpose. We cannot be participants in the coming of the kingdom of heaven on earth if our hearts are not dwellings fit to welcome our savior.

St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “Love to pray. For prayer gives a clean heart. And a clean heart can see God.” As we enter Advent, it is vital for us to spend time communing with the Lord, so that we can accurately assess the mess in our hearts. Do we have hearts that can see him, that will recognize his coming? The Lord can give us the hearts we need, but we have to release to him the ones we have been hiding. In Ezekiel 36:26, God says:

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

When our hearts are not clean, they are not actually hearts at all. They certainly are not the dwellings that our Creator made to inhabit. Would you give your guest a bed of stone? Of course not, but we cannot give what we do not have. During this Advent season, don’t disguise your hard heart with fine linens; our savior came to a humble manger filled with straw. He doesn’t want the “filthy rags” of our self-righteousness and self-sufficiency (Isaiah 64:6). He wants a soft heart of flesh, and only he can give it to us. Give him your dirty, hard heart; and let him give you a new one — one that is a clean, humble, and soft manger in which he may lay.

 

Copyright 2017 Jessica Ptomey

My Reading Challenge Pick for…A Book by a Doctor of the Church

We are down to the last three categories for the 2017 Catholic Reading Challenge. I’ve been sharing what I’m reading throughout the year for each one.

Category: A Book by a Doctor of the Church

My Pick: An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

Of all the hundreds of saints in the Church, we only have 36 that hold of title of “Doctor of the Church.” So basically anything that you pick from these folks will deliver profound insights — guarenteed. The hard part is picking one. It wasn’t too hard for me, because I had been meaning to read An Introduction to the Devout Life for quite some time (which is why these reading challenges can be just the motivating force we need).

This book has been described as a prime manual for spiritual direction and St. Francis the ultimate spiritual director. (In fact, he wrote it as such, addressing one woman, Philothea, in her pursuit of the devout Christian life.) I certainly agree with that sentiment; moreover, I found the work to be both essentially practical and timelessly inspired. Every topic, and he covers quite a range of them, applies to pretty much every Christian’s life.

One of the most impactful topics for me personally was his step-by-step description of the process of mental prayer. I have been trying to develop this practice in my own life, but I struggled in finding helpful resources to guide a novice. St. Francis’s advice and methodical approach are exactly what a beginner needs, and I have found myself able to immediately apply his method in my prayer time.

Another great aspect of this book is that the 118 “chapters” are generally very short — most are 1-2 pages. So you could take this book in small daily chapter nuggets — kind of like a daily devotional — and spend a longer time meditating on each topic and host of insights. Here is a short list of some of the other topics covered in the book:

  • The definition of true devotion
  • Meditations for mental prayer
  • An entire section on various forms of prayer
  • Descriptions of the virtues and how to practice them
  • Edifying friendships
  • Marriage advice
  • The proper place for amusements and pleasures
  • Assertaining the state of your soul: consolation and desolation
  • How to conduct spiritual examinations of ourselves

There are more topics than these, as well as a variety of helpful sub-topics within each of the above. Basically, everyone would come away from this book with something significant that is immediately applicable to daily life. Some books of spiritual direction are not for everyone, especially given particular tastes and vocations; but this is one that I believe should be read by every person who is striving to live a devout Christian life.

 


What Book by a Doctor of the Church did you read for the #2017catholicreadingchallenge? If you are posting your pick on social media, remember to use the hashtag!

 

Copyright 2017 Jessica Ptomey