I have been reflecting lately on the notion of Dom Chautard concerning that aspect of the interior life that is Englished in his book “custody of the heart.” Perhaps a more militant way of translating this notion in modern English would be “guarding the heart.”
It is the duty of a knight to guard and protect, and we often associate this role with his perennial preoccupation with the Damsel in Distress. Elsewhere I have noted that the Blessed Virgin is the personification of the Damsel in Distress–not so much because She is helpless, which She is not, nor is that an essential quality of any such damsel, but because She personifies everything true, good and beautiful. She does this precisely at the foot of the cross as the personification of the Bride of Christ and as Mother and exemplar of the Church. Ultimately the Christian Knight must be at Her service.
But the curious fact is that the knight, while an image of Christ, the Bridegroom and Savior, is first of all a sinner and one who must identify with the needy Bride as much as any woman should. This is not to say that the knight must become a woman spiritually, but that his masculinity need not be threatened by whole-hearted honesty about his dependence on God.
In fact, nothing could be more important. In order to stand fast in the breach that has been blasted in the wall of the City of God, Our Lady’s knight must first repair the breach in his own heart. How can a knight defend the City of God, how can he fight for the honor of the Immaculate Heart and guard it from the dishonor of the heathens, if he has not first mastered the art of guarding his own heart? In fact, there is nothing more urgent than the attention we pay to our own vulnerabilities.
To this end, I would like to associate the notion of Dom Chautard with that of St. Paul concerning the Armor of God.
Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord and in the might of his power. Put you on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places (10-12).
This particular passage of St. Paul’s writings is perhaps the most militant in expression of anything he wrote. In fact, St. Paul was a fearless man, undergoing every suffering willingly for the sake of the gospel, facing whatever danger and enemy with which he was confronted for the sake of souls. Whenever a spiritual writer refers to “the Apostle” without mentioning a name, we know that he is referring to St. Paul. This is because the Apostle exemplified in himself the man of action in the heart of Christ.
However, this most militant passage of his writings is not about the apostolate or action, but about the interior life. His exhortation is to stand fast against the enemy of our soul, which is not flesh and blood, but the Prince of this World. Interesting how the one who pretends to have the world in his hand is not a power of this world, but one of the world of darkness. And the subtle liar would like us to believe that all our fights in this world are the wars of righteousness, meanwhile he insinuates himself into our hearts and makes mayhem of our spiritual lives, compromising our prayerful union with God and throwing smoke in the eyes of our discernment.
How often we invest ourselves in our daily concerns without having first invested ourselves in prayer. The life of a warrior is nothing if not one of discipline. Spiritual combat is more than anything a matter of our interior union with God.
Therefore, take unto you the armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day and to stand in all things perfect (13).
Because of these considerations, I was inspired then to reflect on St. Paul’s words in the form of a prayer.
The ordination of a knight or his investiture (clothing) is the matter at hand. In the ancient text, De benedictione novi militis (Blessing of a New Knight), the prayer in which the candidate receives his shield reads thus:
O Lord, we pray of your mercy, that your servant, who receives this shield in honor of chivalry, may pass through this temporal world without losing the eternal one. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
There are plenty of dangers in this world, the greatest of them are spiritual and have little to do with pagans and profligates. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. We should be careful not to lose the one fight that really matters.
There is long standing tradition of “vesting prayers” within the Church, very often reflecting the words of St. Paul. The text of the vesting prayers of the priest are the most eloquent example, though many religious have their own form adapted to their habit and charism. The following is my own adaptation of vesting prayers for the Christian and modern knight, not necessarily to be prayed as such, but at least an expression of custody of the heart.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth (14a) . . .
Heavenly Father, in the Holy Name of Jesus, let me guard my heart from all falsehood and allow me to live in Thy truth. Give me Thy help to keep far from me every deception of the enemy. May I be strong and ready for every arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh about in the dark: of invasion, or of the noonday devil (Ps 90:6). Amen.
At Kneeling Down
. . . and having on the breastplate of justice (14b):
In Jesus’ Name, I beg for His righteousness, Lord God, because I have none of my own. Clothe me in His life and virtue. Give me His spirit so that I guard the recesses of my heart from every sinful inclination and false inspiration. May zeal for justice increase in me as I stand fast against my own compromises. Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: and a door round about my lips. Incline not my heart to evil words; to make excuses in sins (Ps 140:3-4). Give the grace to submit myself entirely to Thy holy will. Amen.
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (15).
Father, All-Powerful, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword (Mt 10:34), also spoke to us saying: Peace I leave with you: my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled: nor let it be afraid (Jn 14:27). May I be prepared by His gospel of peace to bring peace wherever I go, by resisting the enemy of my soul and helping others to do likewise. Let me die to myself for Jesus Christ to win souls for Him, in who’s Holy Name I trust and pray. Amen.
At Leading the Family
In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one (16).
Heavenly Father, in Thy power and in the Holy Name of Thy Son, Jesus, I beg the Grace to be a shepherd after the heart of Christ to my family and all those entrusted to my care. May my faith not fail and may my conversion be complete so I might confirm my brethren in their faith (cf. Lk 22:31-32). Grant that I might shield myself and my people from every wile of the enemy and rise in joy and confidence in the Power of the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.
At One’s Daily Duty
And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (17).
Lord, All-Powerful, blessed art Thou, who teacheth my hands to fight, and my fingers to war. Thou art my mercy, and my refuge: my support, and my deliverer: My protector, and I have hoped in Thee, who subdueth my people under me (Ps 144: 1-2). Guard my mind from impurity and deception that I may discern your holy will in all things. Separate from my heart by Thy armed right hand every motive that does not come from Thee. May I do Thy work, and only Thy work, in the manner of Thy Son, Jesus, and with the honorable intentions of His Sacred Heart. I ask this in His Holy Name. Amen.
St. Paul concludes with the following:
By all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the spirit: and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints. (18).
In Dom Chautard’s teaching’s on custody of the heart he mentions spiritual disciplines like “purity of intention,” the “practice of the presence of God,”devotion to Our Lady,” continual formation in custody of the heart and vigilance at all times. St. Paul says: all prayer, all times, with all instance, for all the saints. The matter is preaching clear: before anything else, to stand fast means to guard our own heart. And for this we must not count the cost, but fight in a manly way for the kingdom of God