“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)
The cultivation of these three virtues, infused into our souls at baptism, is crucial. These are the “God-centered” virtues of faith, hope and love. These are the virtues that direct our attention directly at God: we reach out to God in faith, we press closer to Him in hope, and by love we unite ourselves to God. Thus, the development and practice of the theological virtues (or God-centered virtues) is hugely important. We need to practice these virtues. We need to make acts of faith, hope and love to the “living” and infinitely good God (I am drawing from Father Tanquerey’s great book, The Spiritual Life).
One simple way to “exercise” the theological virtues of faith, hope and love is through ejaculatory prayer – that is, by very short prayers made from the heart. Of ejaculatory prayer (or short prayers of aspiration) Father Paul O’Sullivan says:
“The custom of making ejaculations is of such transcendent importance that all the Saints practiced it and raised themselves to an eminent height of sanctity by its means” (How to be Happy, How to be Holy, page 228).
He further says of these short, ejaculatory prayer: “Nothing is easier, nothing more useful or profitable to use than these little prayers, which we can say at every moment. Nothing will make us more happy” (p. 211). Now these short, affective prayers are very useful to busy men and women who may find prayer time hard to come by (although we must make prayer a priority). The same, short affective prayer of love can be lifted up to God throughout the day multiple times (even hundreds of time per day). We may simply say, “Jesus, I Trust n You,” or, “Sacred Heart of Jesus I have boundless confidence in Thee,” or, “My God, I love Thee,” or, “My God, grant that I may love Thee more and more,” or, “Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest, and in my heart take up thy rest.” These are but a few examples of short, ejaculatory prayers that can be easily said all through the day; and the examples chosen correspond specifically to acts of faith, hope and love.
These short, ejaculatory prayers deepen our affection for God. It becomes habitual for us to let God know how much we love Him and how much we trust in Him. And since the theological virtues are not natural virtues, but rather supernatural virtues infused into our souls at baptism, the exercise of these virtues directs more efficaciously our union with God (relying again on Father Tanquerey). In short, ejaculatory prayer is a very practical and effective way to exercise the all-important theological virtues.
EXAMPLE: A man goes on a hectic three day business trip. He decides that his “go-to” prayer of aspiration throughout the trip will be: “Oh Sacred Heart of Jesus, whom I adore, help me to love Thee more and more.” This prayer constitutes an exercise of the theological virtues. He also decides that in times of temptation he will say this aspiration: “By thy Immaculate Conception, O Virgin Mary, make my body pure and my soul holy” (Raccolta)! This short prayer not only venerates Mary but also is an exercise of the moral virtues. Importantly, as Father Tanquerey demonstrates, the theological virtues support the moral virtues and, conversely, the moral virtues support the theological virtues. Thus, Jesus says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 23: 23-45)
There is a famous book, The Way of the Pilgrim, wherein the author relates how simply repeating the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Have Mercy on me”) hundreds and thousands of time per day transformed his life. Ejaculatory prayers, said with love, can be very powerful and very useful to growth in holiness.
Sources: The Spiritual Life by Father Adolphe Tanquerey (TAN), see especially pages 458-459; and How to be Happy, How to be Holy by Father Paul O’Sullivan (TAN). Most of the short prayers I cited are taken from Father O’Sullivan or from a pamphlet entitled, How to Converse Continually and Familiarly with God, by St. Alphonsus Liguori (TAN).
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