Planning the Time

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Work out a set of prayer times that suits you best

The retreat is organized into four sessions. You can complete them in a short time or spread them out over the four weeks of Advent. Just go gently, at your own pace. There are advantages in going slowly: God is not in a hurry. And of course some things will attract you which you find yourself pondering beyond your prayer time.

Work out a set of prayer times that suits you best. Decide how long you are going to give yourself for each session. Rhythms help us to settle down, and to anticipate what is ahead. Try to be generous: God is generous and rewards generous hearts (see 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). Half an hour may be suitable for a session. St Ignatius suggests that whatever time you allocate to your prayer, you should be faithful to it, even if you are bored or find it difficult or distracting. Many people say ‘I don’t feel I’m getting anywhere’ but you are offering God your goodwill and your time in a busy day. You may feel useless, but God is at work, deep in your being where you cannot notice what is going on.

The God who is to come

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We learn how to shape our lives now by looking at Jesus' life.

The Advent of Jesus occurs in history, mystery and majesty. This means that we have three Advents to consider. 

The First Advent is the historical coming of Jesus which occurred a ‘long time ago, in Bethlehem’ as the carol puts it. That first Advent throws light on today.

As we pray and think about the Advent or ‘coming’ of Jesus in history, at Bethlehem the gospels are our starting point. As our parishes and communities prepare nativity plays to teach children the original stories of Jesus’ birth, we can start to see how the story illuminates our lives in the here and now. This process of a memory or story changing our actions now and in the future is something that happens all the time! Think of a family sitting down to plan for Christmas: they look back on how things went last Christmas, and that helps them shape their present plans. So too the Advent of Jesus in history illuminates our present lives as Christians: we learn how to shape our lives now by looking at his life.

Our Advent Theme: ‘The God who is to come’.

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Each day is a day when Jesus comes to us

The Second Advent is occurring as you read or hear these words. This is what we mean by Jesus coming ‘in mystery’, because his presence is not obvious except to the eyes of faith. Jesus comes in disguise in people and situations, in suffering and tragedy, in beauty and in joy, in the sacraments and in prayer. This coming occurs all the time. We can think of the Christian Mystery as a precious diamond. It can be viewed from many aspects and it reveals its beauty no matter which way it is turned. It’s the same with the Mystery of Jesus: throughout the year we view it from different aspects. We cannot take all aspects in at once, because, like the diamond, the Mystery is too rich. We can say that each day is, mysteriously, an Advent Day – a day when Jesus comes to us.

Our Advent Theme: ‘The God who is to come’.

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the desired future shapes the present

Then there is the Third Advent, the future coming of Jesus in majesty. In the Creeds we say: ‘He will come again’. This is the coming which will be the focus of this Retreat: we will be trying to catch a glimpse of the future God promises us.

God’s coming in majesty in the future throws light on how we are to live in the here and now. Just as the past can throw light on the present, the future can illuminate the present, if we explore it. Think of a person preparing for the Christmas meal. They look ahead and imagine how the meal should be. Then they decide on what items they need to make this happen, and go off to buy what they need. So the desired future shapes the present.

There is a cartoon of a man holding a placard in a chaotic world. It reads: ‘The end is Nigh – But I have a Plan!’ If we know nothing about God’s plans for us, we can dread the future and fight it off. But if we take to heart the content of this Retreat, we will look forward instead to Jesus’ final Advent. ‘I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope’ (Jeremiah 29:11).

Our Advent Theme: ‘The God who is to come’.

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We look for the signs of God working in the world

Past and future, then, are like two lighthouses, both focused on the present. Both the historical Advent in Bethlehem, and future Advent at the end of the world are God’s doing, not our own. God will decide, in the fullness of time, when to intervene definitively in our history. But we live in the present, and we play our own role in God’s plan when we are guided by God’s past and future interventions. God loves and respects us so much that he encourages us to be co-creators of the future. This means that we need to look for the signs of God working in the world, trying to discern what they mean, and shaping our life accordingly. God gives us enough of these signs to show us how to shape our lives in the here and now - we are not left floundering in the dark. And this way of life, this way of understanding the world is a precious gift which we can offer to a confused and searching world.

So our chosen theme for this year’s Advent Retreat is ‘The God who is to come’. We want to be guided into the New Year by the Light which comes from Jesus. Each session offers us one of Jesus’ promises to reflect upon. These promises are the language of love. They are made to us because of the love that the Father has lavished on us (1 John 3:1). May you experience that love as you ponder the promises, and grow in the virtue of hope. That is our prayer for you as you begin this retreat!

Your Inner Mood

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Ask for the gift of a silent heart

So, welcome! God wants to meet you and tell you what wonderful things he has in store for you. Lovers do this! You will meet God in the deepest dimensions of your heart, because it’s there that you are your truest and best self. As we begin, you can perhaps ask for the gift of a silent heart so you can hear God’s whisper. Then you will catch on to what God promises you this Christmastide.

Here’s a poem by Rabindrinath Tagore. As you listen to it, try and pick up it’s message – that we must listen carefully to the world around us so we can see that God is present to us right now! Try and make your inner mood one of expectancy, alertness and hope described in this poem.

 

Have you not heard his silent steps?
He comes, comes, ever comes.

Every moment and every age,
every day and every night
he comes, comes, ever comes.

Many a song have I sung
in many a mood of mind,
but all their notes have always proclaimed,
‘He comes, comes, ever comes.’

In the fragrant days of sunny April
through the forest path
he comes, comes, ever comes.

In the rainy gloom of July nights
on the thundering chariot of clouds
he comes, comes, ever comes.

In sorrow after sorrow
it is his steps that press upon my heart,
and it is the golden touch of his feet
that makes my joy to shine.

Our God

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Think of God as ‘Wonderful’

Your retreat is an inner journey, and where it may lead is as yet unknown to you. But although it’s unknown, you are being led by God, and as John Henry Newman says: ‘God knows what he’s about!’ ‘The Lord waits to be gracious to you’ (Isaiah 30:18). God is interested only in your good. You may well be surprised or encouraged, challenged, or excited at what happens. You may become puzzled or fearful: perhaps God may be hinting that your life should take a new direction – think of Our Lady at the Annunciation: her life is transformed by accepting God’s will. Try and be as receptive to the Promises in this Retreat as Mary was: ‘She ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19, 51).

By staying in prayer with an open mind and a generous heart, you will come to deep inner peace, born of being with God. Think of God as ‘Wonderful’ – he’s described this way in scripture some thirty times: he is the wonderful counselor; he does wonderful deeds. When the father of Samson asks the angel’s name, the angel replies, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful! (Judges 13:18). What then is to be said of God if even the angel is too wonderful? When we pray, we are in the presence of Someone totally wonderful and gracious, so we can let our hearts respond freely.