“It is not particularly difficult to find thousands who will spend two or three hours a day exercising, but if you ask them to bend their knees to God for five minutes of prayer, they protest that it is too long.”-Fulton Sheen
When I first came to know Christ, I was as eager as any other woman in love. I was going to read the whole Bible, I decided, and the Catechism. I was going to go to daily Mass once a month1 and watch Touched by an Angel. Clearly I was all in.
On top of that impressive list, I was also going to do something that I felt was almost saintly: I was going to pray for 10 minutes a day. To that point in my life, I’d prayed very little. In the few previous years, you could probably add up all my prayer time and not get ten minutes. So ten minutes was a pretty good goal.
The trouble was, I had no idea how to pray. So I collected a litany of prayers and maybe asked for some stuff. If you had asked me at the time to spend an hour with Jesus, I might have wondered if you were on drugs. A whole hour? I would have had no idea what to do.
In fact, it wasn’t until twelve years later–when I entered the convent–that I realized that regular silent prayer was an essential component of the Christian life. I’d been praying in all kinds of ways, but I only sat still with the Lord when I had something to say. It’s hard to grow in a relationship when you only talk to a person every once in a while when you feel like it. And when I finally started praying in silence, it was hard. I had no attention span. None. I would literally pray for 3 of my intended 30 minutes and check my watch.
You may be in the same boat. Maybe you try to spend time in adoration but you just get antsy–or bored out of your mind–and leave. If you’ve got the discipline to stick it out, that’s great. But some of us need a little more direction. So I put together a spiritual plan for those of you who want to step up your prayer game this Advent but aren’t quite sure how to.
This “Advent Boot Camp” is a guideline, not a foolproof plan. Feel free to substitute anything. What’s essential is that you’re spending time in silent prayer–not just prayer but silent prayer–and that you’re easing into it.
Each day’s prayer starts with a 5 minute warmup. It’s hard just to snap from all the noise of the world into prayer, so take some time to slow down, talk to the Lord about what’s weighing on you, and get quiet. Then see what God has to say to you through his Word, his Saints, and the prayers of his Church. Finally, spend some good time in silence, either processing what you’ve read, talking to God, or trying to be still in his presence. If your prayer life has consisted solely of grace before meals and Mass on Sunday, this might be tough. But it will get easier. And what better time to seek silence than in the mad bustle leading up to Christmas?
- Day 1: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 40; 5 minutes silence
- Day 2: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 9:1-6; one decade of the rosary, 5 minutes silence
- Day 3: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings2; 5 minutes silence
- Day 4: 5 minute warmup; Catechism 522-526; one decade of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
- Day 5: 5 minute warmup; Luke 1:26-38; 10 minutes silence
- Day 6: 5 minute warmup; Chaplet of Divine Mercy; 5 minutes silence
- Day 7: 15 minutes of prayer: your choice
Week 2: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend one extra Mass
- Day 8: 5 minute warmup; reading from St. Bernard of Clairvaux; 10 minutes silence
- Day 9: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 11; two decades of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
- Day 10: 5 minute warmup; Luke 2:1-21; one decade of the rosary; 10 minutes silence
- Day 11: 20 minutes of prayer: your choice
- Day 12: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings; 10 minutes silence
- Day 13: 5 minute warmup; Stations of the Cross
- Day 14: 5 minute warmup; “In the Bleak Midwinter”; 1 John 4; 10 minutes silence
Week 3: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend two extra Masses
- Day 15: 5 minute warmup; John 1:1-18; reading from St. Gregory Nazianzen; 10 minutes silence
- Day 16: 25 minutes of prayer: your choice
- Day 17: 5 minute warmup; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”; 15 minutes silence
- Day 18: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings; 15 minutes silence
- Day 19: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 5 minutes silence
- Day 20: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 61-62; 15 minutes silence
- Day 21: 5 minute warmup; memorize Isaiah 9:5 (“A child is born to us…”); 10 minutes silence
Week 4: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make two chapel visits
- Day 22: 5 minute warmup; Jeremiah 31; 15 minutes silence
- Day 23: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 35; reading from St. Augustine; 20 minutes silence
- Day 24: 5 minute warmup; Matthew 1:18-2:23; G.K.Chesterton “The House of Christmas”; 20 minutes silence
- Day 25: Half an hour of prayer: your choice
I’ve compiled the non-Biblical readings here if you want to print them in advance: Advent Boot Camp readings
This is going to max you out at 30-35 minutes of prayer at one time. If you feel like you can do more than that, go for it. But if you’re a beginner when it comes to non-liturgical prayer, this might be a good way to get started. Whether you’re interested in this approach or not, do spend some time praying about how you’re going to try to grow closer to the Lord this Advent. But don’t stress about it–it’s supposed to be a time of preparation and peace, not frantic anxiety, despite what the mall might do to you this time of year. You might consider starting to read the Bible through in a year using this schedule. Or read Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God. Just be sure you do something more than bake and shop to prepare for Christmas this year. The Christ Child is coming, after all. Offer him your heart.