Tag Archives: Jesus prayer

The name of mercy

Yesterday was the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, a feast solemnly celebrated by the Franciscans and the Jesuits.

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The name, Jesus, “Yahweh saves,” was given by the angel Gabriel, as a sign that God had come among us, born of the Virgin Mary.

DSC00827The devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus was spread by the Franciscan reformer, Saint Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444). Reading one of his sermons this morning at Vigils, I was stopped by these words:

“Put aside, I beg you, any name implying political power, let there be no mention of vengeance, no mention of justice. Give us the name of mercy. Let the name of Jesus resound in my ears…”

The name of Jesus is not a word of power, of vengeance, even of political justice. It is the name of mercy. Our God, made flesh in a poor weak babe in an occupied land, brings mercy.

Each morning I begin my prayers with a form of the Jesus prayer, a prayer that is a mantra, repeated over and over.

The long form of the prayer, profoundly biblical, from the Orthodox monastic tradition, is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The shortest form is just repeating the name “Jesus.”

I have my own modified form, “Jesus, Lord, be merciful,” which I occasionally pray in Spanish, “Jesucristo, ten piedad.”

I don’t know when I began using this prayer, but it has accompanied me for decades. At times, I wake up praying the Jesus prayer. Many times, whether in church or just working, I find myself praying the prayer. I am not grateful enough for this gift.

But now what is important for me is the mercy of God. In the face of the violence and unrest here, in the fears of nuclear war and the abandonment of the poor in the US, the mercy of God should pervade us – and move us to be instruments of mercy.

God’s mercy and our shortcomings

A few weeks ago I came across this quotation from Thomas Merton, who died on December 10, 1968:

“But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.”

I struggle with accepting my limitations, my sins, my inadequacies. It’s so much easier to pretend that I am not perfect, but good.

But Merton is suggesting that the start of our life of faith is remembering what is wrong with ourselves – but not stopping there.

If I don’t recognize where I am wrong, I can end up thinking I am right and everyone else to wrong. I can find myself taking on a “god complex.”

A few months ago, I ran across these words of St. Thérèse of Liseux:

How happy I am to see myself as imperfect and be in need of God’s mercy.

Reflecting on these words, which mirror Merton’s, I wrote in my journal that morning. (This is slightly revised.)

How hard it is for me to acknowledge my errors, my failures! How difficult it is for me when I’ve made a mistake, when I’ve not done something as well as I think I could. How reluctant I am to face someone , to talk with someone, when I’ve not done something well or put things off. I am afraid of looking bad.
But St. Thérèse remind me that my imperfections could very well be the path to letting God’s love and mercy touch my soul, transform me, bring me to conversion.

Recognition of our sins and shortcomings, of our imperfections and errors, can open us to the mercy of God.

That too is at the heart of the Jesus prayer

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of the Living God,
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

Young prayerful peacemaker – John Leary

Thirty years ago a young man named John Leary died on the Boston Common while jogging home from work. But he was not an ordinary young man.

I met him a few times at Haley House, a Catholic Worker house, in Boston where he lived and worked among the poor. A bright young man – graduate of Harvard – he was a light in many ways to the darkness around the world in the early 1980s. He had a great spirit that you could experience meeting him.

His life was grounded in an active commitment to the poor, serving them, but he also a strong advocate for life. He co-founded and worked at the Pax Christi Center on Conscience and War.

He was a member of the Ailanthus Resistance Community and was arrested for protests against nuclear weapons at a local laboratory. He also was arrested several times protesting abortion.

He was a truly consistent advocate of life.

But there is another aspect of his life which intrigues me.

John Leary began to participate in the Melkite Catholic Church and was, I presume, influenced by Eastern Christian spirituality.

He used to run on his way to and from work at a center for Pax Christi Center on Conscience and War in Cambridge). Gordon Zahn, a co-founder of the center, asked John about his running, which seemed so mundane and boring. John replied that he prayer the Jesus prayer while running.  In all probability, on August  31, 1982, while running home to the Catholic Worker John died, praying the Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus prayer comes from the Eastern Christian tradition, praying many times a  formula based on the prayer of the publican in the Gospels: “Have mercy on me a sinner.” The most common form is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I wrote a post on the prayer earlier this year here.

It is a prayer that nourishes me.

Today, remembering John Leary, I pray that like him my life may be a witness to the God of life who became poor for us, by living and working with the poor, rooted in God’s love. And may I die with the Jesus prayer on my lips.