Shortly after I read this story, I came across a passage in the book two of Sigrid Undset’s great novel trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter. Poor Kristin is tormented by the fear that, because of her sins, her unborn child has been cursed with some dreadful deformity. When she can’t sleep, she turns to prayer and finds some temporary relief there.
Brother Edvin had said that the Mother of God felt an equal joy every time she heard the angel’s greeting, even if it came from the lips of the most wretched sinner. And it was the words Dominus tecum [the Lord is with thee] that most cheered Mary’s heart; that was why Kristin always said them three times.
There is, of course, some superstition mixed in here. Kristin is still quite immature (although not the “wretched sinner” she thinks she is), and the Catholic faith of her community is heavily mingled with a childish paganism, where God is always angry and must be propitiated.
But how delightful that, even in her distress, she thinks to “cheer Mary’s heart”, and understands that her own peace is linked with the joy of her heavenly mother. I think this possibility is often missing from the prayer of modern people. We are aware that God and Mary and the saints and angels don’t need us, and we’re aware that prayer is good for us; but we may forget that those in heaven enjoy hearing from us.
Modern Catholics sometimes become so relaxed in their relationship with God that their faith becomes a warm, amorphous blob of emotion, without any particular structure or demands. This is a disastrous error. But it’s just as disastrous to pray as if our spiritual relationships are nothing but cold obligation, a mechanism by which we win back our souls from the underworld.
Mary – our Mamma – is waiting to hear from us. She’s delighted to hear our voices, cheered to recall that the Lord is with her, eager to bring us into that warm circle of delight. So say it again. Say it three times! Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; and we, your darlings, want to be there, too.