One day, a disciple of Jesus’ said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11.1b NABRE).
This seems an odd request, as the disciple would have been versed in the Psalms and the traditional prayers of the Israelites.
But we often ask the same question. We know the Lord’s Prayer and table graces, but in times of need we search for the “right” words.
Never fear—the Jesus Prayer is at your disposal.
The Jesus Prayer originated in the earliest years of the church. The church fathers made reference to it. The Orthodox Church encourages its use. Protestants and Catholics find it meaningful as well.
In its simplest form, the prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Variations exist, such as “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” and “Jesus, Lord and Christ, Son and Word of the living God, have mercy on (me a sinner/us sinners).”
The prayer is based on Jesus’ parable of the self-righteous Pharisee and the humble tax collector. When the tax collector prayed, he “would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner’” (Luke 18:13b).
Jesus encouraged his followers to pray in his name. “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.” (John 16:23b).
The apostles performed miracles in his name. When Peter and John met a lame man, Peter said, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, walk” (Acts 3:6b) and the man was healed.
St. Paul writes, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yeshua (Joshua), which means “the Lord saves” or “God is my salvation.” The New Testament was written in Koine Greek because it was the common language of the time, a result of Alexander the Great’s conquest of much of the known world.
Jesus was the name provided to his parents by an angel of the Lord (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31).
“To pray ‘Jesus’ is to invoke him and to call him within us. . . . The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2666, 2668).
St. Paul tells us to “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). The Jesus Prayer is a simple and easy way to pray always. The short, easy-to-memorize prayer can be recited aloud or silently in any circumstance.
But the Jesus Prayer is not a mantra or magic formula. Prayer is “a relationship between two persons, God and man, as they move towards each other” (orthodoxprayer.org).
While prayer may create peace of mind or relieve stress as a byproduct, prayer is at its core a dialogue with God.
Some forms of meditation seek to clear the mind of all thoughts, but the goal of prayer is to focus the mind on God and establish a relationship with him.
By repeating the Jesus Prayer, the words become embedded in our hearts, and our lives are open to God’s presence and guidance.
For further study, read the book “The Jesus Prayer Rosary” by Michael Cleary.
Sally Carpenter, M.Div., is a member of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Moorpark. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.