Marian Contemplations IX: Mary’s Ability to Hear Our Prayer (Part 3)

Marian Contemplations IX: Mary’s Ability to Hear Our Prayer (Part 3) August 6, 2016

Mosaic depiction of Mary holding an Arabic text, Convent of Our Lady, Greek Orthodox Church, Sednaya, Syria. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mosaic depiction of Mary holding an Arabic text, Convent of Our Lady, Greek Orthodox Church, Sednaya, Syria. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This is the third post in a series of texts exploring how Mary and the saints can hear our prayers. To read the first post, click here,  and to read the second, click here.

Even if we are not normally aware of our spirit and how it works, we have experience of it as our minds are able to think, contemplate and experience metaphysical realities which transcend mere materiality.[1] Free will also reveals our spirit; while our freedom is impoverished, it remains to some degree, allowing us to act beyond material necessity. Despite being weakened by sin, our spirit with its senses are not completely cut out of our daily experiences in life. We can, through grace, slowly find our spiritual senses return to us.  Then we will sense with our spirit; what it sees and feels, what it encounters in creation, we will come to know and realize as we experience the spiritual foundation for the physical world, a spiritual reality which brings all things together even as matter seems to divide them apart.

Those who are not spiritually blind can see and sense things in the realm of the spirit. The spirit is an intellectual substance, and so reveals itself in its intellectual activity. It is not hard to imagine that those with great spiritual senses will be able to detect and understand spiritual thoughts coming from other spiritual beings: when we pray, our spirit is also praying, what we think in our prayers, is echoed in our spirit. This is why those whose spiritual senses have been perfected are able to perceive our prayers because our spirit is actively directing itself at them and communicating with them. If we reach out for someone specific through our spirit, and if they are spiritually purified and glorified in heaven, they will receive our spiritual speech and will respond to it in accordance to their ability.[2] Since their spirit is not bound to fallen, physical manifestations of time, as they are now in heaven with a new spiritual capability, they are able to work with and appreciate the whole of the spiritual realm which is directed at them and respond to it in kind. This does not make them omniscient nor omnipotent, because such activity does not exhaust the potentiality of either.  We can think about it in this way: even if everyone in the whole of creation called to Mary at one point in time, that group of people together would still be far less than the potential contained in omniscience and omnipotence, both of which would be able to handle far more than that (for the sum total of everyone, combined as one, is less than the infinite potential in omnipotence).[3]

Saints in heaven find their spiritual senses not only working as they should, but actually enhanced by grace. This this is exactly what Christ and Scripture promised. We are to do great things in and for Christ if we follow him. We shall, thanks to grace, be like he is (cf. 1 John 3:2). What has been lost to us, due to the fall, is not only restored, but made greater. As we shall partakers of the divine nature, what God is by nature, we shall experience by grace.

We are, after all, made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen. 1:27). There are many ways this truth can be interpreted. An important one is to realize how we resemble God through our spiritual nature. As a spirit God is without a body (cf. John 4:24),  our soul, not being composed of matter, reflects this immaterial aspect of God.[4] In this way, things which are related to matter, things related to the body, are not properly said of the soul, as Augustine explained: “The soul must not be regarded in any way as either long, or wide, or strong. Such qualities, in my opinion, are attributes of bodies; thus we are merely applying to the soul our ideas about bodies.”[5] We can metaphorically describe the soul with bodily descriptions, such as talking about it growing, or becoming stronger, however none of them really apply to the soul:

To let you hear the truth, the soul is rightly said to be enlarged, as it were, by learning and to grow smaller by unlearning, but in a metaphorical sense, as we have discussed. You must avoid this misconception that the growth of the soul means it fills out, as it were, a larger space, whereas in fact a more skillful soul has a greater power to act than a less skillful one.[6]

Thus, we use bodily images to understand improvements as well as defects in the soul, quantifiable accidents for change of quality. The soul has its own powers, which it can improve upon, making it, as it were, grow, though with sin, with the degradation that happens as a result of sin, the soul can shrink and become weaker, which then can be represented with feeble bodily images.

