As I finish this column, I am in El Paso, Texas. Later today, I will cross the border with my brother bishops from the United States and join the bishops of Mexico in celebrating Mass with Pope Francis in Ciudad Juárez.
As you are, I have followed the Pope’s pilgrimage to Mexico with prayer and deep interest. His homily at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was beautiful and I was struck by the final line.
Calling us to go out and continue the mission of St. Juan Diego — the work of making the Americas a “shrine of God” — the Pope said we should accompany the people of our times with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
“And above all beseech and pray to God,” Pope Francis said. “And in the silence tell him what is in our heart.”
Above all, pray.
The pope reminds us that prayer is not an escape, it does not withdraw us from life. Prayer draws us more deeply into the mystery of God’s plan for history. Prayer compels us to seek the face of God in the faces of our brothers and sisters; prayer fills us with feelings of responsibility for the Church’s mission of sharing Christ’s promise of salvation and healing with our brothers and sisters.
At the heart of the Christian mission and at the heart of Christian prayer is the name of Jesus.
“Jesus” is the divine name revealed by God. This name is holy, the name that is above every name, and the only name under heaven by which we can be saved. The apostles preached and healed in the name of Jesus and they cast out demons and worked miracles in his name.
And the first Christian hermits and monks left us the tradition of using the name of Jesus as a prayer. This is a beautiful tradition that I want to recommend to you to make a part of your life of prayer.
Byzantine Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians have long been associated with what is called the “Jesus Prayer.” In its classic form, the prayer goes: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
But prayer to the holy name has a long tradition in the Church — recommended by saints like Bernard of Clairvaux and Bernardino of Siena. When I was a teenager, I learned to pray: Jesus, Jesus, se para mi siempre Jesus, which means “Jesus, Jesus, always be to me my Savior (my Jesus).” It’s a beautiful and powerful prayer that I still pray very often.
Many Christians practice the Jesus Prayer by repeating it slowly and softly while concentrating on the rhythms of their breathing. For example, while breathing in, they will pray, “Lord, Jesus Christ,” and breathing out pray “Son of God.” Breathing in again they will pray, “Have mercy on me,” and breathing out, “a sinner.”
But the Jesus Prayer is not meant to be a relaxation technique or a magic spell that we repeat in order to summon God. The point is to bring yourself into the presence of the living God, in an attitude of humility, love and worship — knowing his nearness, knowing he is present within us and in all creation.
I like the Jesus Prayer because it helps us to offer ourselves to God and to open our hearts to his mercy. Anybody and everybody can say the Jesus Prayer, at any time and in any place — at work or school, waiting for a bus, or while preparing dinner, or helping the kids with their homework, or taking a walk. Anywhere.
With this prayer, we can sanctify our time, making the name of Jesus a kind of spiritual “background music” to everything we do during the course of a day.
In your own prayer, you may prefer to simply pray the holy name of Jesus. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church recommends, “The invocation of the holy name Jesus is the simplest way of praying always.”
You can pray the holy name of Jesus just as you would the Jesus Prayer. Repeat his name in your hearts, saying it over and over again, silently with love and reverence.
Speaking his name draws you into his presence and power. To pray “Jesus” is to welcome him into our lives as the Son of God who died and was raised for us and continues to enlighten our hearts and lead us on the pathways of this world.
Repeating his name often throughout the day will unite your actions to his work in the world and help you grow in the mind and heart of Christ, aligning your will with his will, and your purposes with his purposes.
So this week, let’s pray for each other in the name of Jesus.
And let’s ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to go with us. May she watch over our families and all the American peoples, especially the Mexican people, wherever they are living.