From the HouseTops, Catholic Magazine

Saint Benedict Magazine

House of Prayer

by Robert J. O'Connell, SJ

In a small, two-roomed house in Naz­areth, cradled in the hills of Galilee, a girl kneels in prayer. Her name is Mary and she is a virgin espoused to a man named Joseph, a carpenter of the village. In a short time she will be mar­ried to Joseph, but in the plan of God a far greater union will take place before she marries Joseph. Mary shall be a partner in a unique espousal to God the Holy Spirit.

Mary kneels in prayer. Unaware of her extraordinary favor in God’s sight, she is, however, keenly aware of God’s presence around her and within her. The peace which radi­ates from her beau­tiful face is eloquent of this conscious­ness. In the tran­quility of her soul she glides with ease from the visible to the invisible world. She prays with humble and joyful adoration of her Creator, acknowledging to Him  her littleness, her lowliness, 

her utter de­pendence upon Him through Whom she lives, moves and has all her being. Because she is humble, she finds in prayer the supreme means of acclaiming the goodness and greatness of God as her Lord and Creator.

Each morning, she awakes and re­discovers the beauty of the visible world throbbing with ceaseless praise of the Creator in the sparkle of dew, in the stur­dy thrust of young blades through the soil, in the burst of music from a bird on fire with song. Every day there emerges around her every­where, as the air, the lavish loveliness of the Divine Artist, Who never wearies of stroking His brush of beauty across the canvas of the heavens with endless variety. The gentle touch of the spring breeze on her face seems like the very breath of God whis­pering His love. The strength of faith lifts her up beyond her reason, beyond her senses, beyond herself. Familiarly she speaks to God as Friend to friend, as a child to its Father. And she is God’s friend, His child; she has always been such, even from the first moment of her life. Guest upon the earth, yet her soul has always housed the Divine Guest from Heaven.

Mary is at home on her knees. She is at home in prayer. She is the “House of Prayer.”

She is so intimate with the invisible world that she is closer to it than to the visible world which surrounds her. The created beauty of the world encircles her, but it does not enclose her. She surrenders to the invisible world, which begins within her, but she does not lose her sense of values, for both worlds are real and in both worlds God is present and acting. Her eyes cannot behold Him to Whom she prays, Whom she bears in her soul as really as a mother bears a child in her womb, Whom she soon shall bear in her own womb as her own Child.

True Devotion To Mary Book
Advertisement

She knows that the unseen breath of the spring breeze on her cheek is far less near to her than God is. She knows that He is closer to her than the sun is to its rays, the fire to its heat, the rain to its moisture. She knows that He is nearer to her than her soul is to its thoughts or her heart is to its throbbings. She knows that God is her very life, that she is nothing of herself, can do nothing by herself, and has nothing unless she has Him.

The House of Prayer is at home on her knees. Many people are too proud to pray the way that Mary teaches us to pray. It hurts their sense of importance to admit that they are wholly dependent upon God, and prayer is an admission of dependence upon God. We simply cannot, by any stretch of self-deceit, get along in life by ourselves, because we cannot even begin to exist by ourselves. Our dependence upon God shouts at us from the cradle to the grave. We come into the world with dependence stamped all over us; it touches every fiber of our being; it permeates every cell of our bodies.

Between the womb that ushers us into the world and the tomb which receives our body to rock it in the cold arms of decay, a whole lifetime of de­pendence wraps around us. Prayer keeps the soul alert to a sense of gratitude to God for His continual giving to us of the life and being which we possess, of the nature and its faculties He has given us to operate, of the visible world in which we live.

The little handmaid of the Lord recognizes her dependence upon God, gratefully acknowledges it, and ardently accepts it. She finds in her obligation to praise God no mere duty, but a joy which fills her heart to overflowing. Her heart sings like a harp, as King David, her ancestor, sang to the music of his lyre: I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. (Psalm 103:33)

She teaches us that our creature hood, our total dependence upon God, is a tonic for our pride, because all that we are and all that we can be ultimately rests with the God Who made us. Our souls, like Mary’s soul, ought to be houses of prayer in which we joyfully and gratefully confess the supreme do­minion of God. They should never be dens for those ravaging thieves, pride and ingratitude.

Look on the countenance of Mary as she prays in her little house in Naz­areth. In age she is adolescent but beyond the tranquil gaze of her eyes there lies, deep in the recesses of her soul, wisdom that is ageless. Her soul is a citadel of wisdom.

Our souls, like Mary’s soul, ought to be houses of prayer
in which we joyfully and gratefully confess the supreme dominion of God.

