Pray constantly this Advent

“This is the opportune moment to change our lives! This isthe time to allow our hearts to be touched!”
— Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”), No. 19

Advent can be a difficult season. It is a time of waiting — something we are not very good at doing in a world of instant gratification. It is also a time to quietly embrace hope, peace, joy and love. These feelings may elude us in a world filled with glitter, rushing, stress and noise.

In addition to the typical challenges of celebrating Advent, this year Pope Francis presents us with a new theme to consider. It is mercy. In the midst of the quiet, dark and expectant Advent season, Pope Francis calls us to embrace mercy — both for ourselves and for others. On Dec. 8, he will open a Holy Door of Mercy in Rome as a symbolic gesture to begin an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy for the whole Church. Throughout Advent, the Holy Father and bishops everywhere will be opening Doors of Mercy in other cathedrals and shrines. We are invited to join our Church this Advent in a journey toward greater mercy.

Like a golden ribbon running through garland and lights, mercy is entwined in every aspect of our Advent waiting for hope, peace, joy and love. As we wait for a gentle babe to come to our earth, we are acutely aware of the tremendous and amazing mercy of a God who would send his only son to save us. Even as we open our hearts to receive this gift of greatest love, we know we are called to share it with others.

But how do we remember mercy in addition to the other themes of Advent, when our minds are full of remembering where the best sales are, when the next party is and what gifts we still need to buy and wrap. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul gives us a simple tip for managing all the stress and demands of the Advent season: pray constantly (1 Thes 5:17). A good way to pray constantly is with prayer mantras.

The information on the following pages can help guide you as you pray this Advent.

FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT (Nov.29.-Dec.5)

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A time of hope

“Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”
— Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”), No. 10

Our Prayer Mantra

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
— Luke 6:36

At this time of the year, many of our thoughts are on gifts. What gifts we will give and what gifts others will give to us. Yet, we often forget the greatest gift ever given to us: God’s loving mercy. None of us deserve to be the royal sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father. None of us deserve to be the princely sisters and brothers of Christ, our King. Yet, that is what we are. God has given us a dignity that does not come from stylish fashions, expensive jewelry or the latest technology. We can scratch all these things off our wish list. The dignity we have comes from his mercy. How can we possibly give back to God a gift of equal value? We cannot. But we can pledge this Advent season to pass the gift of mercy on to others who may not be as well aware of God’s love in their lives as we are. This is exactly what Jesus told us to do in the words Pope Francis selected to be the theme for this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, “Merciful like the Father.”

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Think of others

➤ We can include the poor in our Christmas giving.

➤ We can show mercy to a stressed-out stranger by giving up the closest parking space or to letting someone go ahead of us in a line.

➤ We can overlook an annoyance that might normally lead us to react in an unkind way and show mercy instead.

SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT  (Dec. 6-12)

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A time of peace

To refrain from judgment and condemnation means, in a positive sense, to know how to accept the good in every person and to spare him any suffering that might be caused by our partial judgment and our presumption to know everything about him.”
— Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”), No. 14

Our Prayer Mantra

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.”
— Luke 6:37

Pope Francis says the first step to giving and accepting mercy is to give up judging. It is difficult to show mercy when we are judging someone. But giving up judging is hard. When I was a child, we used to give up candy for Advent. That was easy compared to giving up judging. As children, we were taught the importance of making good judgments. We must judge which friends, actions and pursuits are right for us. At this time of the year, we are busy judging what gifts, party food and holiday activities are best. Some judgment is always necessary in our lives. The problem arises when we judge ourselves against others. Someone always loses.

If we fall short in the judgment comparison, we are tempted to devote our time and energy to things that may make us look better. These may not be the highest priorities in God’s eyes. If the other person falls short, we may be tempted to act arrogantly or unkindly toward that person. However, when we give up both our judging and our worry about others judging us, an amazing peace can enter our lives. We are free to be ourselves and to let others be who God calls them to be. We set down the tremendous burden of thinking we are in charge of determining right and wrong for the whole world. By regularly repeating the “Stop judging” mantra throughout this second week of Advent, we may become more aware of when our judging is harmful to us or to others.

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Avoid judgment

➤ Are our Christmas plans and purchases too motivated by a desire to have others judge us in a positive light?

➤ When does our judging lead us to treat others poorly?

➤ Has our concern over the judgment of society ever led us to wastefully follow trends and fads rather than our own hearts?

THIRD WEEK OF ADVENT (Dec. 13–19)

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A time of joy

“At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully.”
— Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”), No. 9

Our Prayer Mantra

“Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
— Luke 6:37

With a pink candle in the Advent wreath, the third week is a time to start feeling the joy of Christmas. However, it is hard to feel true joy if our hearts are cold with bitterness or resentment. One of the important steps to both joy and mercy is to forgive. Forgiving is not easy. For some crazy reason, we like to hang on to our anger and hurt. However, carrying this baggage is no way to approach the Christ Child in the manger. Our Advent season should be a time to embrace merciful forgiveness.

