How I learned the secret — that the power of Jesus is just two syllables away

St. Paul, nearly 2,000 years ago, commanded us to “pray without ceasing.” Obviously, that’s a lot easier said than done. If St. Paul had ordered us to look at our cellphones ceaselessly, I think we would all have a better chance of heeding his instruction. But praying? Yet, there may be a way to do just what St. Paul says. The secret is contained in the devotion of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. 

I stumbled upon this ancient practice quite by accident one early autumn evening in a tiny apartment in Florence, Italy. Weeks before, I had been a mild-mannered assistant editor at a prestigious publishing company in New York City, when suddenly I had to answer a call to travel to Europe and spend 40 days and 40 nights in solitude searching for God. 

Whether that calling was just youthful folly, a figment of my imagination or the voice of the Almighty speaking to me I just don’t know. But, at some point I got the idea in my head to leave everything behind — my family, my girlfriend, a promising career — and go and search for God.

Quite unexpectedly to those around me and even to myself, I quit my job and bought a plane ticket. With very little money and my friend’s backpack filled with more books than underwear (including the complete works of Dante Alighieri), I set off for my first destination, the birthplace of the Renaissance.  

Truth be told, by the time I arrived in Florence, I wanted to turn around and go back home. Did I really quit my job? Am I really all alone in a foreign land where the only Italian word I knew was pizza? What was I thinking? 

I remember calling a friend back in the States, crying that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I pleaded temporary insanity. His advice? “You burned a bridge, man. Now make the most of it.”

I tried. I visited museums and prayed the rosary in Florence’s famed Duomo with its rust-colored dome. I walked a lot. I drank cheap, but good, Italian wine and nibbled at delicious cheese and bread. Still, I was miserable.

Life-changing experience

On one particular night, after having been in Italy for almost a week, I arrived back in my 8-foot-by-8-foot rented room. Tired and hungry from walking all day, I lay down on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. 

A few moments later, I heard what sounded like someone tuning a radio in the hall. I heard strange voices, lots of static, lots of noise. After a minute or two I got off the bed and slowly opened my door to see what was happening outside my room. No one was there. The corridor was silent as a tomb. 

Back in the room I could still hear the noise. As I stood there trying to figure out where it was coming from, I realized something frightening. The racket was coming from me. It was as if there were a couple of tiny people arguing in my ears while crinkling a paper bag at the same time. 

I started to feel nauseous. “Oh my God,” I thought. “What’s wrong with me? Am I going crazy?” I started to panic. I couldn’t tell if there were angels and demons in my head, if I was losing my mind or I was hallucinating. 

I lay back down on the bed, assumed the fetal position, tried like mad to quiet whatever was in my head, and after a few minutes I started intuitively repeating Jesus’ name over and over again. 

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. 

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. 

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” 

At some point I fell asleep. As far as I can remember, I didn’t dream, but when I awoke the next morning I was still mouthing the name of Jesus. I sat up. The noise was gone. I didn’t feel sick. In fact, I felt better than I ever had in my life! I was focused and alert. A renewed strength seemed to be coursing through me. 

It was, I’ve come to understand many years later, a pure and unadulterated faith. It was as if something had been purged from me that night and now I had arrived in the presence of God.

What happened next? I will just say here that for the remainder of my trip, Jesus’ name was constantly on my lips. He became my real and true traveling companion. 

And you know what? Once I realized that Jesus was only two syllables away, everything worked out for me. When I got lost, someone always appeared who guided me where I needed to go. When I was hungry, strangers offered me food. It was as if the simple name of Jesus was a spiritual antibiotic that cured me of worry and fear. 

It was only years later that I found out that the word I whispered over and over that terrifying night in Florence was in fact a prayer in itself. It is a special devotion known as the Most Holy Name of Jesus, where we simply focus and repeat Christ’s name for blessing and protection. 

The instruction to invoke Jesus’ name in prayer and during times of struggle comes from Christ himself: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (John 14:13–14). 

Daylong recitation

To this day I still recite the Most Holy Name over and over throughout the day. “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.” That’s it. I repeat the name of Jesus when I wake in the morning and before I go to bed at night, when I’m dressing and eating, while I’m walking to work or preparing for meetings, when I’m standing in line at a store, and even when I’m exercising. 

Jesus’ name carries with it great power. St. Peter knew this when he cured the sick just by saying his friend’s name. We are baptized, married, and die in the name of Jesus. Saints have cast out demons merely by speaking his name. 

Some people will say words are cheap, but in this case, the Most Holy Name is truly priceless. 

Why did I tell you this story? Simply to ask you to carry the name of Jesus with you everywhere you go. Try to pray ceaselessly by repeating the name of Jesus with reverence and care.  This devotion is not some kind of magic formula; it’s just a way of keeping our focus on what really matters in life: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” 

Gary Jansen is the author of “Life Everlasting: Catholic Devotions and Mysteries for the Everyday Seeker” (TarcherPerigee, $10).