Grounding the Liturgical New Year in Prayer
This weekend, as it happens on the first Sunday of Advent every year, we commence a new liturgical year. Our New Year brings with it a focus on Luke’s Gospel during our Sunday celebrations and perhaps more specifically, the intimate connection between prayer and the Holy Spirit – both of which are major themes/motifs in the third Gospel. Luke portrays Jesus at prayer before every important event in his life: his baptism (3:21), in choosing his twelve apostles (6:12), before Peter’s profession of faith (9:18), before he is Transfigured (9:28), before teaching the Our Father, and perhaps most poignantly, in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest, trial and crucifixion (22:41). Prayer was undoubtedly the most important aspect of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father while he walked this earth. Luke’s Gospel in this next liturgical year, therefore, gives us a wonderful blueprint for our own lives.
While much ink has been spilt by as many theologians and learned people over the centuries about prayer, it is still nothing more and nothing less than a mutually enriching, balanced conversation between two hearts: God’s and ours. Half of prayer, therefore, concerns our capacity to listen to God, who speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. I often encourage primary school students when we gather for prayer to listen to the readings not just with their real ears, but with the ears of their hearts. It’s an interior journey that each of us must take in order to discover the personal relationship that God desires with each and every person; this takes listening to the Holy Spirit – to the different thoughts and feeling which are given to us in prayer. Often, it’s the “aha” moments when something touches our heart or grabs our attention in which the Holy Spirit reaches out.
Luke refers to the Holy Spirit in his Gospel more than the other Gospels – no less than thirteen times in fact – in order to demonstrate her immanent presence and desire for relationship in our lives (just as an aside, we have no accurate personal pronouns in the English language to describe God/the Holy Spirit since s/he is neither male, nor female, but still people).
Prayer, through listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, is that one thing that, if we all took stock of where we are at, in our relationships with God, and committed to deepening that relationship through investment of time, would give us the answers we seek as well as change us, our community and the world. Will this happen/can it happen/does it happen on its own? We certainly don’t discount the action of God’s grace in our lives – that free, unmerited gift of God – but throughout the entire Bible, God is portrayed as one in dialogue with humanity. God doesn’t act unilaterally, but in, through and with us – his most precious creation.
Friends, a New Year is traditionally about new beginnings; taking the opportunity to leave behind the old self and put on the new self (Eph 4:22-24). We’re probably used to thinking this way about the calendar New Year but the Liturgical New Year offers the same opportunity for our spiritual lives. What spiritual practice is God inviting you to take up? Spending ten minutes in prayer every morning is a great place to start, as is reading the Bible – maybe reading Luke’s Gospel during the season of Advent? No matter what you do, know that God and the heavenly host rejoices in the effort we make to invest in our faith lives. May prayer and the Holy Spirit be the foundation of all we think, say and do in this New Year.
May God bless you and your family as together with Mary and Joseph, we prepare to celebrate the arrival of our Saviour.