Attentive in Prayer

Attentive in Prayer

First Sunday of Advent  |  Fr Robert Verrill calls our attention to Advent as an opportunity to grow in grace and develop an appetite for prayer so as to foil the Devil’s trickery.

A few years ago, some cognitive scientists came up with an experiment called the invisible gorilla test. In the experiment, the test subject is shown a video in which there are 3 people dressed in white, 3 people dressed in black, and each group is passing a basketball among themselves. The objective for the test subject is to count how many times the people in white pass the ball to each other. Now most people are perfectly capable of doing this task and can come up with the correct answer of 15 passes. However, it turns out that around 50% of the people who watch the video fail to notice that halfway through it, a person dressed as a gorilla casually walks into center view, beats his chest a few times and then casually walks off. The point of the experiment is to demonstrate that there’s a lot going on around us which we fail to notice, especially if we’re engaged in some specific task. No doubt, if the experimenters had told the test subjects to be on the lookout for encroaching beasts, the results would have been rather different. Still, the failure to notice the person dressed as a gorilla is of little consequence for those who participate in the invisible gorilla test. In real life, however, it is very important that we are alert to genuine threats.

St. Gregory the Great gives the following interpretation of today’s Gospel:

The parable outlines the responsibilities of the Church before the Second Coming. The man signifies the human nature that Christ assumed in the Incarnation and took into the far country of heaven at His Ascension. Christ then imparts the Holy Spirit to His servants, enabling them to fulfill their duties in His absence. The pastors of the Church are the doorkeepers, guarding against the intrusion of the devil until Christ’s glorious return. 

St. Gregory reminds us that as we await Christ’s return, the devil is still trying to thwart God’s plan of salvation. Before being cast out of heaven, the devil was among the highest of the angels. We, on the other hand, are in the lowest order of the spiritual realm, unable to properly exist without material bodies. Thus, the devil with his superior intellect is more than able to outwit us with his trickery and deceit. But although we are no match for the devil in the order of nature, in the order of grace, the devil no longer has any power over us.

In this life, we will never be free from temptation – even Jesus was tempted by the devil – but we can be free from the slavery of sin. When we treasure the gift of the Holy Spirit, every temptation becomes an opportunity to grow in holiness rather than an opportunity to sin. Indeed, if we prayed every time we were tempted, we’d probably do a lot of praying.

On the other hand, if we should become preoccupied with worldly ambitions, we can become oblivious to the fact that the devil is tempting us. By the time we realize what is happening, if at all, it is too late – we no longer want to ask Our Lord for help because the prospect of sinning seems far more attractive than the prospect of persevering in holiness.

This is why it is so important to stay alert. In his first letter, St Peter warns us to ‘Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.’  In our more sober moments, we realize that nothing the devil promises us is going to make us happy. Only God can make us happy. Yet this is something we can so easily forget. Therefore, now is the time to pay heed to Jesus’ words, to be watchful and alert. Now is the time to develop that prayerful disposition in our lives, so that when temptation comes, which it surely will, we will call on the Lord with all our hearts, confident that He will come to our aid. For He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He suffered so much for us so that we could be free from the slavery of sin. That is how much He loves us and is ready to help us. May this Advent be a time of spiritual growth as we await the glorious return of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

We would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to all who supported our recent appeal in support of Torch’s online apostolate. We raised £2072 and received some encouraging messages of support! God bless you all.


Readings:  Isaiah 63:16-17,64:1,3-8  |  1 Corinthians 1:3-9  |  Mark 13:33-37

The image above is the mosaic dome in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Washington DC.

fr Robert Verrill  lives in the Dominican Priory in Cambridge, where he works at the University chaplaincy while completing a Doctorate at Baylor University, Texas.