The soul, being immaterial, must not be understood to be in a “place” the same way as material bodies. We are connected with the material world, so that, through our body, we have place, and we exist are in time, but the soul itself is not tied to material dimensions. Its place is in the body because it is personally united to the body, but the soul, in its spiritual nature, can be said to be at no place (outside of the physical rules of placement) or at every place (because it is not limited to a particular place) at once. This, again, demonstrates as aspect of the spiritual nature of the soul and how the soul is in the image of God. While God is omnipresent in a way greater than the soul, his omnipresence demonstrates the lack of place for that which is spirit, and so contemplating upon God (through the words of Boethius) we can then understand how our soul, analogously, lacks place:[7]

It is otherwise, of course, with God. “He is everywhere” seems to mean not that he is in every place, for he cannot be in any place at all – but that every place is present to him for him to occupy, although he himself is not received by any place. Now time is predicated in the same way, as of, a man. “He came yesterday,” of God, “He ever is.” Here again it is not as if “he whom yesterday’s coming is predicated” is said actually to be something, but what is added to him in terms of time is predicated. But what is said of God, “ever is,” signifies only one thing, that he was, as it were, in all the past, is in all the present – however the term be used – and will be in all the future.[8]

God is outside of time and space (time and space are connected to the material world). We are connected to both by our body, while our soul finds itself, in death, in a spiritual realm, where it does not have material existence, and so is not in place, and is not in time.[9] However, unlike God, who is eternal, our spirit finds itself conscious of a spiritualized time and space, for it is how it knows the world, and so like in a dream, it experiences itself and creation when apart from the body, in a dream-like state, where it knows things as if material, and encounters its own sense of temporality which is not eternity and yet not corporeal time.[10] Understanding this should help us understand how the saintly soul will be able to hear and respond to so many prayers coming to it from “one point of time,” because such a soul is not constricted by the limitations of time as we materialistically experience it.

More to Come


 

[1] When we grasp after things such as love, justice, goodness, while they manifest themselves through the material world, they are not material things which can be quantified. We know them, we experience them, and through them we have a sense of the immaterial world, even if our grasp of it is slight.

[2] And those on earth, who are more spiritually aware, might be able to do so as well.

[3] Likewise, even with our corporeal senses, we encounter many forms of sensual input at once, demonstrating how receiving multiple things at once is normal for human experience.

[4] “It seems to me that the soul is like to God,” St. Augustine, “The Magnitude of the Soul” in Writings of Saint Augustine. Volume 2. trans. John J. McMahon, S.J. (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., Inc., 1947), 61.

[5] Ibid., 62-3.

[6] Ibid., 95.

[7] What is said about God is perfectly true, while the soul can be and is said to reside in a place when it is united to its body, not because the soul is confined in a material form, but because the soul is united to the person who is a bodily creature. In the body itself, the soul continues to present itself through its spiritual qualities. For the soul perfectly penetrates every part of the body, and is fully there, fully present, in each part as with the whole. See ibid., 125-31.

[8] Boethius, “De Trinitate” in Boethius: Theological Tractates. Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. H.F. Stewart, E.K Rand, and S. J. Tester (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973; repr. 1990), 21.

[9] The glorified body no longer has the same material qualities which we associate with time or place either, which is why it can be called a “spiritual body” (cf. 1 Cor 15:44). This must not be seen as a Gnostic rejection of the body but rather an understanding that in the resurrection, the body will be spiritualized, instead of our soul being materialized and limited to our fallen mode of temporal existence. Thus, Mary is not to be seen as being hindered by the limitations of physicality because she has already experienced the glory of the resurrection.

[10] Traditionally, this spiritualized existence which lies between material temporality and eternity is called aeviternity. As a good representation of what this means, we can read how St. Thomas Aquinas explained aeviternity in in the Summa Theologica:

Aeviternity differs from time, and from eternity, as the mean between them both. This difference is explained by some to consist in the fact that eternity has neither beginning nor end, aeviternity, a beginning but no end, and time both beginning and end. This difference, however, is but an accidental one, as was shown above, in the preceding article; because even if aeviternal things had always been, and would always be, as some think, and even if they might sometimes fail to be, which is possible to God to allow; even granted this, aeviternity would still be distinguished from eternity, and from time.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Bros. edition, 1947),  I-X.5.

 

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