Years ago I read a small book, The Way of The Pilgrim, an Eastern spiritual classic in which a man wanders throughout Russia seeking the answer to the question of how one might “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17). In discovering the Jesus Prayer, he finds sweetness for his soul, and recites it day and night. On a plane ride to New Mexico when I was 19, I sat next to an Orthodox priest who gifted me with a prayer rope, and he taught me the prayer and the breathing to accompany it: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I have prayed it often over the years. Like the Pater Noster, it is a “complete protein” of a prayer, efficacious to contemplation.
When I write these days, I often have to do so in spits and spurts, fitting in posts and articles in between work and family responsibilities. I often do not spend more than an hour at most on any one piece. But when I look back at the volumes of what I have written and published, it’s not insignificant. This should be a testament to the ability not to waste moments, and take to heart the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, “we cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
We all have heard the expression, “death by a thousand cuts,” by which it is meant that seemingly insignificant injurious effects can bring a man down over time. In the spiritual life, we know that venial sin–which is far from insignificant, but nonetheless is not death-dealing (1 Jn 5:17)–can coat the soul with soot over time and weaken the resolve against mortal sin. For this reason it is good that they be confessed in the Sacrament of Penance so that we never predispose ourselves to the sin that leads to death.
If a thousand small cuts can rob a man of his breath, it should follow that the so-called ejaculations of praise, petition, adoration, and thanksgiving for a Christian can help lead a man to life.
“The great work of our perfection,” writes St. Francis de Sales, “is born, grows, and maintains its life by means of two small but precious exercises–aspirations and spiritual retirement.” And the 16th century Abbott Bl Louis de Blois wrote,
“The diligent darting forth of aspirations and prayers of ejaculation and fervent desires to God, joined with true mortification and self-denial, is the most certain as well as the shortest way by which a soul can easily and quickly come to perfection.“
What do we mean by ejaculatory prayer? The Latin iaculum (‘a dart’) connotates arrows being shot from a bow. These are short, concise, uncomplicated prayers to aid us in times of temptation, offer God due praise, and lend themselves to petition. I have often relied on ejaculatory prayers as the brickwork in my spiritual life. Often, I get down on myself for not spending hours in contemplation and so accuse myself (sometimes in Confession) of “not praying.” The fact is, though, that these seemingly insignificant prayers are uttered throughout the day on many occasions, such that the “left hand does not know what the right hand is doing” (Mt 6:3). Example of some of my favorite and more common aspirations include:
“My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28)
“Come Lord Jesus.” (Rev 22:20)
“I love you Jesus.”
“Lord, save me!” (Mt 14:30)
“God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk 18:13)
“Help me, Lord.”
“I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24)
These are just a few. They do not take much time at all, they come from the heart, and they can be prayed anywhere throughout the day to help us learn to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17)
In my next post, I will be writing about Contrition of Charity, that is, making an act of perfect contrition and how efficacious this practice is. While it is the work of grace ultimately, we can dispose ourselves towards it through learning to love God more so that when we offend him, we are “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). We grieve because we have injured our Lord “whom we should love above all things,” and not only because of the fear of Hell which we incur by our sins. I believe frequent ejaculations help build this simple love of God and trust in His infinite mercy, and that He will not spurn these fiery darts of love, the “arrows that wound God’s heart,” as St. Pio said.