The Heart of Prayer

Pondering them in her heart.

"Putting two and two together" is a simple expression for a sublime and fruitful work. Man and man alone can put two and two together. In that operation man is severed from the beasts by a chasm which only God's omnipotence can bridge, because to put two and two together is the operation of a spiritual soul. By the same operation man gains experience, science and wisdom. Now it is that same simple, yet sublime work that goes on in the heart of prayer; the same which went on in its perfect form in the most perfect heart of prayer among men. Saint Luke, describing the events of our Lord's birth and recounting the story told by the shepherds of the Angels apparition, says that "Mary kept all these words pondering them in her heart." "Pondering them in her heart" means, in the Latin and the Greek, what we may describe by the homely phrase, putting two and two together.

What must a man do to put two and two together? He must understand clearly; he must deliberate; he must affirm or deny that the single twos belong together; he must draw a conclusion. By reflecting then on what he has done, he may draw far-reaching principles, and, associating other similar conclusions, he may draw other principles. Principles then are put together and order arises; and from order, system and science and then wisdom. Such are the fruits of "pondering" over the treasures of the heart, fruits that Mary gathered in their fullness and richest ripeness. Take a similar but a far inferior case. Saint Ignatius of Loyola spent nine months in the cave of Manresa pondering over the truths of God, weighing them, ordering them, and combining them. The results of that season of prayer we still have in the consummate science and wisdom of the Spiritual Exercises. Oh, if we only had the wisdom that grew and filled Mary's heart, .from the pondering of her whole life, from her Immaculate Conception to her Annunciation, from the Annunciation to the Ascension, from the Ascension to the Assumption! The volume of that prayerful heart would contain all the revealed truth, which Saint John declared all the books of the world could not hold, and it would contain much more, as the treasures of Mary's heart were more numerous and more precious and more perfectly pondered than the riches of Saint John. Saint Thomas of Aquin put all theology into an epitome, called the Summa. Mary's heart of prayer was the epitome of all God's dealings with man - is it too daring to say? - God's Summa.

How then shall we describe Mary's heart of prayer when it took to pondering upon the Heart of Christ? Jesus was her all, her universe, and His Heart was that universe's central sun, not surely separated in her loving and prayerful pondering from the effulgence of the Divinity which invested that Heart and which divinized the mother's perfect affection, transforming supreme love into supreme worship. Saint John heard once the beating of that Heart. He straightway be came the "one whom Jesus loved," and his thoughts soared to distant heights and circled to far-off horizons, cognizant of visions hitherto beyond mortal ken. If nearness to the Heart of Christ was at least a partial cause of Saint John's ecstasies (and who can doubt it?), then what shall we say of the pondering of her whose heart-beat was once His heart-beat, who long enjoyed a mother's privilege and blessing, whose sensitive ear caught every echo, even the faintest, of joy or sorrow that sounded in her Son's Heart, and whose motherly love realized those emotions more fully, more deeply than any other could possibly do, "pondering them in her heart"?

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Christ, it is true, was known in prophecy, but it was Mary's heart that was the first to know Him in realization. There was nothing on Mary's side to dim or tarnish that knowledge. What was offered was received, undiminished and unblemished. When the Heart of Christ, therefore, in Its turn would take to pondering, where would It turn, prompted by every noble impulse, more surely than to the heart of Mary? If a mirror is perfect, it gives back the image perfectly. No flaws or blurs on its polished surface impair the reflection. In fact, a perfect mirror is not seen at all; it is lost in its reflection. Such, no doubt, was the reflection of Christ in Mary's heart. There was no self there, no blurring, no impairing of the knowledge and love of her Son as they radiated from her heart. Christ, then, would see in her, one responding perfectly to His grace, and, pondering on that fact, there would be an answering reflection from His Heart. Then would arise the exquisite rivalry of loving hearts. Imagine, if you can, where it would end in the case of Jesus and Mary. Put two polished mirrors face to face and a lighted candle between them. Your eye will be bewildered with the multiplied views of the tiny flame, stretching away in the distance. The rays of light leap from surface to surface, giving rise to an endless succession of images. Perhaps that picture will help you to realize the depths and deepenings of love as Jesus and Mary pondered in their hearts upon one another with ever new interchanges and reproductions of the light of love.

If Mary's heart gathered up in its loving meditations an epitome of Christian truths, Jesus, with His pondering Heart, could find in Mary's heart the epitome of His life and mission, of His Incarnation. He could watch every drop of His Heart-blood finding response in Mary. When sin would have seized upon Mary's soul at its creation, His blood was there to interpose between the destined victim and its inherited doom, and Mary's soul came into existence immaculate. In her this greatest mystery of Christ's grace as well as all other mysteries received their exemplification. About her He saw the Holy Trinity concerned in the Annunciation. Upon her consent His own Incarnation was made to depend. No, Christ would not have to look beyond Mary and Mary's heart to find a picture in miniature of the wondrous dealings of God with man.

We know, however, that the Heart of Christ in Its hours of prayer thought of other hearts too. Sinful hearts as well as Mary's sinless heart came within the scope of His pondering. Well for us that they did so! We need the prayers of that Divine Heart. "In the days of His flesh with a strong cry and tears offering up prayers and supplications to Him that was able to save Him from death, He was heard for His reverence." The burden of our sins drew the strong cry from His lips and wrung the tears from His eyes, but He was heard, as He is heard now too. His priesthood is everlasting. "Whereby He is able also to save forever them that come to God by Him; always living to make intercession for us." The unbelief of Thomas was the occasion of showing us that Christ did not permit His wounds to be closed. They are still open, and the most eloquent intercession comes from the wound of the Heart. Nor is that silent prayer the only one now offered for us in Heaven. The Heart of Christ still ponders on our sins and Mary's sinlessness, and still prays to God for us and is still heard for His reverence.

- text taken from The Heart of the Gospel by Father Francis P Donnelly, SJ; it has the Imprimatur of +Joannes Murphy Farley, Archbishop of New York, New York, 1 May 1911