As my year of pastoral formation continues to fly ahead, one area where I know I am particularly blessed is with the freedom and luxury of time for prayer. Through the close of Advent, and in this past week, two special “times of prayer” stand out for me.
The first was during our parish Advent Penance Service. Not yet in priestly service, my role was pretty much behind the scenes: assist with setting up the extra places for the visiting priests, make sure they were comfortable with where they would go as the service began, and so forth. But once the common elements of the Penance Service were completed, and people were loosely gathering in lines throughout the church, in subdued lighting and with quiet music in the background … I had a chance to simply pray. It was a unique opportunity to focus my prayers on those who were gathered that night, gathered to receive the forgiveness promised by Jesus to Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you have loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19).
God’s mercy and forgiveness is rooted in His death and resurrection, and we, His disciples, are Easter People. But part of the deal is that we are invited to accept that forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; each of us are sinners, and we all need to celebrate this Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly to feel the freedom and peace of God’s mercy. So this first, special sacred time allowed me to simply close my eyes, and gathered in the church, to offer my petition to God that each person would, with courage and humility, find their way closer to Jesus.
The second sacred prayer time has been occurring this week. I have the chance to teach the religious education classes for our second graders who are preparing for the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. In particular, between classes, I have about 15-20 minutes alone in the chapel, and I have made this a time to pray for these little ones, and for their parents. The questions they ask during the classes are enthusiastic, and I can begin to feel their growing excitement about the Eucharist. So my prayer for them is that they remain excited about their relationship with Jesus, and that it is lasting for them, guided by their parents, for a lifetime.
I view these sacred, extra prayer times as a blessing and a luxury; I’m sure that I won’t always be able to sit quietly and pray for others like this. One day, before I know it, I hope to be sitting, listening as their parish priest and offering that mercy and forgiveness of Jesus to the faithful during Reconciliation services. And so I ask all my readers to remember this note the next time you are in church, especially for a Penance Service; take a moment, and pray for those around you who may have struggled to come back to Jesus. His forgiveness is offered to all, but we need to make that journey back to ask for it, with humble hearts. Pray for the little ones preparing to meet Jesus. Pray for the parents who are trying their best to teach and share their faith with these little ones they once brought for Baptism. And pray for the lonely young, the seniors, and all those in between; make your sacred time of prayer one that is offered not for yourself, but for others. Pray, as Saint Paul did in his Letter to the Ephesians, that each may be filled with the fullness of God.