Advent: Prayer and Retreat

Making a retreat in Advent is the perfect way to prepare for Christmas, says Paul Northam.

Advent is approaching, and once again the Church, through liturgy, presents us with themes that touch on waiting, hiddenness and preparation.

However, Advent is a relatively short period, and we can sometimes miss the season in the rush to be ready for Christmas -a mistake every Christian should avoid!

I hope to offer some ideas which can help you make the most of your Advent.

Making the Most of Advent

Lent has been called our annual retreat.

However, I see no reason why Advent can’t embody some of that same character, stripping away those things which obscure the face and love of God in our lives by renewing our commitment to prayer, rejecting what is evil and doing good (Psalm 34:14).

Therefore, would you consider making this Advent your second ‘annual retreat’?

Depending on your daily commitments and duties, your retreat might involve one or more of the following elements:

·      Taking up of a spiritual or corporal discipline.
·      Abstaining from some food or activity.
·      Holy reading and time alone for personal/prayerful reflection.
·      Spending time with family/loved ones for purposeful and holy recreation.
·      Spiritual direction with a priest or religious.

Whichever discipline or devotion you take up in Advent, the renewal of faith comes particularly from a deepening of our relationship with God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – through prayer. That involves personal as well as corporate prayers, such as attending Mass.


‘Prayer does not help your relationship with God,’ so the saying goes. ‘Prayer is  your relationship with God’. So why do so many of us, even those who have been Christians for a long time, find prayer an alien, or even hostile, environment?

The reasons can be varied: we may, for example, be plagued with doubts about the depth of our relationship with God. Or perhaps we have become discouraged at our own lack of holiness.

A retreat is the perfect time to face those difficulties and go into the ‘desert’ with Christ to do battle, using the armour and weapons God has given us. This involves the spiritual armour St Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:10-18, but also includes the virtues the Church encourages us to practice.

In his rule, St Benedict speaks about what he considers to be the primary virtue:

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,.. taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience. 

Obedience To Prayer

Obedience is the hallmark of a disciple, and therefore our obedience to Christ will be made manifest in our obedience to prayer.

However, you do not need to do this alone. Could you also embark on this journey with another person, holding each other accountable to what you have decided to do on your Advent retreat?

A mistake to avoid is to do too much. Choose just one thing, or a manageable amount, and then do it with all the love of a disciple in service of the true King.

The take home message this December, then, is to go deeper- especially in prayer! Our retreat will be the poorer if we don’t.

However, do not worry if you feel you are just going through the motions. Tony Campolo put it well when he said these words: ‘When we get into the habit of prayer, we won’t just pray when we want to, we’ll pray when we don’t want to – which is when we need it the most’. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you on your journey.

Have a blessed and prayerful Advent retreat!


“Practical Ideas for Missionary Parishes” – #9 Don’t Inform, Invite!

For this practical idea, I’m featuring a leaflet created by a parishioner on behalf of the parish of St Peter’s, Leamington.

As a church we often mistake informing for inviting; or information for evangelisation. Or to put it another way, are we a church that sends ‘postcards’ or ‘wedding invitations’?

When we receive a postcard from a friend or relative, we instinctively know that the person is not looking for a response, but is just letting you know they are having a good time, perhaps on holiday. However, when we receive a wedding invitation, we don’t just pop it on the mantelpiece and say ‘that’s nice’! We understand that it is something that we must reply to, and promptly. Evangelisation is similar to sending a wedding invitation, rather than a holiday postcard.

Indeed, the Good News is an invitation to meet, and respond to, Jesus Christ and experience His great love for us. Below is an example of how our churches can extend an invitation to meet Christ to those in our locality through offering a simple leaflet or by posting it though a neighbour’s door.

Can your church be one that invites rather than simply informs? Let me know your good ideas and I will feature them here. In the meantime, Leamington parish would be happy to help you think about how you evangelise or to produce a similar leaflet for your church. Please see their web-page and get in touch:



“Practical Ideas for Missionary Parishes” – #8 Online Welcome Mat

Tamworth Web shot

Fr Michael, at the parish of St John with Sacred Heart, Tamworth have been undergoing a parish renewal which has sought to look again at the welcome the parish lays out, and the ‘doors’ through which people can enter to discover more about the Catholic faith or to meet Jesus for the first time.

One of the things they have done most recently is to reorder the parish website with those principles in mind, and which resembles a church building in a number of ways. First, you receive the welcome, as you would at any church porch or narthax: here you are signposted to the various notices and information you might need to orientate yourself. Second, you are given information about the worship life of the church: this includes information about the Mass and the various ministries of the Church. You can also find out about how to become involved in those ministries as a member of the church.

With more people making ‘first-contact’ with our Catholic faith online, I’d like to recommend a visit to Tamworth’s new website and to think for yourself how your own parish might become an evangelising parish for digital pilgrims as well!



Parish Evangelisation: A Bird’s Eye View

In this post, I will be linking to 4 important summaries on evangelisation to help anyone interested in learning more about the reason why the church exists in the first place!

Fr Gareth Leyshon, of the Cardiff Archdiocese, gives us a birds eye view of how a parish can begin to think purposefully about mission, and provides resources to support the process. The links below take you to Fr Gareth’s website. Enjoy!





“Practical Ideas for Missionary Parishes” – #7 Preparing for Mass

I’ve often been asked how parishes might encourage a prayerful atmosphere at the beginning of Mass, where people can prayerfully focus on what the Church has called the source and summit of the Catholic life, rather than on the parish notice sheet!

One parish priest in Stoke in Trent (Fr Julian Green) has devised something called “Welcome to Mass” – an alternative mass sheet to aid that preparation – which is given out as people enter the church. He has decided to keep the notice sheet until the end of mass, offered to people when they return their “Welcome to Mass” sheet.

The parish priest has reported that it appears to help the atmosphere of prayer before mass, and subsequently during the mass itself, so that people are more open to receive what God desires to give them.

I’ve attached two example of this sheet below. They might also help to orientate newcomers, who are at mass perhaps for the first time!


“Practical Ideas for Missionary Parishes” – #6 Bless Your School Leavers

As it comes to the end of another academic year, you might want to think about how the school leavers in your local catholic schools will practice their faith at university.

Solihull parish (St Augustine’s) has been offering prayer packs to students over the past few years, as they pick up their results during the summer holidays. This can be a great way of reminding them that their local parish is praying for them and that God has a plan for their lives irrespective of the results they receive.

The impact is not just felt by the students but also by their parents, who in some cases request packs too, and can start faith based conversations. It can also improve links between the parish and the school. Here is an idea of what you might want to include in a pack…


Missionary Parishes – Podcast Interview with Fr Julian Green

Missionary Parishes – a podcast interview with Fr Julian Green

Paul spoke to Fr Julian Green, parish priest at the partnership parishes of Our Lady of Grace in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffs (Goldenhill, Kidsgrove, Biddulph & Packmoor).

Both priests and people often wonder how a parish might move from ‘maintenance to mission’ and Paul asks Fr Julian about his experience over the past year or so of building a missionary parish, in order to share something that other parishes can learn and apply in their own places.

Our Lady of Grace can be found via the following web link: Our Lady of Grace I’d like to thank Fr Julian for giving his time to talk to me on the Fieldworker’s Fieldtrip.

  • 0.00 (44.09) Intro
  • 0.58 (43.11) Who is Fr Julian Green?
  • 2.13 (41.56) What is Evangelisation? Who is an evangelist?
  • 5.06 (39.03) Maintenance to mission
  • 8.04 (36.05) Getting the foundations right
  • 10.49 (33.20) Has evangelisation always been your central concern?
  • 14.22 (29.47) Fr Julian’s inspiration
  • 15.49 (28.20) Divine Renovation: what is it?
  • 19.58 (24.11) The Divine Renovation conference
  • 21.13 (22.56) Practical examples of mission in Stoke
  • 25.56 (18.13) The Alpha Course
  • 28.37 (15.32) Involving parishioners
  • 31.21 (12.48) What have you discovered about your parish?
  • 32.48 (11.21) The place of prayer in building missionary disciples
  • 38.15 (5.54) Challenges and opportunities for evangelisation in Stoke
  • 40.52 (3.17) Advice for parish priests
  • 44.09 (0.00) End