In no way do I intend to present any other idea about the life of St. Mary Magdalene, but that which the Catholic Church believes and teaches about her through Scripture and Tradition. (See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09761a.htm for a history of the Church’s thought on St. M.M., “Apostolora Apostolorum” Apostle to the Apostles)
Today I gave a talk about the Prayer of Recollection of St. Teresa of Avila, a prayer she said the Lord Himself taught her. She confessed that she had never known what it was to pray with satisfaction until the Lord taught her this method.
How to pray the Prayer of Recollection
First, go somewhere that is quiet enough you can concentrate, and private enough that you can close your eyes without worrying anyone, and where you’re not likely to be interrupted for a few minutes. Hide if you have to. Tell your phone you won’t be answering calls for a while. Take a timer that doesn’t tick loudly or have a jarring alarm. I use a timer so I can let go and not worry about time for a while. I know the little bell will call me back to my day when it is time to go back to it.
Set your timer for the amount of time you plan to spend in prayer; such as five minutes, 15 minutes, or thirty minutes. Thirty is standard, but do what you can!
Sit in a comfortable, supported position.
Calm the faculties. Put your hands in your lap. Close your eyes. Slow down your breathing. Pay attention to all the sounds around you; sounds outside, sounds in the room, the sound of your breathing. You might think to yourself as you breathe in, “I let go,” and as you breath out, “and I let God.” Relax anywhere you feel tense. Some people will become uncomfortable physically just by trying to sit still. It will help to imagine your in- breath soothing and calming the anxiety throughout your body. Then send the stress out with your exhale.
Do what works for you to relax, and get centered; to step out of the mad pace of life for a while and do something to ease your overwrought body and mind so you can best pray and be receptive.
Make an examination of conscience pray an act of contrition. If you don’t have much time, a heart beat or two of contrition will do. This is simply putting yourself in reality and letting go of any barrier or mask between you and God so He can see your beautiful face, even if, like a good parent, he has to wipe your nose a little. He doesn’t mind. He loves you. Allow Him to tend to you. Then put your burdens and worries in His hands for a time so you can be all His.
Pray a slow, silent, attentive Our Father. Pay attention to the words you are “saying”, and to Whom you are saying them, fixing your inner gaze on the Lord in whatever way works for you. In this way go over the words of the prayer silently, keeping your awareness with Jesus.
Next, let yourself say whatever you need to say to Jesus. Is here anything you need to tell Him? Your troubles, your questions, your gratitude? Would you like to tell him that you love Him? Tell Him whatever you like to now.
Then, drop off into interior silence. Just be quiet with God, staying present to Him.
Your mind is going to go everywhere.Don’t worry. When your brain starts worrying, remembering, planning, dreaming, gently bring it back each time you notice it straying.
Use some simple means of “looking” again at Jesus.
Silently say His Name.
Imagine Him with you or sit in the cave of your heart with Him.
Or just remember His tenderness and love is with you in this moment.
Repeat a phrase from Scripture such as, “Come, Lord Jesus,” or say “My God and my all,” with the Apostle Thomas to the risen Lord, to help yourself remain in conscious contact with God.
Put yourself into a Gospel story and imagine it. Be Nicodemus asking for wisdom in the dark of night and hearing the surprising answers of Jesus.
You might pretend you are the Samaritan woman at the well and Jesus is thirsty. Give Him something to drink. Ask Him for living water.
Be Mother Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms.
Or you may wish to choose a prayer word to softly draw yourself back again and again to being with God attentively such as “God…. God…. God.”
Choose a way that works for you to maintain your focus on God; not to reason about Him or think about Him, but to be with Him.
Recognize your distractions, let them go and use one or more of these tools mentioned above to bring yourself back again and again. Take heart that St. Teresa says that even if our intellects are running wild at times, our souls can be fixed on Jesus and in communion with Him.
Carmelite wisdom would say your prayer is even more meritorious before God when you had to fight for it but you did it anyway for love of your Lord.
You can’t sit in the sun and not get a tan whether you are thinking about the sun or not. You can’t be in the rain, set down your umbrella, and not get wet! Just put down your parasol and umbrella, that’s all. It’s your intention, your will, to remain in His presence for this little bit of time, that matters. His power can’t be limited by your own perception of how “well” you are praying. Just keep turning your attention back to Him.