Prayer and Faith

Nazareth slumbers on, curled up in the lap of the hills of Galilee. It waits for the radiant rays of the sun to prod it to another day of obscure, monotonous activity.

Today the whole world will be different when the Son of God enters the world, which He has made, to don and glorify human nature, to redeem it and sanctify it, to bless its labors and sweat, its pains and laughter, its hopes and fears, its fail­ures and successes, its ordinariness of everyday living. He will bless and sanc­tify obscurity, the hereditary destiny of the common man, when He clothes Himself in our flesh in Mary’s womb, when He hides Himself for thirty years in the tomb of Naza­reth, unknown to the world, as if dead to the world.

He shall come into the world, but the world will not know Him, as Naza­reth will not know Him. Even now He remains in the world, in the tent which He has pitched upon every altar, un­known to most of the world, ignored by many of His own, whose prayerlessness has frozen their faith in His presence in the Holy Eucharist and has chilled their love and desire for the very fuel which fires their faith.

Prayer feeds the flaming faith of the House of Prayer. She knows that all living things need to be nourished in order to remain alive. Faith is a living torch set flaming in our minds by God, Who reaches down from eternal light to guide us through this valley of darkness. By faith He gives us a vision like the eagle’s, but with a power to gaze upon a sun no eagle faces and to rise to heights where no eagle soars.

Mary looks through the clear, wide window of faith in her soul, in her house of prayer, and sees God everywhere and in all things.

We realistically recognize our de­pendence upon God when we possess a clear intellectual perception and re­alization of the val­ue of creatures for our soul’s salvation and sanctification. We who seek to serve and glorify God must not be disturbed by the obvious fact that we are com­pletely surrounded by things that are not God. As long as we live on this earth our path to God lies through creatures: persons, places, things, human thoughts, aspira­tions, and actions, circumstances and environment.

Even on a natural plane we must see ourselves as we really are, as com­ing from God, belonging to God, as something sacred and holy by the fact of creation. Our parents, husbands, wives, children, relatives, friends, acquaintanc­es, our fellow men who have authority over us in the civil, ecclesiastical, reli­gious, or business  aspects of our lives, those over whom we may wield author­ity—all these we must realistically see as they are, as coming from God and belonging to God. Our relations with all men must be based on such a realistic perception.

Mary looks through the clear, wide window of faith in her soul,
in her house of prayer, and sees God everywhere and in all things.

When we behold the manifold beau­ty of the material universe, do we delight in it without thanking God for it? Do we use it as God wants us to, as a means to lift up our hearts to Him through the contemplation and enjoyment of natural beauty? Do we complain of the manner in which He regulates the changes and the order of the universe? Heat, rain, snow, and cold praise God in their very being; do we praise Him when they come or do we grumble, complain, or indulge in self-pity?

O ye fire and heat, bless the Lord;

O ye chill and cold, bless the Lord;

O ye dews and rains, bless the Lord;

O ye ice and frost, bless the Lord. (Dan­iel 3:66-69)

We ought to examine our habitual attitude towards the usefulness of the material universe. What is our habit­ual frame of mind in regard to food, clothing, and shelter? Our thanksgiving before and after meals is either an utter­ance which comes genuinely from our hearts or it is simply a hollow mouthing of meaningless words. We dress with neatness, cleanliness, and modesty for the glory of God, or we wear clothes out of vanity to superficially impress our neighbors or even to allure them to sinful thoughts. Our houses are places where we have essential shelter, com­fort, privacy, and pleasure, or they are monstrosities of superfluous sensual comforts where God is lost in the maze of our own self-indulgence and abused use of time.

Advertisement

In the habitual forms of human activity—our work or occupation, our recreation, leisure, and exercise, our food, drink, and sleep, our intellectual and aesthetic pursuits, or hobbies—are we aware of their value as means to serve and glorify God by the way in which we act and by the motives that we have in acting?

A whole wealth of sanctifying ele­ments wraps around our daily lives from morning until night. Making money, building a home, raising a family, run­ning a business, keeping a house—all these and myriad other daily activities are neither insignificant in God’s sight nor are they calculated of themselves to lead us into a dizzy whirl of distraction after distraction from our main task of serving and glorifying God. We must re­alistically perceive their value as means to our salvation and sanctification. To do so is to assure ourselves of maintaining our dependence upon God and of pre­venting ourselves from being swallowed up in completely self-centered activity.

Mary at Nazareth had such a per­ception of reality. It was through the power of her deep and abiding faith that she was never disturbed, as we so often are, by the fact that we are surrounded on all sides by things that are not God. With a like spirit of faith, that creature relentlessly moving out of our reach— time—could become one of the great measures of our love and service. We could make our work, whatever it is, whether humble, unnoticed, difficult, wearying, apparently unfruitful, or pleasant, interesting, exciting, really productive, become likewise a great measure of our love and service.

