God, Come to My Assistance...
As it is recounted in the Conferences of St John Cassian, when a certain Abba Isaac was asked what kind of meditation was necessary to have a constant awareness of God, he answered,
This, then, is the devotional formula proposed to you as absolutely necessary for possessing the perpetual awareness of God: O God, incline unto my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me.
While we use a slightly different translation, we should recognize this as the introductory verse that is said every time we pray the Liturgy of the Hours – “God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me” (unless we are praying the Invitatory for the Office of Readings or Morning Prayer).
It can be so easy to pass over these words as a mere formula for beginning the Office. However, Abba Isaac reflects beautifully on the spiritual fruits that are possible when this prayer is taken up with constancy and vigilance. He states,
You should, I say, meditate constantly on this verse in your heart. You should not stop repeating it when you are doing any kind of work or performing some service or are on a journey. Meditate on it while sleeping and eating and attending to the least needs of nature. This heart’s reflection, having become a saving formula for you, will not only preserve you unharmed from every attack of the demons but will also purge you of every vice and earthly taint, lead you to the theoria of invisible and heavenly realities, and raise you to that ineffably ardent prayer which is experienced by few.
Why this verse and not another, we might ask? While there are certainly other verses in Sacred Scripture that could be employed in a similar fashion for similar purposes, Abba Isaac sees in this verse a prayer of the heart that knows our dire and urgent need of God. He goes on to say,
What greater or holier poverty can there be than that of one who, knowing that he has no defense and no strength of his own, asks for daily help from another’s bounty, who understands that every single moment of his life and substance depend on Divine assistance, and who rightly professes that he is the Lord’s true beggar, daily crying out to him: ‘I am needy and poor; God help me’?
The verse is succinct and to the point. It is a verse that not only should be committed to memory, but taken up repeatedly as we attend to our day’s labors and responsibilities. When this is done with perseverance, Abba Isaac insists that it will become for us a saving formula, preserving us from evil, purging us of vice, and leading us to spiritual vision.
The next time we pray the Liturgy of the Hours and take this verse upon our lips, let it serve as a reminder to offer this prayer throughout our day (not just when we say the Office). In this way, we will come to depend on God’s assistance at every moment, rightly professing that we are but the Lord’s true beggars. Such a cry is guaranteed to be heard by the Lord. Thus, we can know with confidence that God’s protection is always present and at hand.