Allow Him speak to your heart or sit silently with Him and have a conversation without words. It feels like work. But after a while you realize it’s love; love worth fighting for. So try to be patient when it’s a lot of work in the beginning. Bring yourself back to the love.
Continue in this loving awareness until your time for prayer is up.
To close,pray a slow, attentive set prayer that you like and have memorized, such as the Hail Mary or the Glory Be, again being attentive to whom you are speaking and what you are saying.
Make the sign of the Cross and step back into the stream of life. Know you are better for this time you took to be with Christ. The stream of life itself will be bettered too by the grace you just let flow into it by your prayer and availability to God.
To begin, make the sign of the cross and pray the Sh’ma, a prayer the little Mary would have grown up reciting every day with her Jewish family and community:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
HolyChild Mary, gentle and humble of heart, you are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you are the fairest honor of our people!” (see Judith 15:9)
“Do you want to see her?” Jesus asked St. Julian of Norwich.
“Can you see in her how you yourself are loved? It was for love of you that I made her so high, so noble, and so good. And this brings me great joy – and I want it to bring you joy, too.” St. Julian reflects: “… in all this I was taught… to want to understand the virtues of her soul – her truth, her wisdom, and her love. Through understanding this I can learn to know myself and reverently praise God.” ~ From St. Julian’s book, Showings
When you think of Little Mary, what do you see about who you are and how God loves you? See yourself in God and God in yourself. Spend some time with this, and let yourself enjoy this love.
Little Mary, gentle, joyful, and humble of heart, make our hearts like your own, that we may reflect the love and life and joy that comes from the freedom of the children of God.
Imagine Mary as a little girl; innocent, kind and wise. Take her hand and ask her to pray for you. Think about your life, and what you need the most. Place your concerns in her hands to take to the Father. Know that her heart is love, and that it is filled with tenderness and open to the Spirit. She does not judge you, but sees you in humility, purity, and simplicity of heart. She sees who you are in God. That is what she sees. Open your heart to her.
A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians 2:19b-20
I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The last few years have been so traumatic for me that I have felt alienated from everything and everyone, and like I would never be myself again.
Part of my healing in this latest phase of my journey has been to investigate for myself what really happened and to face the truth around my brother’s suicide, to ask questions I had been too freaked out to ask before, to recognize and re-claim my own experience of what happened after a truly dysfunctional family response that left me confused, dismayed, and even more traumatized.
I called my truth- seeking mission “The Immaculate Heart of Mary Detective Agency.” I thought this appropriate because the sword that pierced Mary’s heart, Simeon said, was “so that the secret thoughts of many may be revealed.
I wanted to truly love my brother by understanding all of him, not just the parts that I had enjoyed so much all of my life, but all of him. I wanted to try to understand what drove him to do what he did.
I realized I didn’t have to wait around for people to quit lying to me and tell me what was going on. I could find out for myself. So I started asking questions and interviewing people who had the information I wanted, or a different perspective from my own as the sister and room mate I had been at the time.
Unexpectedly, the whole experience of the IHMDA has been empowering, though I uncovered rank injustice and malice I hadn’t known some people were even capable of. I feel more alive than I have since all this tragedy began. I have a glimmer of an idea that I have a life and a future.
It seems to me that Mary’s heart has helped lay bare many truths, and strengthened me to deal with them.
I am not sure what I will do next. But it seems God thinks my next step is to forgive. That message was in last Sunday’s Gospel. It seems to pop up everywhere I turn. I seem to read or see or hear something about forgiveness every day.
There is hardly anything I have not lost to some degree in the past couple of years of shock and trauma; my home, my life savings, my family, and the cohesion of my group of wonderful friends. Everything is strange now. I have even felt like I lost myself.
I am grateful for the good relationship between my daughters and me, though honestly, at times, even those sacrosanct relationships were violated and temporarily distorted by lies and manipulation.
What do I do with this horrible story? Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself.
How can I forgive the unforgivable? And how can I ever be a whole person again? How can I bear this?
I have been asking all that for a good while.
I realized, praying Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours today, when I read this reading, (above) the answer to these questions. “This is how,”Jesus says.
