Friday, 17 January 2014

Praying the Name

In what is surely an important ecumenical gesture, Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, one of the leading exponents of Eastern Orthdoxy in the UK, has written a booklet on the Jesus Prayer for the Catholic Truth Society (CTS). The Jesus Prayer is the most popular devotional prayer in the Orthodox Church and increasingly popular in the West. A simple and direct method of invoking the mercy of Jesus Christ by repeating his Holy Name, it is a way of obeying St Paul’s instruction to “pray always”. In an increasingly noisy and frenetic world, the Jesus Prayer offers us an oasis of inner peace and a lifeline back to God.

At the same time, a new booklet from CTS on The Name of God by Canon Michael Lewis in the Deeper Christianity series explores the basis for the Jesus Prayer in the revelation of the Name both in the Old Testament and in the New.

The following beautiful passage is taken from pp. 40-41 of The Jesus Prayer by A Monk of the Eastern Church (Archimandrite Lev Gillet).
"The Jesus Prayer must be 'breathed' continually. When the intellect has been purified and unified by it, our thoughts swim in it as merry dolphins in a peaceful sea. Then a dialogue begins in which Christ, who has become the inner master, makes known his will to the heart. When the Jesus Prayer is understood in this way, clearly its final aim is not mystical silence but the hearing of the divine word. We do not remain exterior to the name invoked, but the invocation allows us to 'participate in the holy name of Jesus.' It gives us the virtues of temperance and continence. The name of Jesus comes into our life first of all as a lamp in the darkness; next it is like moonlight, and finally like the sunrise. Being the sun of our intellect, it creates within it luminous thoughts, to which it communicates its own splendour, thoughts resembling the sun. It is love which elevates us – we should notice the part played by divine love in this process of transformation – and makes us higher than angels. To pronounce the name of Jesus in a holy way is an all-sufficient and surpassing aim for any human life."
Several postings on this theme will be found elsewhere on this site, for example under dates 3 Jan 2014, 6 Nov 2013, 26 Aug 2013, and 15 Apr 2011.

Saturday, 11 January 2014


This picture of the Baptism of Christ by Fra Angelico has great depth to it. Beyond the sweep of the river and the horizon the clouds form a kind of tunnel, through which the Holy Spirit is entering into the world. It is as though everything comes from here. The Baptist is dark, as though in shadow ("I must decrease..."), and the Saviour is light – the brightest thing in the picture, glowing by his own radiance, and at the same time illuminated by the Holy Spirit. The Baptist is pouring water from a golden bowl, like the river that flows over Christ's feet and the light that flows over his head – the Upper and Lower Waters of Genesis, the Upper Waters coming directly from heaven and the Lower following a winding path through the hills.

Angels and human beings (with the Virgin Mary and St Dominic representing the saints) await the outcome of the Baptism, which is the renewal of all things. For the moment, the new creation is held between the hands of Christ. These hands are pressed together in a symbol of peace precisely at his heart. The Sacred Heart will be pierced on the Cross to allow the Church to be born in blood and water, and the hands will be spread wide. In the painting the figure of Christ is facing us, so the whole image is oriented towards the viewer. We are challenged to respond with prayer, to enter into the biblical scene ourselves, and so to become part of the mystery.

This painting is beautifully reproduced and discussed in the January issue of Magnificat (see "Art Essay of the Month").

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Three wise men

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are the gifts of wisdom, signifying the kingship of Christ, his deity, and his death (or virtue, prayer, and suffering). But one might also see them as representing the three stages of the spiritual life: myrrh for purification through ascetic struggle, frankincense for illumination through prayer, and gold for the final "unitive" stage – union with God.

St Bonaventure describes the three stages, corresponding to the three gifts of the wise to mankind, in The Triple Way. “First, the steps of cleansing. The first level of spiritual life, purification, is divided in this manner: You must blush because of your crimes; tremble in the face of judgment; weep for the damage done; beg for remedy; fight the enticements of the enemy (the devil); desire

Friday, 3 January 2014

Most Holy Name of Jesus

How can one love a name? The closer one gets to death, the more one clings to the Name of Jesus. It is a kind of sacrament, a kind of presence. Words have power, because they are not just labels, as the Nominalists thought. The right name for something touches its essence, and invokes it. It makes a connection with the thing or the person itself – in this case with the Word that was with God in the beginning; the Word that is God, the light of the world. In the Word is contained the love of God that created the world, and that saves us from sin and death. Our faith is a supernatural breath that enables us to pronounce the Name in such a way that the One named becomes present to us. Supernatural hope enables us to place our trust in that Name. Love draws the Name into our heart. The Name prepares us for Holy Communion, it opens the place in ourselves where we are to receive Jesus.

Apart from the Jesus Prayer, we need no other words rattling around our soul, wasting our energy and time. Nothing else can help us so well to live in the present moment. In Exodus, God reveals his Name as "I AM" (or "He Is" in the third person). This is the expression Jesus uses of himself, seven times on its own (e.g. John 18:5-6) and seven times coupled with a title or predicate, such as "I am the Light of the World" (John 8:12). The name Jesus or Yeshua means "YHWH saves". How better to indicate the meaning of his life and person on earth? He is not the only one to bear this name, but he is the One who fulfils it.

For more on the Holy Name and its implications, see:
The Name of God
The Heart of Wisdom
The Jesus Prayer