Often, the first person we must forgive is ourselves. We must stop concentrating on our past mistakes, shortcomings and weaknesses. A merciful God loves and forgives us for all of this. When we are able to forgive ourselves, we are then more able to forgive others.

Whether we need to forgive a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor, past acquaintance, stranger or society, now is the time to do it. It is not always necessary for us to actually confront the one we need to forgive. In fact, bringing up old pain can sometimes be more harmful than helpful. We just need to resolve to set aside our anger and replace it with love, mercy and compassion. This simple decision can flood our hearts with joy.

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Seek and give forgiveness

➤ Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Many parishes have communal reconciliation services during Advent with private confessions afterward.

➤ If someone is waiting to hear us say the words “I forgive you,” let us not delay any longer.

➤ If we have wronged someone, ask for their forgiveness. Even if they refuse the pardon we seek, at least we offered the olive branch this Advent.

FOURTH WEEK OF ADVENT (Dec. 20-24)

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A time of love

“Let us allow God to surprise us. He never tires of casting open the doors of his heart and of repeating that he loves us and wants to share his love with us.”
— Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”), No. 25

Our Prayer Mantra

“Give and gifts will be given to you.”
— Luke 6:38

Christmas is often a time of reciprocal giving. We give gifts to others, and they give gifts to us. It is supposed to be a sign of love, but often it is more a sign of obligation. In fact, during this last week of Advent, we might worry about who will surprise us with a gift and leave us feeling embarrassed because we did not remember to get them something in return. Yet, the best gift-giving is when we can give without expecting anything in return. This is how God gives to us, and this is how he expects us to give to others.

From the moment of our birth, God has showered us with gifts that we do not deserve and can never repay. This list is longer than even the most spoiled child’s Christmas list. Our very lives, our families, our education, our homes, our health, our unique talents, our financial security — all these and so much more are gifts God has poured to overflowing into our lives. And on Christmas morning, we are reminded of the greatest gift of all. God does not expect us to give him anything in return. Just as his gifts flow down upon us, we are called to let our gifts flow down upon those who can give us nothing in return.

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Give thoughtfully

➤ We could send anonymous gift cards to someone experiencing financial difficulties.

➤ Instead of hitting the latest holiday sale, we could donate to an organization that cares for the poor.

➤ We can carry some local fast food gift cards to give to the homeless so they can have a hot meal.

Prayer mantras

Prayer mantras are basically short phrases that can be easily memorized and repeated throughout our day. Prayer mantras can be whispered in our hearts as we wait in lines, try to calm our stressed minds, drive to work, rock the baby, wash the dishes, wrap the presents or drift to sleep after a hectic day.

Although the term “mantra” comes from Eastern spirituality, the concept has been a part of Christianity for centuries. One of the oldest and most popular Christian prayer mantras is known as the Jesus prayer. It is simply, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.” Many saints — including Pope St. John Paul II — encouraged its endless repetition throughout the day. Prayer mantras have gained popularity in recent times as a way to stay in constant contact with God, even in the midst of the busyness of our lives.

Prayer mantras can also guide us in our decisions, inspire us to do the right thing and help us walk with grace. By regularly repeating the words of a mantra, we will instill its message into our hearts. It will become a part of the person God made us to be.

In this section are suggestions for a different prayer mantra for each of the four weeks of Advent. Each mantra comes from the Scripture quote that Pope Francis called “the steps of the pilgrimage to attain our goal” (Misericordiae Vultus, No. 14). Using a different prayer mantra each week can help us focus on the true meaning of Advent and also remind us of the mercy we are called to embrace this year (see poster on reverse). If these prayers do not touch your heart, search for your own perfect mantra. Prayer mantras can be found throughout the Scriptures and other sacred writings (see sidebar). Because all good prayer should also lead us to spiritual growth and action, the reflection on each mantra includes some ideas on how it might change our lives this Advent.

Going forward, mercifully

The ways we can live mercy this Advent are endless. They are not new or unique. We have heard the cry of the poor, the suffering, the sad and the lonely throughout our lives. And many times we have responded. Yet, at other times, we have been too busy, too tired, too self-absorbed or too stressed to notice. Prayer mantras will help us pay attention.

So much good can be done when we remind ourselves to be merciful, to stop judging, to forgive and to give. We may be surprised how often one of these mantras will pop into our minds right before an opportunity to do good presents itself. And, thus, we will prepare the way for the Lord to come into our lives and into the lives of all those who feel our mercy.

Find Your Perfect Prayer Mantras
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Once we realize the powerful impact prayer mantras can have on our busy lives, we will discover a wealth of beautiful mantras are hidden in Scripture. Here are three of the best places to look: