The Jesus Prayer - Part 2
Fr. Lev Gillet
A continuation of the article that began in last month’s newsletter.
5. The Holy Name as a Mystery of Salvation
... Save me, O God, by thy name. Psalm 54.1
The Name of Jesus brings us more than his presence. Jesus is present in his Name as Savior, for the word “Jesus” means just this: savior or salvation. “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus began his earthly mission by healing and forgiving, i.e., by saving men. In the same manner the very beginning of the way of the Name is the knowledge of Our Lord as our personal Savior. The invocation of the Name brings deliverance to us in all our necessities.
The Name of Jesus not only helps us to obtain the fulfillment of our needs (“Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked, nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive” [John 16:23-24]). But the Name of Jesus already supplies our needs. When we require the succour of Our Lord we should pronounce his Name in faith and hope, believing that we already receive in it what we ask for. Jesus Himself is the supreme satisfaction of all men’s needs. And He is that now, as we pray. Let us not regard our prayer in relation to fulfillment in the future, but in relation to fulfillment in Jesus now. He is more than the giver of what we and others need, He is also the gift. He is both giver and gift, containing in Himself all good things. If I hunger he is my food. If I am cold he is my warmth. If I am ill he is my health. If I am persecuted he is my deliverance. If I am impure he becomes my purity. He “is made unto us... righteousness, and sanctification and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30). This is quite another thing than if he had merely given them to us. Now we may find in his Name all that He is. Therefore the Name of Jesus, in so far as it links us with Jesus Himself, is already a mystery of salvation.
The Name of Jesus brings victory and peace when we are tempted. A heart already filled with the Name and presence of Our Lord would not let in any sinful image or thought. But we are weak, and often our defenses break down, and then temptation rises within us like angry waters. In such case do not consider the temptation, do not argue with your own desire, do not think upon the storm, do not look at yourself. Look at Our Lord, clinging to Him, call upon His holy Name. When Peter, walking upon the waters to come to Jesus, saw the tempest, “he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30) and began to sink. If, instead of looking at the waves and listening to the wind, we single-heartedly walk upon the waters towards Jesus, He will stretch forth his hand and take hold of us. The Name may then be of great use, as it is a definite, concrete and powerful shape able to resist the strong imagery of temptation. When tempted, call upon the Holy Name persistently, but quietly and gently. Do not shout it nor say it with anxiety or passion. Let it penetrate the soul little by little, till all thoughts and feelings come together and coalesce around it. Let it exercise its power of polarization. It is the Name of the Prince of Peace; it must be invoked in peace, and then it will bring us peace, or, better still, it will (like Him whose symbol it is) be our peace.
The Name of Jesus brings forgiveness and reconciliation. When we have grievously sinned (and so much the more when we have sinned lightly), we can, within one second, cling to the Holy Name with repentance and charity and pronounce it with our whole- heart, and the Name thus used (and through which we have reached the person of Christ) will already be a token of pardon. After sin let us not “hang about”, delay and linger. Let us not hesitate to take up again the invocation of the Name, in spite of our unworthiness. A new day is breaking and Jesus stands on the shore. “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord he cast himself into the sea” (John 21:7). Act like Simon. Say “Jesus”, as though beginning life afresh. We sinners shall find Our Lord anew at the invocation of His Name. He comes to us at that moment and as we are. He begins again where He has left us, or rather, where we have left Him. When he appeared to the disciples after the Resurrection, He came to them as they were-unhappy, and lost, and guilty-and, without reproaching them with their past defection, He simply entered anew into their everyday life”. He said unto them: ‘Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb’” (Luke 24:41-42). In the same manner, when we say “Jesus” again, after an act of sin or a period of estrangement, He does not require from us long apologies for the past, but He wants us to mix, as before, His Person and his Name with the detail and routine of our life—with our broiled fish and our honeycomb—and to re-plunge them in the very middle of our existence.
Thus the Holy Name can bring about reconciliation after our actual sins. But it can give us a more general and fundamental experience of the divine forgiveness. We can pronounce the Name of Jesus and put into it the whole reality of the cross, the whole mystery of the atonement. If we link the Name with faith in Jesus as propitiation for the sins of all men, we find in the Holy Name the sign of the Redemption extended to all times and to the whole universe. Under this Name we find “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), “the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
All this does not gainsay or tend to lessen the objective means of penitence and remission of sins offered to us by the Church. We are here only concerned with the hidden life of the soul. What we have in view is the inner absolution which repentance produced by charity already obtains, the absolution which the publican received after his prayer in the temple and of which the Gospel says: “This man went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14).
6. The Name of Jesus and the Incarnation
... And the Word became flesh. John 1:14
We have considered the “saving” power of the Holy Name; we must now go further. In proportion as the Name of Jesus grows within us, we grow in the knowledge of the divine mysteries. The Holy Name is not only a mystery of salvation, the fulfillment of our needs, the abatement of our temptations, the forgiveness of our sins. The invocation of the Name is also a means of applying to ourselves the mystery of the Incarnation.lt is a powerful means of union with Our Lord. To be united to Christ is even more blessed than to stand before Him or to be saved through Him. Union is greater than presence and meditation.
