Saturday, May 7, 2011

Devilish Disturbance? Dagger Prayers Cut Through it All

Lady Gaga theologizing, terrorist threat on the rise again, natural disasters raging, another clerical scandal- disturbed anyone?

God isn't the only one who is fighting to cut through the ordinary fabric of your day to change how you live. The devil is real and very much alive, and he's not waking around with a pitchfork and horns in a red suit, but uses psychological warfare to try to demoralize, distract, and disturb those who belong to God.

One of the chief weapons he uses is to poke us with sharp, intense, and frequent as possible images, sensations, or trains of thought that will agitate and discombobulate us. I just described the sensationalist media, you say? Well, God has something very sharp, intense, and full of power to use as well. They are called, "dagger prayers."

It was St Anthony of the Desert who originally coined this phrase. Immersed in spiritual combat, the Fathers of the Church noticed that certain short prayers of Scripture, the Sacred Liturgy, and popular piety of the Church, possessed a kind of immediacy, a now-factor, a power punch to bring about an intense communion with the Almighty , which could be compared to sticking the blade of the Word of God to old scratch and letting the devil get his for a change.

Of course these prayers are only directed at God not at the evil one, and are powerful because they involve an act of faith, hope, or charity, relate the mysteries of our faith to the present minute, and evoke the memory of the holiness of Jesus that we had experienced at an other time of extended prayer or liturgical worship.

The Venerable Bede and the Benedictines of Britain used to employ the practice of standing up from their desk or labors every 15 minutes or so and crying out, "O God come to my assistance; O Lord make haste to help me," or some similar phrase. Now this may be a bit impractical at the busy workplace with your coworkers wondering what's been put in your coffee, but the Church has got something that is very practicable: pious invokations.

Here's a list from the Church's Official Enchiridion. They used to carry the weight of a partial indulgence when you say them. My favorite daggers:

-Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have Mercy on us!
-O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
-Jesus I trust in Thee!

My Irish grandmother who would hobble around saying, "Lord have mercy on us all!" had her own pithy dagger prayers, but I think they were intended to poke the listener with humor. I find that humor has a way of breaking through the evils of the day as well. St Thomas Aquainas said that good humor is an act of charity because it lightens your brother's burden. You probably can come up with some better ones than my grandma:

-Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick
-Faster than two shakes of a goat's left hind leg
-You're funny but your face beat you to it.

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