St. Mary of Bethany teaches us a sacred repose that should be our chief goal in prayer.
For many of us, contemplation remains a mysterious form of prayer. Countless saints have referred to it as the pinnacle of prayer, and it is often seen as the primary goal we should all strive to attain.
One of the best descriptions of this type of prayer can be found in the gospels. Jesus comments on this when visiting his friends Martha and Mary (see Luke 10:38-42). While Martha is busy about many things, Mary sits attentively before Jesus, soaking in all that he has to say.
St. Francis de Sales, in his book Treatise on the Love of God, further illustrates this passage and explains how it serves as a key to our own experience of contemplation.
[Mary] is in a profound tranquility, she says not a word, she weeps not, she sobs not, she sighs not, she stirs not, she prays not. Martha, full of business passes and repasses through the hall: Mary notices her not. And what then is she doing? She is doing nothing, but only hearkening. And what does this mean—she hearkens? It means that she is there as a vessel of honor, to receive drop by drop the myrrh of sweetness which the lips of her well-beloved distilled into her heart; and this divine lover, jealous of this love-sleep and repose of this well-beloved, chided Martha for wanting to awaken her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary, Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her. But what was Mary’s portion or part? To remain in peace, repose, and quiet, near unto her sweet Jesus.
De Sales describes a soul immersed in this form of peaceful contemplation. In a word, the soul does “nothing.” He even goes so far as to say the soul “prays not.” What he means is that the soul in contemplation is entirely disposed to be a receiver.
Often we go into prayer, emptying out entire life onto Jesus’ lap. In contemplation, it is the exact opposite. We instead remain “still” and “receive” everything from God.
St. John Vianney noticed one day a parishioner kneeling in church before the tabernacle. He asked the man what he was doing. The man responded, “I look at him and he looks at me.”
Sometimes, we don’t need to do anything in prayer, and just remain in silence and receive what God wants to give to us.