What Catholics Believe - Chapter Thirty-Five

God calls us to pray

Whenever one writes about prayer, one should be cautious. After all, those who presume to speak on prayer had better be ‘pray-ers’ themselves. If not, then anything they say will lose its flavor, like salt that has gone insipid.

Nevertheless, heedless of my own warning, I proceed. I share with you an idea that came to me as I pondered the readings for the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene (July 22). It became my homily for the Mass that day. It seemed to me that Mary Magdalene standing by the tomb of Jesus was (and is) an excellent model of prayer. Thus, dear readers, I entrust to you the following reflection. My own prayer is that these few words may be a means through which the Holy Spirit may touch your hearts and teach you about prayer. If this happens, then my purpose will be served.

“But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping.”  John 20:11

“I sought him whom my soul loves.” Song of Songs 3:1

Mary Magdalene lingers outside the tomb of Jesus. Her companions have left. Peter and John have come and gone. Other, more ‘rational,’ people might tell her to let it go. Move on. Jesus is dead. Time to let him go and get on with life. Yet, she lingers. No matter what anyone else may say or think – no matter how impossible or irrational it may seem – she cannot leave. She must search for the One who has already found her. Against all hope, she seeks. She waits. She weeps. She is not at all at peace. Only her Lord will do.  The Lord alone. Nothing else. And all of this is prayer at its very core. Mary knows her weakness, her inability to live without the Lord. She is like a child – utterly dependent on him, utterly trusting that he will, somehow, find her, even now, when all hope seems to have vanished. Is it any wonder that she is the one to whom the risen Lord appears first?

As with Mary Magdalene, so with us. How often, when we pray, do we not feel as she did outside an empty tomb? We seek our Lord but cannot find him. Distractions abound. Life seems to go on quite nicely all around this tomb. We, too, are tempted to let it go, to move on. We are tempted to feel that the Lord does not hear, that he is not here. How many people have already walked away from the tomb? How many have already said that Jesus is dead? How many more, while professing his name, ignore his words, his example? Why should you remain? Why should I remain? What are we looking for? What do we expect? Pleasant feelings? Tombs do not offer warm fuzzies. A sense of achievement in prayer? Gold stars are useless here. Prayer is about the Lord, not making our egos feel good.

Only one thing matters. We seek the Lord. None other. We seek him because we are wounded by love – his love, which is who he is. If he chooses to give us warm fuzzies, that is fine. If not, that is also fine. We seek the Lord, like Magdalene did. He is everything for us. We, too, are children. Utterly dependent. Utterly weak. Utterly trusting that the Lord will be true to his word. So, we linger by the tomb – or by what seems to be a tomb. We pray. Nothing else will satisfy us. We wait for him to come and save us once again. We can’t save ourselves. We can’t even pray as we ought (so Saint Paul reminds us). Even our prayer is, ultimately, God’s work in us, not our own. So we wait. We hang in there. We endure the distractions, the dryness, the incomprehension of others. We pray as best we can, knowing that the Lord will take what little we can offer him and make it grow and bear great fruit. But we may never see this happen. We are like the farmer Jesus spoke of, who plants the seed and then simply waits – not knowing how the seed grows or even seeing it begin to grow. He waits and trusts. We, too, wait and tr

We pray. Sometimes, we use vocal prayers like the Our Father, the rosary, or the Jesus Prayer. Sometimes, we use our own words. Sometimes, we simply are silent in his presence, overcome with contrition, wonder, awe, gratitude.  Sometimes, we gather for Mass, where our common prayer reveals to us – once again – who the Lord is and what he has done – and is doing – for us.   We encounter the Lord speaking to us and feeding us with his very self. Thus, our faith strengthened, we return to our weekday lives and, sometimes, back to the tomb where he may seem absent from us. But our faith knows that he is present. We believe, against all our senses can perceive, that even now we are awash in his love. All we need do is trust him, like Mary Magdalene did. Like Mary his mother did. Like so many through the ages have done.

“What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish, or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” Luke 18:11-13

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! Send forth your Holy Spirit to once again enkindle in us the fire of your love! 

Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2558-2758; Ruth Burrows, OCD, Essence of Prayer and Guidelines For Mystical Prayer.  Two of the best books on prayer that I have yet seen.  

By: Father Mark P. Nolette, a priest/hermit of the Diocese of Portland, resides in Pittsfield and also does part-time parish ministry at Our Lady of the Snows and St. Agnes Parishes.