I – Mary at prayer
So, the first stop in this talk is to see Mary as a prayer and I don’t think there is a better place in scripture to see that, than Luke’s Gospel. For there we frequently find Mary ‘pondering’ and ‘storing things up in her heart’. At the Annunciation, for example, we are told that Mary was greatly troubled that the Angel called her ‘full of grace’ and responded by ‘pondering’ or ‘wondering’ what it might mean.
Again, when the Shepherds come to see the Child Jesus and recount the great signs they had seen of the Angels we are told that Mary responded by ‘treasuring these things up in her heart and pondering them’.
A third time, after she loses Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem and he goes down to Nazareth with them, we find Mary ‘treasuring these things in her heart.’ The question is: what is it to treasure something in your heart and to ponder over it; what is Mary doing in all these scenes?
The answer is really quite simple: praying.
So many of us would not immediately think of that, however, because we are used to vocal prayer, prayer that is predominantly spoken or sung. We very rarely think of prayer as meditative or contemplative, prayer as silence.
Yet, that is precisely what Mary is doing here. In response to these unbelievable events she does not exclaim, or shout for joy, she does not sing, or say anything. Instead, she turns inward in silence and ponders over them.
Here Mary shows us the true meaning of prayer.
See, prayer is not so much what prayers one says, or how many times one says them; it’s not so much about how well one sings the prayer or how long one prays for. Certainly, all these things are important: we need the help of certain set prayers like the Rosary to keep us on track, and we need to try to sing well, at least so other people aren’t seriously disturbed by us, and we do need to set time aside for prayer. But the real core of prayer, the crux of it, is interior union with God.
That is, an awareness that God lives in us, that we can speak to him and listen to him in our hearts. That is what Mary had and that is what we, you and me, can have if only we want it, if only we ask for it.
In fact, it is in this prayer that Mary shows herself to be the true disciple. For what does Our Lord say when he teaches the disciples about prayer in Matthew’s Gospel (6:6)? ‘[W]hen you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’
That is precisely what Mary does; she enters the secret room of her heart and speaks to God there. It doesn’t mean that she stops going to the temple or synagogue. Jesus is not advocating what so many think he is here; he is not saying ‘don’t go to church’. Instead, he wants us to develop our hearts into a secret room where we can go and meet him, converse with him, listen to him, and remain with him. That is the way Mary prayed and with her help we can pray in the same way.
In order to do that, however, we need to change a lot. The first thing to do: put away the earphones, at least sometimes; turn the radio off, at least for some of the car trip; turn off the TV or computer, at least for some time during the day; don’t scroll through your news feed when you have five minutes spare!
See, this kind of prayer Mary shows us is prayer not suited to our times. We live in a society that values being busy, that bombards us with noise and images, that inculcates habits in us that make this kind of prayer really difficult. So, the first thing we need to do to develop this kind of prayer is to develop a more silent kind of life: a life of fewer distractions and less noise. That way, we can turn to that secret room, as Mary did, and ponder over things there.
The second thing to do is to set aside time each day to do it. A great way to do this is to set time aside at the end of each day for what is called an examination of conscience. Here we can set aside 10 minutes maybe to go over what happened in the day, like Mary pondering on the events around her, talking to Our Lord about them, asking for his mercy, his guidance, his help.
I promise you, if you do this everyday, you will notice a huge difference in yourself and your interaction with others. Developing this kind of prayer will lead you in the footsteps of Mary and ultimately form you into the kind of disciple she was: a faithful disciple of Christ.
Delivered by Seminarian Jack Green to IGNITE Youth at Saint John XXIII Catholic Parish, Stanhope Gardens on 28 May, 2017.
Part 2 will be published next Thursday.
To read the Introduction of Mary: The Model Disciple, click here.