“You will do and experience both of these things because your life is not your own anymore. It’s better than that because I live in you and for you. From within you, I will forgive, I will live, and we will have a beautiful life together. I have loved you and given Myself up for you. You have loved Me and given yourself to Me, no matter what life has brought you. ”
I thought about this. It is a miracle that the thing I have not lost or had to re-negotiate, so to speak, is my faith in God. Even though I have been broken inside beyond anything I thought it was possible to experience, I have an inner rock solid foundation of faith that God has not let me lose.
I have discovered that, as St. John of the Cross speaks of in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, I am “supported by faith alone,” now, in spite of how disjointed I feel psychologically and socially.
No one and nothing can take me from Christ’s hand. He is even more real to me than I am to myself. And even though my heart is broken, it does know it is safe. It does know Who it belongs to and Who lives there forever. Not even my own death will change that.
In fact, Paul also says that the spirit of Jesus in us is so real, it is that power that will raise our bodies from the dead.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 (This turned out to be in Evening Prayer tonight.)
All the lies and malice, misunderstanding, persecution, blame, rejection, trauma, loss and grief I have suffered, and that the whole world has suffered, are no match for the Truth of God who is Love, and Life.
In a way, in comparison, these terrible things are not even real.
The reality is God.
And I am glad to be only ashes and dust.
That is exactly how I have everything I will ever need in this life and in the next:
“It is not I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.”
The only accounts we have of the life of St. Philomena are two corroborating private revelations (from different people in different places) that have been approved by the Church, but are not as certain as written testimony from her contemporaries would be of course. According to these private revelations and the hints from the drawings on her tomb, she had been through and survived several humiliations and tortures to try to break her down and many attempts by her captors to kill her before she was finally beheaded.
She gave herself to God bravely one life-threatening moment after another. Her trust converted many of the people who witnessed it. I am sure God was speaking to St. Philomena, too, in the way He is said to have saved her miraculously from two attempts to execute her, once by drowning, once by arrows. God often sends us messages in our lives, as well, often when our suffering is deepest, and our challenges urgent, to let us know, “I am with you.”
Because of her union with God, and her willingness to follow His lead wherever it might take her life, her moments of fear and suffering became her finest.
A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians
Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that… you are standing firm … struggling for the faith of the Gospel,not intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is proof to them of destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.For to you has been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.
The Word of the Lord
-Thanks be to God.
St. Philomena, pray for us that our pivotal moments may be transformed in Jesus, and that in these we might glorify His love. May God increase the strength of our souls, and exceed all we have ever known of Him. [Here mention your petitions.] Trusted Saint, lead the way for us bravely, and help us to see the movements of the Holy Spirit in the events of our lives, that every one of them will become sign posts of the way forward. Pray to God for us, that He may turn darkness into light before us, and make crooked ways straight. May we shine with the power of the Lord when we come to moments of decision, and may God bless our efforts to be faithful, as you were unfailingly.
Mother of God, may the sweet companionship of your spirit make our paths bright with meaning and love and grace. As you accompanied St. Philomena to such great bravery, we ask that you also accompany us, especially in times of trial and discouragement. Shine the brilliant light of the Gospel on our paths, that we may see our way through our troubles, and that the grace we will know may, in turn, strengthen the faith of others.
Radiant girl, courageous and free of heart, our friend and guide, protect us, lead us, for the glory of God.
St. Margaret Mary’s apparition of Our Lord with a visible Heart is known as the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In this image, His heart is on fire with His divine love for us, radiant like the sun, surrounded by thorns symbolizing His suffering and death, and topped by the cross, the symbol of His victory.
This is a very dearly loved image of Jesus, and one of great meaning for us. Jesus’ heart is the center of His being, the seat of His human consciousness, the abyss of His Divine love, mercy, and compassion.
Jesus living within each of us has experienced our loves, humiliations, betrayals, rejections, our own sufferings, deaths and resurrections. We, living in Him, as His Body and Bride, the Church, have experienced His life, too. The Sacred Heart in religious art can also be seen as a symbol of this solidarity and union, this communion and humanity we share with Christ, as well as the mystical union we have with His divinity. More obviously it is a symbol of His love for us, all of us.
