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The Jesus Prayer – Its simplicity and flexibility

December 29, 2007

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1. Its simplicity and flexibility

As the Catechism says, “The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always…. This prayer is possible ‘at all times’ because it is not one occupation among others but the only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every action in Christ Jesus” (CCC 2668).

Because it is so short and simple, this prayer can be prayed literally at any time at all and at all times, even times when longer and more complex forms of prayer are not practical or even possible. This includes times of anguish, pain, or stress, and times of deep happiness and joy.

It can be used by everyone (and has been): by the rankest beginner and the most advanced saint. It is not only for beginners; the saints use it too. It is not “cheating” just because it is so short. For it will make you pray more, not less. This only sounds paradoxical, for one of the things Jesus reminds us to do, when we invoke him by name, is to pray more!

It is so simple that it is like the centre point of a circle. It is the whole circle. It contains in itself the whole gospel. The Catechism says: “The name ‘Jesus’ contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation” (CCC 2666). Into this name the Christian can pour all of his faith, with nothing whatsoever left over, for to be a Christian is to rest all of your faith on Christ, with nothing left over.

It is not only the shortest prayer but also the shortest and earliest creed. Twice the New Testament mentions this most basic of all the Christian creeds: the simple three-word sentence “Jesus is Lord” (I Cor 12:3) and the same creed in four words: “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:11). It is also the most distinctively Christian creed, for “Lord” (Kyrios) means “God”, and Christ’s divinity and lordship over one’s life is the distinctive, essential faith of Christians: no non-Christian believes that (if he did, he would be a Christian), and all Christians believe it (if they do not, they are not Christians) .

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