You may pronounce the Name of Jesus in order “that Christ may dwell in your hearts” (Ephesians 3:17). You may, when His Name is formed on your lips, experience the reality of His coming in the soul: “I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). You may enthrone His Person and His Name, as signifying the Person, within yourselves “They have built Thee a sanctuary therein for Thy name” (II Chronicles 20:8). It is the “I in them” of Our Lord’s priestly prayer (John 17:26). Or we may throw ourselves into the Name and feel that we are the members of the Body of Christ and the branches of the true vine. “Abide in me” (John 15:4). Of course nothing can abolish the difference between the Creator and the creature. But there is, made possible by the Incarnation, a real union of mankind and of our own persons with Our Lord,--a union which the use of the Name of Jesus may express and strengthen.
Some analogy exists between the Incarnation of The Word and the indwelling of the Holy Name within us. The Word was made flesh. Jesus became man. The inner reality of the Name of Jesus, having passed into our souls, overflows into our bodies. “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). The living content of the Name enters physically into ourselves. “Thy Name is as ointment poured forth” (Song of Songs 1:3). The Name, if I repeat it with faith and love, becomes a strength able to paralyze and overcome “the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23). We can also put on ourselves the Name of Jesus as a kind of physical seal keeping our hearts and bodies pure and consecrated: “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm” (Song of Songs 8:6). But this physical seal is not a piece of wax or lead. It is the outward sign and the Name of the living Word.
7. The Name of Jesus and Transfiguration
... The fulness of Him that filleth all in all. Ephesians 1:2-3
The use of the Holy Name not only brings anew the knowledge of our own union with Jesus in His Incarnation. The Name is also an instrument by which we may obtain a wider view of Our Lord’s relation to all that God has made. The Name of Jesus helps us ‘to transfigure the world into Christ (without any pantheistic confusion). Here is another aspect of the invocation of the Name: it is a method of transfiguration.
It is so in regard to nature. The natural universe may be considered as the handiwork of the Creator: “... The Lord that made heaven and earth” (Psalm 134:3) can be considered as the visible symbol of the invisible divine beauty: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1)”Consider the lilies of the field... “ (Matthew 6:28). And yet all this is insufficient. Creation is not static. It moves, striving and groaning, towards Christ as its fulfillment and end. “The whole creation groaneth and travail in pain” (Romans 8:22) till it be “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). What we call the inanimate world is carried along by a Christward movement. All things were converging towards the Incarnation. The natural elements and the products of the earth, rock and wood, water and oil, corn and wine, were to acquire a new meaning and to become signs and means of grace. All creation mysteriously utters the Name of Jesus: “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40). It is the utterance of this Name that Christians should hear in nature. By pronouncing the Name of Jesus upon the natural things, upon a stone or a tree, a fruit or a flower, the sea or a landscape, or whatever it is, the believer speaks aloud the secret of these things, he brings them to their fulfillment, he gives an answer to their long and apparently dumb awaiting. “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God” (Romans 8.19). We shall say the Name Jesus in union with all creation: “.,. at the name of Jesus every knee should, bow, of things in heaven and things in earth and thing under the earth ...” (Phüippians 2.10).
The animal world may also be transfigured by us. When Jesus remained forty days in the wilderness, he “was with the wild beasts” (Mark 1.13). We do not know what happened, then, but we may be assured that no living creature is left untouched by Jesus’ influence. Jesus himself said of the sparrows that “not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12.6). We are like Adam when he had to give a name to all the animals. “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them” (Genesis 2.19). Scientists call them as they think fit. As to us, if we invoke the Name of Jesus upon the animals, we give them back their primitive dignity which we so easily forget, - the dignity of living beings being created and cared for by God in Jesus and for Jesus. “That was the name thereof” (Genesis 2.19).