The Holy Family at HomeAnd such a measure could we also make our talents, whatever they are, whether many or few, exceptional, mediocre, or below mediocrity. For time, work, and talents are all God’s gifts to us, and the manner in which we use them will be the measure of our love for Him, our gratitude to Him, our conscious dependence upon Him.

Much of the world grovels in the dust of its own deceiving, despairing, and despising, left half-dead by thieves of its own creation: love of darkness, love of false promises, love of itself. In Mary’s soul, as in our own, God has placed three wide, clear windows of supernatural faith, hope, and love. By prayer she lifts up her mind and heart above the visible world to Him Who is the true Light of her mind, the true Reward of her deeds, the true Love of her heart; it is by prayer that our own souls are illuminated in order that we may fix our vision upon the ultimate goal of all our striving and struggling; it is by prayer that we bolster our expectation to reach it and fire our desire to possess it.

The object of prayer is to unite our minds and hearts now in brief, yet constantly repeated, embraces with our Divine Lover to Whom we shall cling forever in Heaven if we are responsive to the love-calls of His grace. Men seek many ways to express love, to possess love, and to be possessed by love, but they often pass by the way of prayer. Prayer can lift us up above ourselves, but we are so frequently slow of heart and dull of mind that we are satisfied with ourselves and, unaware, sometimes even blindly unaware, of the invisible world which begins within our own souls, we act as if there were no other world than the visible one which surrounds us.

Worldliness has left no taint on Mary as it has on us. The invisible world looms before her always because she is the House of Prayer.

Many of us deceive ourselves when we say that we have little or no time to pray or, if we do pray, that God does not hear our prayers. It is the way of Satan to cast a spell over us, to make us believe that the daily struggle for our bread makes it almost impossi­ble for us to give some moments to prayer every day. He tries to cut off our contact with God, directing his attack at two principal means of union with God, prayer and the Sacraments. If he can get us to refrain from praying regularly or from receiving the Sacraments regularly, he suc­ceeds in weaken­ing our conscious contact with God; if he can get us to give up praying and receiving the Sacraments, he succeeds in destroying our union with God.

To act as if we could get along without prayer is to jeopardize
our vision of faith in this world and our vision of God in the next.

We are drawn to the external world through our senses and feelings, but we are attracted to God mainly through a life of faith, hope and charity—a life nourished and protected by prayer and the Sacraments. When we do not pray, or when we cease to pray, because we do not feel anything, we become more attracted to the things of this world which please our senses or which satisfy our emotional needs in a natural way. We find creatures more appealing, too, when we cease, or cut down sharply, our reception of the Sacraments, especially the reception of the Holy Eucharist, the great food of our faith, hope and charity, because, as in our prayer, we do not feel anything.

When we thus deceive ourselves into counting a life of feeling more desirable than a life of faith, then we fall into the snare set by Satan who uses the attractiveness of the things of this world to lure us away from the principal means of maintaining our union with God. The angelic cunning of Satan is cause enough in itself for us to be alert constantly for his deceits by having re­course to the vigilance of daily prayer.

Satan has no claim on Mary be­cause she is without spot or stain of sin. She is victor over sin and Satan who is the breeder of sin. Her per­sistent prayer is a mighty lesson in humility for us sinners; we need to pray all the more because we are sinners, way­farers in a world where we contin­ually go astray, the prey of Satan who incessantly pursues us.

The constant clamor of the flesh is another reason why we should always pray. The body occupies an enormous amount of the time which we are given by God in order to work out our salva­tion. A casual glance at the litany of care that we give to our bodies every day, in contrast to the lack of concern which we have for our souls, may be a revelation to us of the appalling predominance of flesh over spirit in our daily lives. Food, drink, clothing, shelter, sleep, rest, re­laxation, play, exercise, amusement, washing, dressing, grooming—all these, added to the labor that is required to win material comforts or necessities, the anxiety about losing them or not possessing them, the ambition and pains to increase them, deal a terrible steady blow to man’s nobler part, his immortal soul, which has been created in the like­ness of God, has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, is tenanted by the Holy Trinity through sanctifying grace, and is destined for the Beatific Vision.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Statue
Advertisement

Our final destiny ultimately de­pends upon our living and dying in the state of sanctifying grace. The best way to die in the state of sanctifying grace is to live in that state and to take pains to nourish and protect that life. Prayer is one of the chief means which God has given to us in order to win His grace for our souls, to draw nearer to Him, to protect and increase the Divine Life within us, to shelter the flame of love for Him which His love has fanned in our hearts. To act as if we could get along without prayer is to jeop­ardize our vision of faith in this world and our vi­sion of God in the next.

