Trigger Warnings to Prayer Triggers: A Call for Frequent Prayer

Borrowing from C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Father Paul Scalia once wrote that the Devil can’t create. “The Devil is unable to create anything. He lacks the ability to create…. He can only take what is good and distort it a bit…. So the Devil takes the good things of God and he mimics them. He mocks them by imitating them.” The enemy’s instrumentalities of distortion and mockery frequently are well-intentioned people. Remember what pavement is on the road to hell.

Distortion—think of a Supreme Court being confused for the Supreme Being. Think of the whole same-sex “marriage” movement and especially the SCOTUS ruling where Father’s father made a brilliant dissent. To quote the younger Scalia again, “God makes distinctions…. The Devil blurs distinctions and it is the nature of evil to confuse us; to make us wonder what is true. It is the nature of evil to blur the distinctions God has made.”

Mockery—think of the use of the very colors God put in the sky as a sign of his covenant with Noah to illuminate the people’s house, the White House, in “celebration” of that ruling. As Father Scalia reminds us, “Evil mimics good.”

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The confusion is being nurtured in our institutes of higher learning. According to news reports one university professor is banning the use of such words as “male” and “female” in her class because such words are “offensive” and “oppressive.”

Beyond banning the speech they don’t like, the campus PC police have another tool on their belt: the “pepper spray” of “trigger warnings.” In its simplest form, trigger warnings are notices that something you are about to read may cause certain readers to be uncomfortable. According to the New York Times some are even calling for trigger warnings on The Great Gatsby and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Before long, we can expect trigger warnings for the bible. (“Beware, includes depictions of violence, sodomy, incest….”) So, here is a trigger warning for readers who have gotten this far. The balance of this essay will mention the bible and weapons, and real-life suggestions on how to use those weapons to combat the devil. The most potent weapon in our arsenal is prayer.

We are told in the bible to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17). Possible perhaps in the first century for a tent-maker or a fisherman without the constant buzz of noise and distraction. Twenty centuries later it seems darn near impossible. But the bible also tells us “all things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23).

Here are some practical ways you can “pray without ceasing.” As prayer is a weapon against Satan, I call these “prayer triggers.” Ever hear of a “hair trigger”? It is a firing mechanism on some guns to allow them to fire with slight pressure. Well, a prayer trigger causes us to pray with very little pressure—in our daily routines. The prayers could be small “.22 caliber” petitions all the way up to “.45 caliber” Angeluses and Chaplets.

You are probably using prayer triggers now without realizing it. Do you say “God bless you” when you hear someone sneeze, as Pope Gregory decreed on February 16, 590?  Then you’ve used a “prayer trigger”—the sneeze triggered a short prayer.

Did your parents train you to say grace, almost Pavlovianly, when a meal is served? Another prayer trigger: the plate before you prompted you to remember to thank God for his bounty.

Here are some others. There is an old Catholic custom of “crossing yourself” when you pass a Catholic church—another “prayer trigger”—but try taking it to the next level and say a prayer for Christian unity whenever you pass a Protestant church, for example.

How about when you’re driving on the highway, and you see a bad driver. Why not use that as a trigger to say a prayer for the safety of the driver and those whom he comes near? And if he cuts you off, instead of a foul hand gesture, let him look in his rear-view and see you making the sign of the cross.

While that person who cut you off may be a devil of a driver, keep your eyes open for the sign of the beast, 666, on license plates or mailboxes, and use that number to remind you to say the prayer to St. Michael. Ever yield the right-of-way when you didn’t have to and expect a nod or wave of thanks and not get it? Use that as a trigger to ask God to forgive each time you failed to thank him.

You know those small wooden crosses mourning parents erect on the roadside to mark where their child was killed in an accident? Why not use them as triggers to pray for the soul of the deceased and his relatives? The same with cemeteries—a trigger to say “Eternal rest grant unto them o Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them…” or a simple prayer for the souls in purgatory. Obituaries and newspaper headlines that mention death are also appropriate triggers for such prayers.

Drive on any Interstate in rural America and you are bound to see a gigantic cross constructed by a farmer on the land abutting the super highway as an evangelizing sign. Or a religious message painted on the side of a barn. Use them as triggers to say an “Our Father”—for the farmer, or in thanksgiving for the bounty of our great nation, or for any other intention you may have.

Sister Elizabeth, in second grade, taught me to say “God, please help the person in trouble.” whenever I hear a siren. My bride augmented that with “…and watch over those going to help them” to embrace the first responders too.

Indeed, every time you see a man or woman in uniform mentally say “God, please protect those who protect us” right after you say “Thank you for your service” to the service member. The religious versions of “uniforms”—habits or clerical garb—can trigger a prayer for vocations.

What about working prayer triggers into your hygiene habits? Remember the scene in the movie, “The Passion” where Mary tells Jesus to wash his hands before eating? Recall that scene and say a Hail Mary every time you scrub your hands. (Besides, experts tell us that to kill germs we need to scrub with soap for the length of a short song like “happy birthday”—a Hail Mary works just as well as a song.)

The “white martyr” Ignatius Cardinal Kung said, having taken his first warm shower after years in Chinese prison, “This must be what heaven is like.” Recalling that, I try to remember to say a prayer for the Underground Church in China with each morning shower. “Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me of my sin” is an alternative shower prayer.

Prayer triggers can also be used to prevent near occasions of sin. A monk once told me that when a male at his college confessed not averting his eyes when he sees scantily clad attractive young co-eds, he used a bit of “religious jujitsu” and counselled him to remember the girl is not an object but a person with a soul. He instructed him to say a quick prayer whenever he sees an attractive female that her soul looks as beautiful to God as her body looks to the young man. So even pretty girls can be a prayer trigger.

Prayer triggers sometimes work in reverse. The Holy Name Societies were once a staple in every parish. The men of the group have a “secret hand-shake” of sorts. Whenever a member hears the name of Jesus spoken, he bows his head in reverence. It could be someone using the name as a curse, or someone praying the name of Jesus—it doesn’t matter. Hear the name, bow your head.

You can also use modern technology to remind you to pray unceasingly. If you’re sitting in front of a PC all day, use an Outlook reminder at 3 p.m. to remind you to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Don’t have Outlook? There are numerous “free alarm clock” apps you can download to your computer to remind you to say an Angelus at Noon and 6 p.m. (and even 6 a.m. if you are awake) the way the local church bells tolled in a bygone era! Smart phones can be set with recurring reminders too.

Once you get the hang of prayer triggers, they come naturally. On the feast of the Assumption, a local church changed its altar cloth to one embroidered with a series of large rounded “M”s. Perhaps because I was hungry, the embroidery reminded me of the “Golden Arches”—only in blue. So I decided that each time I passed a McDonald’s sign I would say a prayer in honor of our heavenly mother. Proud of my new prayer trigger I tried it out immediately after Mass. I did say a “Hail Mary” as I drove into the parking lot—and even remembered to say grace as I scarfed down an Egg McMuffin.


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