I have to think, in these dark times, during this epidemic of heartlessness, when so many seem determined to enrich the powerful and take away even the most basic of needs from the poor, the disabled, children, and the sick; when Black Americans are shot for little to no reason, even in front of their little children, and at an alarming rate, and there is not enough love in our society to make it stop; when people are dying from gun violence and we can’t even hear each other enough to problem solve in a meaningful way, when every day we have to find ways to decompress from all the hatred and stress, when people who raise the standard of morality and compassion are undervalued, that it’s time to look to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What are we doing? The opposite of the Gospel.
We’re finding ways to keep our life, not lose it to love and compassion. We are jealous of our stations in life, we fight to keep our own privileges, our own rights and freedom at the expense of others. We fight to be as heartless and greedy as we want, to not have to consider the pain we cause when we speak without compassion. We say we speak the truth in love when we want to justify our harsh talk that only turns others away from religion.
We need hearts. We need Jesus. We need the One who said, “Come to me, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”
Warm, soft, vulnerable and alive, this sleeping One in my lap. I caress the tiny forearm, touch the curled, unsure hands. I can’t stop kissing his fast-beating heart, listening to his unpracticed, uneven breath. I touch his soft, dark, baby hair, nuzzling the top of his head with my nose. His little feet, slightly cold- so tiny and perfect- have never yet touched the ground. I hold them in my hands to warm them. I kiss their satiny soles. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” my heart in wonder repeats, repeats. I press him to me, this Lord of mine, with a profound, peaceful, joyful gratitude and love, a protective love. He opens his eyes, still that deep slate gray of the newly arrived human. They hold the newborn’s sage, open gaze; mildly curious, seeming to drink in the powerful love pouring out of the utterly enchanted person looking back at them. He blinks innocently at the tears falling from my eyes into his.
I am cold, my arms flailing awkwardly and out of my control. I’m confused. I don’t know what’s happening. I need comfort, warmth, nourishment. And then I am warm, pressed soothingly all around. A deep, sweet peace flows into my mouth and through my body as my unruly hands tangle in her hair, Mama, Mama. The only thing I know is this love, this union, this protection and assurance. I relax completely.
I am that I am, Being, Love, Light and Life. I surround my Son, inhabit my Son, I am within my Son, I love my Son, I am my Son. I have remained what I have been and will be eternally, and I have become what I was not. In my love of humanity, I have finally become fully human, entering the world of time and space in the most profound and humble way. So great is my love, I have been conceived and born into this human cloud of unknowing, emptying Myself, taking the form of a slave, in order to free and divinize my beloved humanity, made of dust, that they might share my Divine Life.
Vulnerable, human, innocent and unknowing, be, oh Christian soul. I have shown you the way to Me: this little Child, this Way, this Truth, this Life, full of humility and trust, gentle, humble, simple, with the need, the open-ness of the newborn. Come to Me, forgetting everything but Love Itself, and be born again. Be little, be free, be loved. Never be afraid, it is I, the Little One, asking for your love.
Answer Me, say from the heart:
Truly, I have set my soul
In silence and in peace
As the Divine Child has rest in His mother’s arms,
Even so, my soul.
Children of God,
Hope in the Lord forever. (a variation on Psalm 131)
On this Holy Night, take time to be little, humble, simple, trusting, and close to God, like a child.
I have a cup of coffee, and I am listening to jazz (Alice Coltrane today,) because it is 2 o’clock. That’s what I always do this time of day; jazz and coffee. Somehow this makes me feel more present in the day.
The loose, open-ended routine of stopping the day, at least a little bit, to remind myself I am in it, began when I was an overwhelmed young mother with my first new born. I looked forward to the afternoon jazz show on public radio every day. It helped me touch base, and for the day not to just slip away. It started at 2:06PM. It still does, actually.
My best friend, Andrea, lived on the other side of our duplex, and she liked to make a pot of coffee about 2, because she tended to get sleepy that time of day. So we had the afternoon solace of a cup of coffee, afternoon jazz, and an attempt at a moment of peace together each day, with our babies.
Later 2 o’clock jazz and coffee was a stopping place of peace and re-gathering before I picked the kids up from school. There were various incarnations of the same 2 o’clock routine as my life evolved.
