17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 24, 2022
In our First Reading, we marvel at how brazenly persistent Abraham is in his efforts to mitigate God’s very justified reaction to the goings-on in Sodom and Gomorrah. And he is successful in his pleas. It appears that Abraham “changed God’s mind.”
Then, in our Gospel, we benefit from the disciple’s request that Jesus teach them to pray. The Lord completed His instructions on effective prayer practice with a parable demonstrating the need to approach prayer with an urgent and determined, even obstinate attitude; simply put, like Abraham…KEEP ASKING!
Although particularly memorable in that Jesus lays out in detail the recommended content for prayer, these are not the only two references in Scripture guiding us in “how to pray.” Consider St. Paul’s brief but powerful suggestion found at 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Pray without ceasing. Again, we are called to be persistent in prayer. Still, not even monks or cloistered nuns can spend every waking moment in prayer. Or can they? Should they? Can you? Is it even possible?
When we focus on the third element of The Lord’s Prayer: Hallowed be Thy Name…we find that, regardless of who we are, or what our vocation might be, it is entirely possible to pray without ceasing.
Jesus reminds us that God’s Name is Holy. In order to fully comprehend what that means…that God’s Name is Holy…we do well to join Moses on the summit of Mt. Sinai. There, Moses asked the Almighty by what Name God should be known. The Divine reply was both simple and at the same time exceedingly complex…crystal clear but infinitely mysterious. God said: “I AM Who I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
The Almighty seems to be telling us that it is impossible to Name the Eternal Presence. And so, the Divine should remain Nameless.
This passage greatly influenced the prayer practice of the Jewish people. To this day, many believe that the Almighty’s Name is unknowable…and that efforts to Name our Creator are, in a sense, a violation of the Second Commandment. Respecting the unknowable and unspeakable statue of The Divine Name, it is not uncommon to find a written reference to The Eternal One:
Still, even though The Hallowed Name cannot be spoken, many believe that it can pass through our lips in the form of our breath. When we exhale…we are, in a sense, whispering The Name of the Eternal One; just so when we inhale. If we are mindful of this “prayer practice,” we can, indeed, “pray unceasingly” from the moment we emerge from our mother’s womb until we draw our final breath.
Consider this: That which sustains life…respiration…is also That Who gives us life! The necessary and involuntary act of breathing, when we are in touch with The One Who gives us breath and supports our life, can be an unceasing prayer.
If this seems exotic…foreign…extreme…know that this prayer practice was “Christianized” and used to Hallow God’s Name from the early centuries of our Church. “The Jesus Prayer” is the simple practice of relying on breath rather than the spoken word to Hallow The Divine Name in prayer.
The method is quite simple. On the inhale, let the words flow through your mind and heart:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.”
On the exhale:
“Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This prayer practice is founded on the belief that The Holy Name establishes a solid connection between Creator and creature, and in that sense is an extremely powerful prayer, which makes it possible to pray without ceasing.
Whether you are praying in hopes of changing God’s mind…or for some special favor…or simply to Hallow God’s Name…the very breath God gives us is a beautiful way to connect.
Fr. Richard Rohr, OSF, puts it this way: Let your breathing in and out, for the rest of your life, be your prayer to—and from—such a living and utterly shared God. You will not need to prove it to anybody else, nor can you. Just keep breathing with full consciousness and without resistance, and you will know what you need to know.