Eastern religions make use of mantras. We do too. We may not realize that we Catholics have some mantras as well, and that we could put them to good use in our spiritual lives. This is one way to pray without ceasing, one way to occupy the mind properly during a difficult temptation, or slow it down when it is racing. It is not pointless, either, as far as prayer goes. As the author of the Cloud of Unknowing says, God is accessible only by the little spark of love, that impulse toward Him, even if for a moment we lift our hearts toward Him, this is how to reach Him as well as any arrow hits the bull’s eye on the target. This impulse of love is the way to penetrate the overwhelming mystery of God and to possess, even apprehend Him by love in a way our intellects are not capable of. A mantra gives voice to that spark of love and helps us consciously place all of our lives in the presence of God throughout the day.
For those of you familiar with “Centering Prayer,” (a form of Christian meditation using a prayer word or phrase ) you will have an idea what I mean.
But this prayer can be done all the time, even when we are busy, or bored in a lobby somewhere, or sweeping the floor. We can have a word or phrase that we repeat either vocally or mentally. Don’t worry vain repetition means just that: vain. Are you being vain or mindless? Is it vain to repeat something that means all the world to you: the Name of Our Lord perhaps, or of Our Lady, or both? In the Eastern Church the Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me) is used in a mantra fashion. One is encouraged to repeat it constantly from the heart… until it begins to pray itself within one on it’s own and becomes as much a part of one as breathing or the heart’s beating.
St. Francis is known to have stayed up all night sometimes repeating, “My God and my all, my God and my all, My God and my all!” St. Rose of Lima memorized the Names of God from Scripture during a period of terrible aridity for her and she would say them over as she did embroidery and this practice gave her light. The prayer received by St. Faustina is a good one, “Jesus, I trust in you.” The author of the Cloud of Unkowing recommends simply the word, “God.” The angels sing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” It seems like they are always saying it. We just join them sometimes at mass. Why not as often as we can?
My mother used to say during chemo, “Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy,” and if she started saying other mantras that were not so good for her I would laugh and remind her of “Divine Mercy.” Each of my daughters has a personal mantra that they repeat in times of trouble or difficulty praying or temptation or stress. Maire’s is “Stella maris” or (Star of the Sea), one of Our Lady’s titles that she particularly loves. Roise’s is, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary,” or “Ave Maria, Ave Maria…” Mine, I got from my beloved St. Joan of Arc, the words on her banner, “Jesus Maria.” I hope I’m saying it when I die.
When you’re mad or worried about something, a brisk walk repeating your mantra can really help put you in the right frame of mind. The mantra is a good way to pray when you are at a red light or a seriously dull meeting or doing something tedious. It is great during hard, physical work to keep you going and dedicate your work, says my fellow Carmelite, George. It’s not bad for when a mean dog is chasing you, either, according to my kids.
If you are not having to concentrate on anything like navigating freeway traffic or doing a delicate repair that requires all your attention, the mantra can and should be said anytime.
One of my favorite ways to use mine is when I am falling asleep. If I’m good about staying on it, my heart will repeat it all night and if I wake up I notice I am still at it.
Sometimes when I am too upset to pray the rosary I just hold it. Sometimes I am in need of the greatest simplicity and something for my mind and heart to hold onto.
A mantra prayer is perfect for that.
Some practical advice:
I would say don’t change it once you have chosen it. This way it will become part of you and sometimes your heart will start it on its own. There’s nothing useless or vain about it. Think of it as steps that lead you closer and closer to Heaven. Just choose it carefully so that it has the most meaning to you in your faith journey.
There are a lot of very short, one line Catholic prayers that make good mantras. “Jesus, Mary, I love you, save souls,” is one I have heard people use often. “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised, adored and loved,” is good. Imagine how much good a constant spiritual communion would do. “Lord come spiritually into my heart.” There is that great word from Revelation, too, “Maranatha” Our Lord come!
I also have a little book I write the mantra in at times. I might dedicate a page to peace or to someone in trouble. There are several pages on which I have drawn pictures with the mantra in different colors and shapes. You will be amazed what a calming, peaceful activity this can be. It’s fun to do as a family too. We have made some mantra art together with all our different mantras making a picture.
So I hope you try this. It couldn’t possibly hurt you. Most likely it will get you all straightened out when you need it and help you not waste time that you would ordinarily just use to worry when you are stuck somewhere or letting your mind go all over the place in unhelpful ways. It’s been very good for me.
The mantra “Jesus Maria” is my constant companion and has done me nothing but good. Have fun choosing yours, choose it carefully, make it part of your every day.
Maybe you will see what I mean.
I am much indebted to one of my favorite and most charming spiritual authors, Eknath Easwaran, for getting me started with the mantra years ago. Thank you, Sri Easwaran. It was a great idea.