January 01, 2024
In his First Letter to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul tells us to “Pray without ceasing.” (5:17). Perhaps as you think about that, it seems almost an impossible command because you have a job to go to, children to care for, dinner to cook, and sporting events to attend…you name it. You can feel defeated just reading that scripture. Fear not, because this isn’t a new predicament, it’s as old as Saint Paul’s letter itself and there’s a way to do it, with the Jesus Prayer.
The Jesus Prayer is an easy to learn, one sentence long, simple prayer that can help you on your quest to pray always. Here it is:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
That’s it, a one-liner that’s even easy for your children to learn but huge in terms of always putting yourself in the presence of God and praying unceasingly.
Where is it from?
There are several places in the New Testament that echo the words of this prayer. In Luke (18:13), the tax collector approached God in prayer with the words “Be merciful to me a sinner”. In Matthew (15:22), a Canaanite woman pleads “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David”. The blind man, Bartimaeus, in Mark (15:22) begged “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” when asking to be healed of his blindness.
Beyond the words of scripture, the Jesus Prayer can be traced back to the monasteries of the 3rd and 4th centuries, especially the eastern orthodox monasteries, where it was prayed repeatedly on knotted ropes called chotki.
The depth of this simple prayer
The Catechism in CCC 2668 tells us “The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases…”
Beginning with “Lord”, we make an act of worship and a confession of faith by calling Him our Lord. Then the name, Jesus, the Holy name revealed to Mary and Joseph by an angel, gives us an intimacy with Jesus’ human nature. From that first-name-basis, we then call Him Christ, the anointed one, our savior. Our confession of faith continues as we call Him the Son of God and acknowledge that Jesus is God. Finally, in asking for Jesus to have mercy on us sinners, we acknowledge our wretched state before God and invoke His compassion both in forgiveness of our sins and in caring for our needs.
How to pray the Jesus Prayer
Breathe in and recite “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” and then exhale and pray “have mercy on me, a sinner.” When we breathe intentionally, we become aware of this natural function of our body that we take for granted. This grounds us in the present moment and helps us to relax. When we are busy at work or at home, this combination of our breath and our prayer helps us to be aware of God’s presence in our day. For those who like the feel of rosary beads in your hands during prayer, use them to pray the Jesus Prayer on each bead just like on a chotki. By inhaling and exhaling the words of this prayer, we make it as natural as our breaths and soon find ourselves praying without ceasing.
Written by Birgitt Hacker
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