Life for nearly everyone has been upended to some degree these days, and it can be easy to get swept away in a current of fear and anxiety, or to teeter out on the edges of loneliness. In times like these, when many things seem to be out of one’s control, turning (or returning) to daily, simple practices of prayer can provide a deep peace that only comes from opening oneself up to the grace and love of God.
When life feels overwhelming, here are a few simple prayers you can offer. Speak them aloud, or whisper them to yourself if speaking them aloud isn’t possible in that particular moment. Speak them simply. Speak them from your heart, and know that they are being received in the heart of God, who loves you and longs to give you strength and courage to face whatever it is you’re facing. Most importantly: don’t disparage yourself if simple is all you can manage in your prayer life right now. God loves the little and the simple, and a simple prayer sincerely offered from the depths of one’s soul has infinite value in his eyes.
Speaking the name of Jesus is in itself a prayer. In fact, it is an incredibly powerful prayer. You are not simply speaking a name; you are invoking a Person. You are calling upon the Son of God, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
The Catechism affirms:
“The name ‘Jesus’ contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray ‘Jesus’ is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him.” (CCC §2666, emphasis added)
Whatever you’re doing (and I assume it’s reading this with at least partial attention), I invite you to stop for a moment. Stop what you’re doing. Stop where you are. Inhale. Exhale. Slowly regulate your breathing, and as you exhale, breathe forth the name, “Jesus.” Trust that this is “the name above every name” (Philippians 2:9), and that invoking this name invites Jesus into your heart, where he will give you his peace, the peace the world cannot give (see John 14:27).
Close your eyes and pray the name of Jesus for ten deep breaths.
“Come, Holy Spirit.”
The late, great Fr. Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C., beloved former President of the University of Notre Dame, always cited “Come, Holy Spirit” when asked his favorite prayer. He loved its simplicity. He loved its efficacy. Like praying the name of Jesus, this prayer is a powerful invocation, asking the Holy Spirit to be with us, to sustain us and guide us. It is a powerful reminder that—whether or not we realize it intellectually or feel it emotionally—the grace of the Holy Spirit has already been poured into our hearts by virtue of our Baptism. This grace is always present to us. Whether or not we receive it depends on our capacity to receive. If we are grasping material goods and desires, our hands will never be freely opened to receive this divine gift. If our hearts are filled with love of self or hatred of neighbor, there is no room in us for God. This prayer carries with it an implicit petition: “Come, Holy Spirit, and render me capable of receiving you.”
One of the earliest practices of prayer in the Christian Church was saying the Our Father, or Lord’s Prayer, three times every day: morning, noon, and night. People often cite a lack of time as a reason for not praying, but when you stop to consider how little time it takes to recite the Lord’s Prayer, even at a slower pace, it would probably be more accurate to say that people don’t pray either because they don’t remember to, or because they don’t want to. Committing to the simple practice of saying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day is like committing to taking an antibiotic three times a day. The antibiotic offers a temporal (and, ultimately, temporary) remedy for our bodies; prayer offers an eternal remedy for our souls.
Here are a few suggestions for taking up this practice:
- Set a reminder on your phone. This will be more necessary at first, but as you become used to the practice, you’ll likely need it less.
- When it’s time to pray, stop everything else you’re doing and focus completely on the prayer. Whatever you’re doing can wait 30 seconds, I promise. If you’re in the midst of your family and children are making demands, or an elderly relative needs your attention, invite them to stop for a moment and pray with you. It will benefit everyone.
- Speak the words aloud, slowly, reverently, lingering over their pronunciation and pondering their meaning. You’ll be amazed at what jumps out at you.
Whether it’s the name “Jesus,” or “Come, Holy Spirit,” or the Lord’s Prayer, remember that these prayers are a dialogue of love between you and God, and that God is coming to meet you, even as you speak. Allow the words to clear away any thoughts of anxiety or despair—for such thoughts are never from God—and focus your heart intently on the One whom you address. Father. Jesus. Holy Spirit. The God of love who created, redeemed, and called you to himself has given you the gift of prayer as the means of cultivating your relationship with him. He longs to be with you in this relationship, even and perhaps especially in your darkest hours.
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