The Heart of Prayer

Recently a small group of postulants from Companions of Christ visited the Solanus Center.  They were immediately drawn to the Beatitude statue of Catherine Doherty and were snapping “selfies” with her likeness.  As our conversation developed they offered that they lived only a short distance from Combermere, where Catherine’s Canadian Madonna House was located. The priest leading the group began to share a treasured story of her.

The story goes that one evening as a large group of folks were gathered for the evening meal in the large dining room where there were long rows of tables, a young woman asked Catherine, “how do you pray?”  Catherine, being the gruff Russian woman that she was, looked up from her plate and put down the fork she had been using to shove the goulash into her mouth.  She pushed back her chair, got up, and walked over to the woman.  Next, Catherine bent over the woman so that Catherine’s ear came to rest on the woman’s heart.  The room was completely quiet and all eyes were on Catherine and the woman.  Everyone began to grow a bit uncomfortable as the seconds turned into minutes and Catherine held her position.  Finally, after a good ten minutes, Catherine stood up, walked back to her seat and resumed eating.

She doesn’t seem to have added any instructions or follow up explanation.

On the Madonna House website there is a short piece she wrote on prayer many years ago.  It fits well into the image described above. Prayer is that hunger for union with God which never lets go of us. It beats into our blood with the very beat of our hearts. It is a thirst that can be quenched by nothing except God.

Prayer is listening to the beat of one’s heart.  Prayer is being absorbed in one’s desire for God. Prayer is listening to God in our hearts.  It is more a presence or a passionate desire to be with God rather than a recitation of words.  One’s feelings seem to be part of the interior landscape as well.

In spiritual direction, interior landscape and the awareness of one’s feelings plays quite a role in hearing God’s voice.  In Ignatian Spirituality, consolations (peaceful, joyous, delightful feelings) and desolations (anxious, restless, sad feelings) give great insight.  God uses everything to reach us, even our feelings.  The good feelings help confirm that God is with us and for us.  The uncomfortable feelings help to direct us away from things not of God.  In prayer our awareness of these movements that come from our feelings becomes a helpful tool in better understanding where God is breaking through in our life.

Listening to the heart without rushing seems to be key for Catherine.  She offers us an example of not only prayerful moments, but a life of desiring God with all our being.

Submitted by Sally McCuen (Hospitality Coordinator at Solanus Casey Center)