These are very brief expressions --simple, easily-memorized phrases from Sacred Scripture or the lives of the saints -- that concretize these acts of mind and will and help us put into practice St. Paul's command to "pray always."
Last week we considered as part of a Catholic Plan of Life the various interiors acts of mind and will that transform us over time as they flower in virtuous actions, habits and character. We examined Acts of Faith, Hope, Love, the Presence of God, Divine Filiation, Thanksgiving and Atonement.
This week I'd like to focus on a spiritual practice that reinforces and simplifies those interior acts: what the saints have called "aspirations." These are very brief expressions --simple, easily-memorized phrases from Sacred Scripture or the lives of the saints -- that concretize these acts of mind and will and help us put into practice St. Paul's command to "pray always."
Perhaps the best way to describe aspirations is to enumerate some of them. I have several favorite ones that I pray quietly or aloud many times throughout the day:
"Stay with us, Lord!," the petition of the disciples in Emmaus, to ask for the Lord's help in my work.
"Come, Holy Spirit!," before I begin to pray or preach.
"Lord, help me!," whenever I hit a wall in my work.
"The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior!," what the angel said to Gideon before he led the 300 soldiers of Manasseh against the 135,000 of Midian, whenever I begin to think I don't have what it takes to accomplish what the Lord is asking.
"Master, the one that you love is ill," the expression Martha and Mary said to Jesus about Lazarus, when I hear of someone sick in need of prayers.
"Lord, have mercy!," the cry of the blind man in the Gospel, when I hear of some type of suffering caused by evil and sin.
"Lord, increase our faith!," the cry of the apostles in the storm-tossed boat, when I catch myself looking at things with too worldly a perspective.
"Lord, that I may see!," the cry of Bartimaeus, when I can't grasp the wisdom of something God is doing or permitting.
"Fiat!," "Let it be done to me according to your word," from Mary's words at the Annunciation, or "Fiat voluntas tua!, "Thy will be done!," whenever I have to accept an outcome different than the one for which I was hoping.
"Abba, Father!," to recall my divine filiation throughout the day.
"All glory and honor is Yours!," from the doxology at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, or "Deo omnis gloria!," "All glory to God," when people are trying to compliment me for something the Lord made succeed.
And "Thank you, Lord!," or "Deo gratias!," whenever things go well, and "Sorry, Lord!" for the many times that I fail to respond adequately to the Lord and his assistance.
The saints and the Church in various approved books of prayer have suggested other aspirations as well:
"My God and my all!," echoing St. Thomas' words, when genuflecting to the tabernacle or at the elevations in the Mass.
"Blessed be God!," in gratitude for anything or in reparation for blasphemy.
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!," as a simple act of contrition.
"O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine!," as a prayer for charity.
"Lord, save us, we are perishing!," the words of the apostles on the stormy sea, in any predicament.
"Ave, O Crux, spes unica!," "Hail, O Cross, our only hope!," whenever one is struggling to sanctify a hardship.
"O Mary, conceived without original sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!," to invoke Mary in any circumstance.
There are also various aspirations meant to be prayed in dialogue:
St. John Paul II used to love to say, "Laudetur Iesus Christus!," "Praised be Jesus Christ," to which the faithful would reply, "Nunc et in aeternum!," or simply "In aeternum!" "Now and forever!" Cardinal Timothy Dolan, when he was my rector at the North American College in Rome, used to pray it with us in Italian, "Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!," to which we would readily reply, "Sempre sia lodato!"
In Seminary, we had another beautiful aspirational dialogue used at meal blessings and on other occasions. The leader would say, "Vergine Immacolata!," and everyone would respond, "Aiutataci!," "Immaculate Virgin, help us!"
Perhaps the most famous dialogue of these mini-prayers takes place during the Easter Season. In many Christian cultures, it's still prayed in Greek. "Christos anesti!," to which everyone replies, "Alithos anesthi!" "The Lord is risen!, "He has truly risen!"
The other liturgical seasons likewise have aspirations associated with them as well.
In Advent, we can pray, "Come, Lord Jesus!" or "O Come, O Come Emmanuel!"
At Christmas, we can say, "Venite Adoremus!," or "O Come, Let us adore him!"
And during Lent, the most common is, "We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you!," to which others reply, "Because by your Holy Cross, you have Redeemed the world!"
In the spiritual life, aspirations create a culture of prayer and enable a more continuous openness to God's presence and to ongoing conversation with him. They can be likened to the short routine phrases -- "I love you!" or "Sorry, honey!," or "Please help me!" -- that spouses or family members exchange. When said sincerely, they can sometimes be worth as much as lengthy heart-to-hearts.
The term "aspiration," etymologically, means both "breathing" as well as "hoping." In medicine it refers to the action or process of drawing breath, pointing to the fact that prayerful aspirations ought to be as common in the spiritual life as breathing is in physical life. "Aspiration" can also refer to a hope of achieving something, and spiritually these short invocations help us to express our hope in God in every circumstance. They are the ligaments that bind together all the other parts of a plan of life!
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.