This short prayer comes from the Eastern Church of the fourth century. It is called the “Jesus prayer,” or the “prayer of the heart,” and it echoes the humble prayer of the tax collector in Luke 18:13, contrasted with the proud boasts of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable.
Though it has Eastern roots (both Orthodox and Eastern Catholic), the Jesus prayer has also been embraced in the West and it is praised in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (n. 2667) It is seen as a beautiful way to “pray without ceasing,” as St. Paul urged in his First Letter to the Thessalonians. (5:17) In the East, it is often prayed on knotted cords, much as we would pray the rosary.
What a beautiful prayer for the Year of Mercy! I find myself praying it often each day.
But I have added an additional line. I pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Send your Holy Spirit into my heart.” I do that to remind myself that it isn’t only God’s merciful forgiveness that I need. I need to be transformed, made into a new man. I see clearly each day that I cannot achieve that by my own willpower.
It feels providential to be writing this with Divine Mercy Sunday just celebrated (by the time most people receive this issue), and Pentecost Sunday approaching in mid-May.
The feast of Divine Mercy celebrates the merciful love and forgiveness Christ wants to bestow on us “for the sake of his sorrowful Passion.”
Then, six weeks later, Pentecost Sunday celebrates what we might call the fruition of that mercy. Because when we repent and ask God’s forgiveness — most often through the Sacrament of Reconciliation — our hearts can then be receptive to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Recall how the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost — with a mighty rush of wind and tongues of fire — and what resulted.
The Holy Spirit transformed the cowardly apostles into courageous witnesses, all but one of whom ended up laying down their lives as martyrs.
Right now, martyrdom is not exactly on my spiritual bucket list.
But in this Jubilee Year of Mercy and beyond, I pray I may be truly open to Jesus’s mercy and the outpouring of his Holy Spirit, so that I may be a better man, transformed from the inside out; a better and more generous husband, father, citizen and Church servant; a more genuine Christian witness to those I meet; a man who not only talks about mercy, but lives it daily through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
I invite you humbly to join me in this prayer.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Send your Holy Spirit into my heart.
by Christopher Ruff
Director for the Office of Ministries and Social Concerns