Nazareth slumbers on, as the world’s myriad worldlings slumber on now, as always, but Mary watches be­cause she is the living House of Prayer. Mary at Nazareth teaches us the need of prayer, the dignity of prayer, and the power of prayer.

Her faith is the flame, her hope the warmth, her love the glow, of her radiant interior life. Prayer provides fuel for this life which cultivates the super­naturally elevated powers of her soul; it keeps her flame and warmth and glow constant and unwavering. Unaware of the future, yet ready for whatever may come, Mary is best prepared by her prayer for the silent coming of the Word to her womb. Conscious of her littleness and her lowliness she is best prepared by her prayer for complete submission to the dominion of her Creator and to the love of her heavenly Father.

Prayer keeps keen the vision of Mary’s faith by which she remains alert to every movement of God towards her soul and within her soul. It in­tensifies her hope where­by she remains eager for His coming to her and His action with­in her. It strengthens and deepens her love through which she embraces His least gift to her with ardent affection, and, in em­bracing it, reaches out with her will to embrace the Giver in­finitely more for Him­self than for His gifts.

Mary’s prayer is a sacrifice of most sweet odor. In the temple of her soul she offers a sacrifice of complete surren­der to God in the fire of her perfect love.

Men of humble position cherish through life the memory of few words spoken with a person of great honor or renown. For a moment they are lifted above themselves and exult in a new but short-lived glory. Mary shows us the dignity which can be ours constantly: conversation with God, friend speak­ing unto Friend. No one but ourselves can begin the conversation; no one but ourselves can bring it to a close. We have but to name the moment and we can begin to talk with God. Only a fool denies himself what will make him noble. Prayer is ennobling, dignified, and becoming to a creature destined for eternal companionship with God.

We need the sustaining strength of prayer
for the daily struggle to sanctify and to save our souls.

We need the dignity of prayer in order to maintain our human dignity. Without prayer we shall not long re­main noble and honorable children of God; we shall more easily succumb to the lure of the world, the clamors of the body, and the guile of Satan; we shall more often deceive ourselves because of our fading spiritual vision, look more longingly towards the enchantments of the visible world, and grow colder in our love of both God and man.

We need the sustaining strength of prayer for the daily struggle to sanctify and to save our souls. Prayer can obtain what we need in this daily effort to ac­complish God’s holy will if it is humble, persevering, and confident. The weakest effort of the soul to converse with its Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier is not without its good effect. God is more ready to give than we are to ask. He is infinitely patient in listening; we are so fickle in our confidence and persever­ance. He is so eager to give Himself to us; we are so anxious to ask for every­thing except Him.

Book on Prayer by Saint Alphonsus
Advertisement

Prayer surmounts difficulties. It scales the barriers of timidity and dis­couragement which so often keep us from closer union with God. It frees our hearts from anxiety and sadness. It implants joy and peace in our souls.

God our Father Whom we petition or praise is in need of nothing. He is infinitely rich and sufficient in Himself to give to all, to give lavishly, and He is always ready to give to all His children: Ask, and it shall be given to you. Seek, and you shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. (Luke 11: 9-11)

At Nazareth Mary prays with ar­dent love to her Father in Heaven Who loves her. No fear dwells in her soul, in her house of prayer, nor can sadness, selfishness, or discouragement ever find entrance into such an abode. She prays with deep trust and confidence because she knows that God desires only what is good for her. She knows that even suffering is a gift of God. And suffering shall be one of God’s greatest gifts to her.

The House of Prayer teaches us to pray more for spiritual joy and for growth in the Divine Life rather than for material benefits and for the straws of success which the world casts upon treacherous waters. Mary’s prayer proceeds from the peace of a good conscience and from a will obedient to the will of God in all things. Her heart is not immersed in earthly cares and desires. She is aware that God is always ready, always waiting, to hear her, no matter when she lifts up her heart and mind to Him. She knows that: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights. (James 1:17)

Mary of Nazareth gives her heart wholly to God. Soon she will totally surrender her body to Him in order that it may become the abode of the Word Incarnate. Mary rises from her knees, picks up a water vessel, and starts towards the door of her little house. Outside, a bird whirs its wings, singing sweetly in its rising flight. Mary pauses as she reach­es out her hand to unlatch the door. There is a sharp knock on the door of her heart, on the very entrance to her house of prayer.

Gabriel has come from God.