Many years ago as a student I had occasion to travel in Europe during the summer.
Without much money, I rented a room from a family in a poor part of town. It was terribly hot. With no air conditioning or fan, I opened the window and hoped I would fall asleep.
Maybe 1:00 a.m., dozing in the still and humid night, I became aware of a noise out my window and would discover that it was coming from an adjoining alley behind the house. A scratching noise; long silence – perhaps a full two or three minutes; scratching again.
Finally, in curiosity I went to the window to see. There was a little dog at the door to a neighboring house. He scratched at the door; and then he would stand, head cocked and listening – for a long time - waiting. When he couldn’t hear any movement inside, he would scratch again, and stand silent and still, poised to hear any response. I waited with him for some time – cycles of “knocking” and waiting. A door opened finally, and the dog went in. I never heard a word, or saw a person.
I have had wonderful experiences in prayer – that sense of peace and wholeness which the saints call “consolations.” But it is certainly not like that all the time. Those delights only whetted my appetite and reinforced my determination to wait and listen. Much of prayer is wait, and watch, and listen, and wait again. The certainty of faith that the Master is within makes it possible to not see Him, not hear Him, and still believe.
I know He hears. He tells me He is listening. I believe He is acting. In those long silent times of prayer, He is softening my heart; He is fortifying my resolve.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC, No 2715) recounts the words of a peasant at the church in Ars, France. He told his pastor, St John Vianney, about his prayer before the tabernacle: "I look at him and he looks at me.” Contemplation, the Catechism teaches, “is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. … This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self.” Prayer, that doesn’t rely on delights but is satisfied to rest in Christ, “purifies our heart.” “The light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men.”
On the other hand, perhaps it is us who must let Christ in. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any one hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20)
I look at Him; He looks at me. I knock; He knocks. He never gives up, and so we also must persevere in prayer: waiting, watching, listening; knowing that He has entered. He is nourishing and healing us in the communion of His friendship.
Let us remember the beautiful words of the Collect for Monday of the First Week of Advent to help us to continue the preparation of our hearts and our minds for the coming of Our Divine Savior:
Collect for Monday of the First Week of Advent
Keep us alert, we pray, O Lord our God,
as we await the advent of Christ your Son,
so that, when He comes and knocks,
He may find us watchful in prayer,
and exultant in His praise.