December 12, 2022
In today’s Gospel, the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that God has chosen her to be the mother of Jesus. Mary was trying to understand God’s will, and this was prayer.
Sometimes we think of prayer as simply asking God to do something for us. Will God grant my request each time I pray? Magic? No… and yes…
Let us first ask ourselves, what is prayer? Repeating words like the Our Father, the Rosary? Silence in front of the Tabernacle? Yes… and no…
St. John Damascene tells us that “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” So (1) we bring our mind and heart to God, not just move our lips. And (2) we ask good things from God, not just anything.
Prayer is also a covenant and communion, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A “covenant” is an exchange of selves; it is not just a “contract”, which is an exchange of goods or services. God gives himself to us, and we give ourselves to him and to our brothers and sisters. We unite ourselves with and imitate Jesus, whom we await during Advent. He came not be served but to serve, so that we may also lay down our lives for others. We forgive those who do us wrong and walk that extra mile for those in most need–not only of material things, but also of our love, joy, care, and attention.
Repeating prayers and loving silence in the church are just the beginning. Prayer is not a computer code that will program God to want and grant what we want. Rather, prayer programs us to want what God wants, and to say, like Mary, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word”.
Instead of singing proudly and proclaiming to the whole world that “I did it my way”, I will now sing humbly but joyfully, “I did it God’s way”. God’s way of self-giving love, of caring for others, of liberation from sin, mercy, peace and joy.
The magic of prayer then consists not in telling God to work for us, but in allowing Him to work in our hearts and in our minds. By understanding God’s will, Mary readied herself to be God’s instrument for Jesus to come into the world on Christmas.
May we also imitate Mary and ask God each day what he wants of us. Maybe he will answer with one word, “more”. We do the same things each day, but this time with more love, with more joy, with a greater awareness of his presence. This way Jesus continues to be present in this world through us. This is the magic of prayer.
Recall moments in your life when praying meant accepting the will of God in our lives–and the joy that it gave you.
Would you like to deepen the meaning of your Christmas by doing what Mary did–by allowing Jesus to be born in our hearts? Which is to say, following now the will of God, instead insisting that God follow our will?