Even through all the tragedy and trauma of these last few difficult years, I have continued to put on some jazz and make a cup of coffee around 2PM, if possible. The duration of time I spend on this, and what else I will do at that time, varies, but generally, I will do at least those two things, and make conscious contact with the day.
What does this do? It gives me a little island in the day to reclaim my peace and priorities.
On a busy, hectic day, it reminds me that I need to slow down.
On one of those difficult, timeless days when my ADD seems worse, or I have that PTSD inertia -anxiety I get, it helps me get a foot on the ground and start over.
For me time can be vague, and the day gets away from me. The simple act of turning on the music and putting on some coffee at that same time of day I always do, is a rung on the ladder back to earth.
As Dorothy Day said, “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and a reading of the Psalms.”
When I am at work caring for Mac, I still make coffee and put on some jazz at 2 in the afternoon. He has developed a taste for jazz now, and if I put on any other type of music that time of day, he looks confused. “Hey, what are you doing?”
The rhythm of the day means a lot to Mac. I think it is how he understands his place in time and in the world in general.
I can learn from his way of keeping track of his life so that it means something to him. Without the predictable and repeated routines of each part of the day, life would feel like an unsure, confusing continuum to him. He feels safe when he understands, at least in a general way, where he is in his day.
We are the same way, though most of us have more physical senses and more personal choices available to us than Mac does.
Routines and traditions help us to be fully in the present moment, and, if they are appreciated, can help us live more deeply, more consciously, and therefore, more prayerfully.
Maybe that’s why God made time for us to live in, even though He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t have any problem being present everywhere at once, but we do. We need time to truly experience life and meaning.
We have to mark time to keep ourselves in the only part of time we can really live in; the present moment.
The present moment is where we are most able to encounter God, because that is where we ourselves really are. God is within us, so we need to be “home,” to be present to our Guest.
During the day, we can get caught up in the past, in the future, and other distractions, worries, and concerns. Our minds are a constant river of thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes the day is a frantic blur. Sometimes it is like a dream we can’t quite remember.
When we occupy time fully by being present in the day, there we will find meaning; we will find God.
I have been thinking about that.
I am not much of a routine person. I tend to prefer a cadenza of a day, leaving plenty of room for inspiration, for people who show up, for the Holy Spirit to blow through, for random acts of goofiness, impulsive kindness, or happy, dreamy uselessness.
However, I understand that touch points in the day can be sacred. They give me a way to put the day back on track, put first things first, and remember what I’m trying to do with my life.
Besides making sure I get certain things done each day that have to be done, routines can be boxes to put presence in.
They can be conscious bridges into the next part of the day, helping me live intentionally for the next few hours.
I am trying to aim for small and attainable things to do here and there like modest ornaments for the day I am crafting.
One of these little routines is to turn off any music or stop whatever noise or activity or device is on at noon and pray the Angelus prayer.
I try to get certain things done at work by then so that I can sit down beside Mac and pray the Angelus at the traditional time of noon, or as close as I can get.
Mac likes this, too. He knows when all is tidied up and quiet, and he is made comfortable, that I will come sit and pray with him for a while. Sometimes he likes me to scratch his head while I pray the Angelus, and mid day prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
Another thing I have been trying to do: When I get home from work, before I do anything else, is to make time for a mindful sweeping up before I let myself settle down or get obsessed with anything. It’s an easy thing to do, but it makes a big difference in how the rest of the evening goes.
The temptation, when I get home from work, is to flop down and start reading or messing around on the Internet, or get caught up in listening to the news.
When I succumb to that temptation, it seems I only get more and more tired and unmotivated, and that time is wasted. There goes the evening, before I know it; myself and the world, none the better.
I am more likely to do other good things if I make the transition into the evening by doing a simple, silent routine like sweeping, paying attention to what I am doing, often accompanied by inwardly saying the names of Jesus and Mary prayerfully as I sweep.
Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria.
Sometimes I even think there is another pair of playful, encouraging feet dancing with mine as I move across the floor with the broom; sneaky, sandaled, dusty feet behind my bare ones, and a silent voice that playfully says, “1,2,3, 1,2,3,” as if we were waltzing together while I sweep.
It makes me chuckle.
Maybe I’m on the right track.
*If you would like to try praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you can try it for free on Universalis