Bishop Hying

Allow Advent to be a time of silence, prayer and patience

     We seem to live in a world of “instant everything.”  Fast food, social media, air travel and thousands of conveniences designed to save time make us less willing to wait for anything. We now have instant Christmas, with holiday decorations in stores right after Halloween, Christmas music on the radio before Thanksgiving and shopping opportunities at every turn.

     While we can easily be drawn into the myriad of holiday activities right away, the Church offers us the season of Advent to help us prepare and wait for the gift of Christmas. And waiting is not necessarily a bad thing. 

     Great things can happen while we wait. A pregnant mother bonds with her unborn child for nine months while waiting for the birth. I’ve had great conversations with strangers in lines at stores and reception rooms of doctor’s offices, which would never have happened if we didn’t have to wait. The farmer waits for the right moment to plant and to harvest the fruits of the earth. Waiting compels us to pause, take a breath, and look around. When I am forced to wait, I am powerfully reminded that life doesn’t revolve around me, my schedule and my needs. I am a small piece in a far larger plan and web of relationships. Waiting humbles us and helps us to find our proper place.

     In this season of Advent, we listen to the voice of John the Baptist, who bids us to pay attention, to watch, to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. When I slow down, take the time to truly listen to someone, contemplate nature, read a book and really pay attention, pray through my distractions, I begin to notice and sense the gentle presence of God in the smallest details of the remarkable life around me.  How often, we will suddenly notice a particular building, a picture on the wall or another person in the hallway that we have passed dozens of times but never really saw, never took in, never paid attention to. Advent invites us to pace ourselves, not hurry up, to look, keep vigil and listen with our hearts and spirits attuned to the in-breaking of the divine into the seemingly ordinary circumstances of life.

     The Blessed Virgin Mary is the other spiritual figure that this season presents to us, this woman wrapped in silence, mystery and grace. I was blessed to attend the National Catholic Youth Conference last week in Indianapolis where 24,000 young people, including 240 from our Diocese, gathered for two days of prayer, celebration, formation and fun. It was an amazing and inspiring experience. One of the keynote talks focused on the Virgin Mary, particularly her willingness to be fully seen by God and to be authentically herself. By embracing who God created her to be, Mary became the mother of Jesus, the sacred intersection point of the divine and the human.

     Oftentimes, simply being ourselves is a difficult task. We can hide behind masks, walls and indifference, fearing that if people truly knew the “real us” they wouldn’t like what they see. 

     Advent is a sacred time to come before the Lord and let ourselves be seen by God, even as we try to slow down and see the divine presence around us.  In prayer, I can drop my false self, the negative messages I play in my head, my worries and fears, all the baggage and agendas that sometimes rob me of joy and peace and just be myself, the real me that God loves and takes delight in. 

     Prayer is a taste of the ecstasy of heaven because it calls me to live radically in the present moment.  Distractions will try to pull me into the future or the past, but when I can keep returning to the sacred experience of now, I find the Lord in all of the beauty, truth and goodness of the divine visitation.  Prayer is the most human and liberating experience that we can embrace.

     Wouldn’t it be odd if we celebrated our best friend’s birthday, but got so distracted by the party, gifts, decorations and cooking, that we never actually sat down and talked to the person we are trying to honor?  The best present is presence.  Maybe this Advent, God is calling you to forgo some of the frenzy-do less shopping and pray more, attend fewer holiday events and do more volunteer service, run around less and spend more time just being, watching and waiting along with Mary, John the Baptist, all the saints and the entire Church for the surprising revelation of Jesus - His presence, love, mercy and life.

     My prayer for all of us this Advent (and I admit it is a strange one!) is that life will force us to wait sometimes, to not get everything we want right away, to be compelled to anticipate, so that we will stop, look and listen in new ways. Let this Advent be a time of silence, prayer and patience as the Lord secretly works in the corners of our hearts, helping us to carry and birth the living Christ for this hurting world.


     + Donald J. Hying


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