Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Idiot's Guide to Prayer - Part I: The Jesus Prayer

This is the first of a series on Christian prayer. Do not be offended by the title of the series--we are ALL idiots when it comes to prayer. Indeed, legendary prayer warrior St. Paul, himself stated, "the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26).

But, prayer is actually simple. We speak to God, and then we listen. But what are some practical ways to start this daily conversation? Let's start with one of the simplest ways:

"The Jesus Prayer"

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!"
Catechism of the Catholic Church #2616

This is a prayer that has been highly treasured among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholics throughout history. Let's take a look at it piece-by-piece:

Many times we wonder, "I don't know how to pray... where do I start... how do I focus my mind when it is racing a mile a minute with distractions?... how do I make myself present to God and God to me?"

"Lord Jesus Christ..."
This sounds deceptively simple. Did you realize that when you utter these 3 words something incredible happens? Scripture tells us that "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). If you begin your prayer of adoration by uttering the holy name of Jesus, and make an act of faith that he is "Lord" of heaven and earth, of your marriage and family, of your entire life... then the Holy Spirit is without a doubt at work within you. Whether you are inside a church or not, God is present within and among you (even if you "feel" that God is far away from you). 3 little words can reassure you that God is with you. St. Paul also writes of the holy name of Jesus that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father" (Phil 2:10).

"Son of God..."
Scripture tells us that "when anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the son of God, God dwells in him and he in God" (1 Jn 4:14-15). Think also of St. Peter's confession of faith. When Jesus asked his disciples who people said that he was, and who they thought he was, Peter stepped up and made the confession heard 'round the world: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). How did Jesus respond to this? "Blessed are you Simon, Bar-Jona! for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 16:17). In other words, Peter was not able to make this confession of faith because of his own human brilliance or intuition. Nor did another man tell him about Jesus' true identity. "Flesh and blood" did not reveal this divine truth to Peter. The only way that Peter could have made this confession was because the "Father who is in heaven" gave him a special revelation. When you pray the Jesus prayer in faith--the grace of God is at work within you to know the true identity of Christ. So, God is present in heaven ("Our Father, who art in heaven...") AND also He is present in our midst in an intimate way.

"Have mercy on me, a sinner."
How else do we present ourselves before God in prayer than through contrition and humility. Part of prayer is acknowledging reality. The truth is that God is God--the creator of the heavens and the earth. ... and that we are NOT God. We are God's creation... we are creatures. God does not "owe" us anything... but He does desire to give us everything as a grace. We are children dependent upon our loving Father for everything. To receive his gifts, of course, one thing is required: we must be humble enough to accept them. God will never force himself on anyone. We must never approach God as the self-righteous Pharisee in the Temple, but rather as sinners in need of mercy (like the tax collector--"God , be merciful to me, a sinner!" Lk 18:13). We must admit that are like Bartimeus the blind beggar and cry out, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mk 10:48; see also Mt 9:27).

When you sit down to pray, and you want to offer up all of your thanksgiving and joy... when you want to let go of all distractions,... all confusions,... all anger... all darkness and the feelings of God's absence (prayer is not chiefly about "feelings")... then begin by slowly repeating this prayer. Then take comfort... for whether you "feel" it or not... God is present... in your midst.

Thoughts?... Comments?... leave a comment by clicking below...

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