Here’s the simplest yet most perfect prayer you’ll ever pray: “Jesus.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always” (2668).
In January the Church calls us to think Jesus — more specifically, to honor and love the Holy Name of Jesus. The liturgical calendar offers an optional memorial for the Holy Name of Jesus on Jan. 3, within the Christmas season. Yet the entire month is dedicated to the Holy Name.
In a world that so often profanes the name of God and dishonors the Second Commandment, (see CCC, 2142, 2146), a month spent reverencing Jesus’ name may be transformative!
The Church’s impeccable timing provides a good way to begin the new calendar year — with minds and hearts attuned to the Holy Name of Jesus! May we echo the psalmist: “Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).
What’s in a name?
Foretold by the angel Gabriel, Jesus’ name was announced to Mary at the Annunciation:
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (Luke 1:31).
To Joseph, in a dream, we not only again hear the sacred name, but an explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ name and his nature: “You are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Indeed, the name of Jesus means “God saves.”
The New Testament has many titles for Jesus: Son of God, Word of God, Lord, Savior, Lamb of God, King, Beloved Son, Son of the Virgin, Good Shepherd, our Life, our Light, our Hope, our Resurrection, Friend of mankind, and so on. Yet the Catechism offers this distinction:
But the one name that contains everything is the one that the Son of God received in his incarnation: JESUS. … 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 (CCC, 2666, emphasis mine).
There is power in wielding the Holy Name of Jesus. The early Church continually preached of its saving power.
St. Peter, enflamed with the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, preached, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12). And again, “Everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).
St. John’s first epistle takes up the same theme: “I am writing to you, children, because your sins have been forgiven for his name’s sake” (1 John 2:12).
The Jesus Prayer
You may have heard of this prayer before: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Many know it as The Jesus Prayer. It focuses on the name of Jesus and his mercy.
This simple invocation of faith developed in the tradition of prayer under many forms in East and West. The most usual formulation … is the invocation, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners.” It combines the Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6–11 with the cry of the publican and the blind men begging for light [see Mark 10:46–52; Luke 18:13] (CCC, 2667).
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
In his name
We can meditate on Jesus’ name, but we can also employ it in petitions and intercessions. Jesus’ name is the key element necessary to pray for what we need. Jesus said:
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it (John 14:13–14).
With these words, Jesus reveals how we must confidently trust in his name and his power. After all, Catholic Christians are baptized in the name. To pray, to ask in Jesus’ name, gives us access to our Father in heaven. It’s our birthright! Asking “in his name” gives us “the certitude that our petitions will be heard” because what we are asking for “is founded on the prayer of Jesus.” (See CCC, 2614.)
There is no other way of Christian prayer than Christ. Whether our prayer is communal or personal, vocal or interior, it has access to the Father only if we pray “in the name” of Jesus. The sacred humanity of Jesus is therefore the way by which the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray to God our Father (CCC, 2664).
Praying this way is a gift that begs to be opened in the month dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus!