Ascension Day is traditionally celebrated today in the Church, and it is also considered the first day of the first novena, as Mary and the Disciples remained in Jerusalem to pray for nine days for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. This is the heart of our novena tradition.
A novena can be a special time between God and the praying soul, a pilgrimage of transformation and insight, as well as a way of “storming heaven,” with a petition. A novena prayed with faith is also a time of expectant waiting.
Whatever I am praying for, I try to ask with an open heart, one that is actively seeking God’s will.
Sometimes God does not give me what I thought I wanted when I began. Sometimes he changes me instead.
Sometimes I begin to get a sense that I should ask for something different than the petition I started with. My prayer seems to be redirected. Maybe this is so that I might pray with the Holy Spirit rather than just out of my own will.
I know, dearest Mother, that you want me to seek God’s holy Will concerning my request. If what I ask for should not be granted, pray that I may receive that which will be of greater benefit to my soul, [and the souls for whom I pray.] ~ from the Novena to Our Lady of the Rosary
Other times, my single-mindedness of purpose grows and I continue with my petition, like the “persistent widow” I am.
When I begin a novena, I am not sure what God will do but I know he will do something!
I try to be attentive to what God may want to say to me during this time of focussed, dedicated prayer.
The divine synchronicity interwoven with daily life reminds me that heaven is near, and that God is always speaking.
The symbolic meaning of having a dove land on the hood of my car and look through the windshield at me while I am praying at a red light may seem hard to miss. But it is possible to think nothing of it. I want to notice and make the connection.
If I dedicate and consecrate these nine days of prayer to cultivating my awareness of God’s voice speaking through life itself as it happens, a novena can be a time of becoming attuned to Holy Spirit and wonder.
If I am praying a novena to a particular saint, St. Therese, let us say, I try to find ways to weave her presence into my life. I may read about her or read from her writings during that time. I will talk to her as I go about my day, ask her to join me in my work and prayers.
I might do small acts of service in her honor; especially the kind she liked during her life on earth, the sneaky kind.
I may make use of imaginative prayer to go into the situation I am praying about, letting St. Therese lead me in bringing God’s light into darkness, to let her show me something, or to visually surround the people involved, with God’s love, with hers, and with mine.
I often ask friends or family to join me in praying a novena. Jesus encouraged us to join together when we ask for something, and it encourages me to know that someone I love is praying along with me.
I like to to begin a novena by going to Confession.
It always seems to me that I can “hear” God better after Confession. The grace released into my life from the sacrament enlivens my prayer.
At mass I may offer my reception of Holy Communion for the person or intentions I am praying for.
I try to drop in at church and visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament more often during my novena too, even if only for a moment. I can bring all my concerns there to him for healing; setting them at the foot of his alter for him to arrange in divine order. In his Eucharistic presence, my intentions are blessed, and my troubled heart can rest.
Sometimes I plan a series of nine Scripture verses that I think correspond well with my novena, one for each day to reflect on during the day. Bringing God’s Holy Word into my prayer deepens and interconnects the experience. “God’s word is alive.” Also it never returns to God void but always does what he sends it to do. I trust the word to act on my heart and to return to the Lord full.
I usually give up something at least for a day, or for the duration of the novena. This may be something small, like sugar in my coffee, listening to music in the car, or my favorite drink. St. Therese said her greatest weapons were “prayer and sacrifice.” Fasting and prayer are well established practices for us in our faith when we are commending a situation to God.
Right now I am keeping a novena journal. In it I am recording my prayers, thoughts, insights, Scripture passages and events that stand out to me during this time. It seems to be a fruitful and helpful way to pray, reflect, and notice how God is working in my life through my novena. I look forward to reading it through at the end.
Often when we pray a novena, it is because we are suffering in some way. Part of praying a novena meaningfully can be offering our suffering in union with the suffering of Jesus, that it may be redemptive for others, especially those for whom we pray. St. Therese once offered her difficult walk across the infirmary when she was very ill, for missionaries.
A novena can be a transforming experience when lived and prayed deeply; both for ourselves and those around us.
I like to give thanks at the end of a novena, for all God has done, is doing, and will do in response to my petition, whether or not it looks like my petition was, “granted.” I know that God will only give me what is right and at the right time.
His love never fails; nor does its power to change everything, anything, anytime.
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