By Barb Arland-Fye
My husband Steve thoughtfully lit the first of the purple tapers on our Advent wreath candleholder, not realizing that he needed to wait until we prayed the blessing over the wreath. It was dinnertime on the first Sunday of Advent. Plates of warm food tantalized Steve and our sons, who were waiting patiently to eat.
First, I had to find the Advent and Christmas prayer guides carefully tucked away last year in one of our stuffed cabinets. More minutes passed but I arrived quickly in the kitchen with the appropriate prayer guide in hand. However, I had to interrupt our prayer service to retrieve the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent, which was part of the blessing.
My family appeared so reverent, heads bowed in prayer and hands folded through the wreath blessing. Then I noticed some tightening of folded hands and a bit of shifting in chairs after concluding the blessing and launching into the prayer that followed. All of us had forgotten that the prayers beginning the Advent season require a slightly longer investment of time than praying grace before meals.
Thus, we began our Advent prayer tradition a bit rushed as I sped through the final verses and we concluded with grace before Steve, Colin and Patrick could cut into their juicy steaks. Steve and I have instilled a tradition of prayer in our family but sometimes our efforts fall short. Prayer in the Fye family (and in my personal relationship with God) sometimes falls short of attentiveness, even though we desire to be truly attentive to and honoring God.
The aroma and sight of delicious food caused us to be less attentive in prayer at the dinner table that first Sunday in Advent. However, food isn’t my only excuse. Many mornings in cold weather, I exercise indoors on my stationary bicycle, which becomes boring and tedious quickly. I also pray during morning exercise but, to my frustration, I sometimes get distracted. A good friend who, like me, loves to bicycle outdoors, advised against praying while riding indoors. Watch TV or listen to a podcast, he suggested. Yet, I sense God nudging me to pray, despite my distractedness!
Pope Francis, in a general audience last year, advised the faithful to fight against distractions in prayer. Embrace the Gospel virtue of perseverance. “We do not know the day or hour in which Jesus will come, and so we must be watchful, striving to concentrate and be attentive to the task at hand” (Vatican News, May 19, 2021).
The “life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. “This communion of life is possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ…. Its dimensions are those of Christ’s love” (#2565).
I will continue to persevere in prayer and strive to set an example for my family this Advent season and beyond. Meanwhile, we’ll plan to pray from the prayer guide for the Second Sunday of Advent before dinner again. This time, without the plates filled with food to distract us!
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)