Pope Francis on Wednesday encouraged busy Catholics to say the “Jesus Prayer” throughout the day.
Speaking at the general audience June 9, the pope recommended the short prayer at the heart of Eastern Christianity’s mystical tradition.
Referring to the 19th-century Russian spiritual classic “The Way of a Pilgrim,” he said: “The spiritual journey of the Russian pilgrim begins when he comes across a phrase of St. Paul in the First Letter to the Thessalonians: ‘Pray constantly, always and for everything give thanks’ (5:17-18).”
“The Apostle’s words struck the man and he wondered how it was possible to pray without interruption, given that our lives are fragmented into so many different moments, which do not always make concentration possible.”
“From this question, he begins his search, which will lead him to discover what is called the prayer of the heart. It consists in repeating with faith: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”
He asked pilgrims in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace to repeat the words out loud, saying that it was a prayer “that, little by little, adapts itself to the rhythm of breath and extends throughout the day.”
“Indeed, the breath never stops, not even while we sleep; and prayer is the breath of life,” he said.
The pope’s live-streamed address, dedicated to “Perseverance in love,” was the 37th meditation in his cycle of catechesis on prayer, which he launched in May and resumed in October following nine addresses on healing the world after the pandemic.
He also cited “The Way of a Pilgrim” in his 30th address, in April, praising it as “a book that is accessible to all.”
Telling pilgrims that his latest address was his “penultimate catechesis on prayer,” he reflected on how to sustain prayer amid the pressures of daily life.
He said: “A father and a mother, caught up in a thousand tasks, may feel nostalgia for a time in their life in which it was easy to find regular times and spaces for prayer. Then come children, work, family life, aging parents…”
“One has the impression that it will never be possible to get through it all. And so it is good for us to think that God, our Father, who must take care of all the universe, always remembers each one of us. Therefore, we too must always remember Him!”
He said that throughout Christian history work has been held in high esteem and not disparaged.
“Everything in the human being is ‘binary’: our body is symmetrical, we have two arms, two eyes, two hands… And so, work and prayer are also complementary,” he explained.
But it would be “inhuman,” he said, to become so absorbed by work that prayer falls by the wayside.
“At the same time, a prayer that is alien from life is not healthy,” he commented. “A prayer that alienates itself from the concreteness of life becomes spiritualism, or worse, ritualism.”
He noted that after the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Jesus and his disciples resumed their daily lives.
“Because that experience had to remain in their hearts as the light and strength of their faith; also a light and strength for the days that were soon to come: those of the Passion,” he said.
“In this way, the time dedicated to staying with God revives faith, which helps us in the practicalities of living, and faith, in turn, nurtures prayer, without interruption. In this circularity between faith, life, and prayer, one keeps alight that flame of Christian life that God expects of us.”
“And let us repeat the simple prayer that it is so good to repeat during the day. Let’s see if you can still remember it. All together: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ Saying this prayer continually will help you in the union with Jesus.”
A precis of the pope’s catechesis was then read out in seven languages. After each summary, he greeted members of each language group.
Addressing Spanish-speaking Catholics, he said: “I cordially greet the Spanish-speaking faithful. In these days in which we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let us ask the Lord to make our hearts like his: humble, merciful and persevering in love, prayer, and good works.”
Turning to Polish-speaking pilgrims, he said: “This Friday we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On this day, the 100th anniversary of the consecration of the Polish nation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, your bishops will solemnly renew this act. I encourage you to be permeated by God’s love and to work towards building a civilization of love.”
Finally, addressing Italian-speakers, he said: “The day after tomorrow we shall celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in which God’s love made itself known to all humanity.”
“I invite each one of you to look with trust to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to repeat often, especially during this month of June: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, transform our hearts and teach us to love God and our neighbor with generosity.”
The general audience ended with the recitation of the Our Father and the Apostolic Blessing.