Prayer From the Heart

The Virgin and Child c.1488-90  Ambrogio Bergognone National Gallery London

Recently I heard a priest talking about a list of prayer requests that he keeps in his missal. He is often asked to pray for people and situations so he adds the requests to the list, prays them from time to time – the list is too long to pray them all every day – and every so often he reviews the list. I thought about this and there was something that didn’t seem right.

My experience is that God hears and answers prayers if they come directly from our heart, out of need, or compassion, inspiration or real necessity. Prayer isn’t about numbers – the more people praying the better – it is about clean, disinterested motives and fervour. Those are the prayers that go straight to Him and you only need one ordinary person who really cares about something to make a difference.

No matter how holy the person is who is praying, if he is praying from a list about people and situations he does not personally know, how are those prayers going to be anything other than lukewarm in reality?

A friend once told me an amazing story. She was a young nurse with two small children. One day she was on duty at the local hospital and she was giving a bed bath to a young mother who was in hospital with advanced breast cancer. As my friend was washing this woman she was suddenly overcome with compassion and sadness. She identified so strongly with her and her heart was sorrowful for the husband who was about to be widowed and the motherless children. It occurred to her that as she was washing the woman she was sort of laying her hands on her so, as she washed and touched her, she sent a little heartfelt prayer asking if it was possible that the woman could get better. She finished the bath and carried on with her tasks.

When she was next on shift she heard that the doctors had been mystified by a certain event. Apparently the latest tests on the woman with breast cancer had shown that the cancer had gone – completely – it just wasn’t there. The doctors were scratching their heads but put it down to one of those unexplained recoveries that sometimes happen.

But this is the amazing thing – my friend told me that she had been so happy to hear the news about the woman but that it was only several days later that she even remembered her prayer!

Her motives had been pure, heartfelt and disinteresed. She hadn’t needed a group of holy people praying from a list. All she needed was, at that moment, to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It may be that God had wanted to heal that woman but needed the right person in the right place at the right time.

We have to be that right person in the right place at the right time – whenever or wherever we are.

Then we become the prayer.


The Virgin and Child c.1488-90  Ambrogio Bergognone National Gallery London

The Christ child holds a rosary. The open prayer book is inscribed with verses in Latin from the psalms. The Virgin’s halo is inscribed with the prayer ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord (is with thee)’. In the background, Carthusian monks oversee the construction of the Charterhouse at Pavia


Mary the Paradigm and Mother


Sassoferrato, The Virgin in Prayer 1640-50, The National Gallery London.


Our Lord God showed our lady Saint Mary at the same time; that is to say he showed her deep wisdom and faith as she beheld her Maker so great, so high, so strong, and so good. Seeing the greatness and nobility of God filled her with reverent awe, and she saw herself so small and so low, so simple and so poor in comparison with her Lord God, but this reverent awe made her feel very humble. And so this formed the foundation, from which she was filled with grace and every kind of virtue, surpassing any other created being.            Julian of Norwich The Long Text 7.

I have spoken  before about how I have come belatedly to an embryonic understanding and veneration of Our Lady, the mother of Christ.  At first I struggled to understand but could see from the deep reverence of other believers that there was something important I was missing. Now, having prayed and pondered, she has become, for me a paradigm.

She is a paradigm of faith. When told she was to bear a child out of wedlock with all the shame humiliation and possibly disastrous consequences for her personally, she immediately said yes. She had faith that God would never let her down.

She is a paradigm of kindness. At the wedding in Cana when the wine ran out she didn’t gloat,  laugh or criticise. Her first thought was for the young couple celebrating their most special day. Nor did she take any credit or put her son forward for recognition. It was all done with utmost discretion and sensitivity.

She is a paradigm for those who’ve lost a child. She had to watch her son wrongly accused, tortured and killed in a cruel and public way. It is a most hideous thing to lose a child but we cannot say that God and Mary have not gone before us and experienced it with us.

Of course she is a paradigm of motherly love. As he died Jesus’ last thought was for his mother. He gave her into the care of his beloved disciple but he also knew that with all the disciples she would be one of the foundations of his Church.

She is a paradigm of discipleship and her veneration as Jesus’ mother must have started in the earliest days. She would have known so much about her son’s life and surely would have talked about him, passing her knowledge to the other disciples in the early days of the church.

But she is more than a paradigm. Eternal life does not begin when we die – eternal life begins now as we enter into relationship with Jesus, Mary, all the saints and the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.

Mary was then and she is now and forever.  Hallelujah.