A "HOMELESS JESUS" SCULPTURE by artist Timothy Schmalz in the courtyard of St. Luke’s parish in Schenectady.
A "HOMELESS JESUS" SCULPTURE by artist Timothy Schmalz in the courtyard of St. Luke’s parish in Schenectady.
Pope Francis once said that a religion without mysticism is philosophy. In a similar manner, social justice without prayer is politics.

As the website for the Catholic University of America notes, "Prayer is always an encounter with Christ. Our work for justice depends on this encounter. 

"Only Christ can compel us to give more generously, serve more faithfully and love when we think we have nothing left. Only Christ can give us hope when we are overwhelmed by the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Only with Christ are peace and justice a concrete possibility."

Prayer has many other benefits. It allows us to be more concerned with people than with partisanship. It permits us to focus on particular needs, regardless of the political affiliations of those involved.

This Advent, our prayers can help us become more welcoming to the needy and more compassionate toward our adversaries.

We can begin by examining our consciences in light of Catholic social teachings. (See the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' website, www.usccb.org.)

For example:

•  Do we recognize the face of Christ reflected in all others around us, regardless of their race, class, age or abilities?

•  Do we recognize and respect the economic, social, political and cultural rights of others?

•  Do we engage in service and advocacy work that protects the dignity of poor and vulnerable persons?

•  Do we respect the life and dignity of every human person from conception through natural death?

Another form of prayer involves our holy Scriptures, which are inextricably intertwined with a call to justice. If you doubt that, find a copy of "the poverty and justice bible" (sic), a Catholic Bible published by CAFOD, the British equivalent of Catholic Relief Services. The editors have highlighted more than 3,500 Scripture verses about poverty and justice.

You can also save yourself some money and highlight the verses about justice in your own Bible.

There are many other ways of praying for social justice. One is to pray with the newspaper. To do this, look through a newspaper (in print or online) to find an article about an issue that concerns you.

Cut out or print the article and bring it with you to a quiet place where you can pray. Pray for God's healing and transformation for all people impacted, including lawmakers and citizens like yourself. Ask God how you can respond to this issue.

Another possibility is the Prayer Box. As described on the website of the USCCB, you can use a shoebox or another similarly-sized box to create your own personal prayer box. Decorate the box or leave it plain.

On small slips of paper, write issues about which you are concerned, such a poverty, climate change, war or immigration. Put the papers inside the box and then, during your prayer time each day, pick one or two slips of paper out of the box and pray for those impacted by injustices related to the issues, for policy-makers and for the ability to listen to how God might be calling you to respond.

You might also pray with some of the great social encyclicals of the Church, such as "Gaudium et Spes," the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965), which is available online.

It begins with the well-known words, "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ."

Read these documents in small segments, prayerfully reflecting on the meaning and impact of the words you find.

Whatever you do, take advantage of these Advent days to prepare for the coming of our Savior, who calls on us to love our neighbors and our enemies and to care for the least among us.

When Advents ends, you can continue to pray for justice in the coming year.

(Deacon Ayres is director of diocesan Catholic Charities' Commission on Peace and Justice.)