It is mainly in relation to men that we can exercise a ministry of transfiguration. The risen Christ appeared several times under an aspect which was no longer the one his disciples knew. “He appeareth in another form...” (Mark 16.12); the form of a traveller on the road to Emmaus, or of a gardener near the tomb, or of a stranger standing on the shore of the lake. It was each time in the form of an ordinary man such as we may meet in our everyday life. Jesus thus illustrated an important aspect of his presence among us, - his presence in man. He was thus completing what he had taught: “I was an hungered and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty and ye gave me drink... naked and ye clothed me. I was sick, and ye visited me. I was in prison, and ye came unto me... Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25.35-36,40). Jesus appears now to us under the features of men and women. Indeed this human form is now the only one under which everybody can, at will, at any time and in any place, see the Face of Our Lord. Men of today are realistically minded; they do not live on abstractions and phantoms; and when the saints and the mystics come and tell them “We have seen the Lord”, they answer with Thomas: “Except I shall... put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20.25). Jesus accepts this challenge. He allows Himself to be seen and touched, and spoken to in the person of all his human brethren and sisters. To us as to Thomas He says: “Reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless, but believing” (John 20.27). Jesus shows us the poor, and the sick, and the sinners, and generally all men, and tells us: “Behold, my hands and my feet... Handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24.39). Men and women are the flesh and bones, the hands and feet, the pierced side of Christ, — His mystical Body. In them we can experience the reality of the Resurrection and the real presence (though without confusion of essence) of the Lord Jesus. If we do not see Him, it is because of our unbelief and hard-heartedness: “Their eyes were holden that they should not know Him” (Luke 24.16). Now the Name of Jesus is a concrete and powerful means of transfiguring men into their hidden, innermost, utmost reality. We should approach all men and women — in the street, the shop, the office, the factory, the “bus, the queue, and especially those who seem irritating and antipathetic — with the Name of Jesus in our heart and on our lips. We should pronounce His Name over them all, for their real name is the Name of Jesus. Name them with his Name, within His Name, in a spirit of adoration, dedication and service. Adore Christ in them, serve Christ in them. In many of these men and women — in the malicious, in the criminal — Jesus is imprisoned. Deliver Him by silently recognizing and worshipping Him in them. If we go through the world with this new vision, saying “Jesus” over every man, seeing Jesus in every man, everybody will be transformed and transfigured before our eyes. The more we are ready to give of our-selves to men, the more will the new vision be clear and vivid. The vision cannot be severed from the gift. Rightly did Jacob say to Esau, when they were reconciled: “I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand, for therefore I have seen thy face as though I had seen the face of God” (Genesis 33.10).
8. The Name of Jesus and the Church
... To gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth. Ephesians 1.10.
In pronouncing the Name of Jesus we inwardly meet all them that are united with Our Lord, all them of whom He said: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mathew 18.20).
We should find all men in the heart of Jesus and in His love. We should throw all men into His Name and enclose them therein. Long lists of inter-cessions are not necessary. We may apply the Name of Jesus to the name of this or that person who is in particular need. But all men and all just causes are already gathered together within the Name of Our Lord. Adhering to Jesus is to become one with Him in His solicitude and loving kindness for them. Adhering to Our Lord’s own intercession for them is better than to plead with Him on their behalf.
Where Jesus is, there is the Church. Whoever is in Jesus is in the Church. If the invocation of the Holy Name is a means of union with Our Lord, it is, also a means of union with that Church which is in Him and which no human sin can touch. This does not mean that we are closing our eyes to the problems of the Church on earth, to the imperfections and disunity of Christians. But we only deal here with this eternal, and spiritual, and “unspotted” side of the Church which is implied in the Name of Jesus. The Church thus considered transcends all earthly reality. No schism can rend her. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: “Believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.. The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4 .1, 23). There is an apparent contradiction in the words of Our Lord: how could the hour be still coming and yet already be? This paradox finds its explanation in the fact that the Samaritan woman was then standing before Christ. On the one hand the historical opposition between Jerusalem and Garizim still existed, and Jesus, far from treating it as a trifling circumstance, emphasized the higher claims of Jerusalem: ‘Ye worship ye know not what. We know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4.22).In that sense the hour was not yet, but was still coming. On the other hand the hour already was, because the woman had before her Him who is greater than Jerusalem or Garizim, Him who “will tell us all things” (John 4.25) and in Whom alone we can fully “worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4.24). The same situation arises when, invoking the Name of Jesus, we cling to His Person. Assuredly we do not believe that all the conflicting interpretations of the Gospel which we hear on earth are equally true nor that the divided Christian groups have the same measure of light. But, fully pronouncing the Name of Jesus, entirely surrendered to His Person and His claims, we implicitly share in the wholeness of the Church, and so we experience her essential unity, deeper than all our human separations.
The invocation of the Name of Jesus helps us to meet again, in Him, all our departed. Martha was wrong when, speaking of Lazarus, she said to our Lord: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11.24). Overlooking the present she was projecting all her faith into the future. Jesus corrected her mistake: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11.25). The life and the resurrection of the departed is not merely a future event (although the resurrection of the individual bodies is such). The person of the risen Christ already is the resurrection and the life of all men. Instead of trying to establish — in our prayer, or in our memory, or in our imagination — a direct spiritual contact with our departed, we should try to reach them within Christ, where their true life now is. One can, therefore, say that the invocation of the Name of Jesus is the best prayer for the departed. The invocation of the Name, giving us the presence of Our Lord, makes them also present to us. And our linking of the Holy Name with their own names is our work of love on their behalf.
These departed, whose life is now hidden with Christ, form the heavenly Church. They belong to the total and eternal Church, of which the Church now militant on earth is but a very small part. We meet in the Name of Jesus the whole company of the Saints: “His Name shall be in their foreheads” (Revelation 22.4). In it we meet the angels; it is Gabriel who, first on earth, announced the Holy Name, saying to Mary: “Thou shalt call his name Jesus” (Luke 1.31). In it we meet the woman “blessed among women” to whom Gabriel spoke these words and who so often called her son by His name. May the Holy Spirit make us desire to hear the Name of Jesus as the Virgin Mary first beard it and to repeat that Name as Mary and Gabriel uttered it! May our own invocation of the Name enter this abyss of adoration, obedience and tenderness!