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A simple but powerful prayer for a complex time

The Lord is near to those who call on His name and acts powerfully for their good.

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Many Catholics find themselves bewildered at the tidal wave of bad news they seem to encounter on a weekly basis. Tidal waves of prayer and the intense pursuit of holiness are needed to meet the challenge of discouragement at the chaos of the world. Sunday Mass, though supremely important as the “source and summit of the Christian life,” is not meant to stand alone in the spiritual lives of Christ’s disciples.

How should Catholics face a world that seems ever darker and more complex? With the heavenly light of simple, constant prayer. Jesus taught His disciples “to pray always without becoming weary” (Lk 18:1). Saint Paul urged the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” and linked this closely with their need to “rejoice always” (1 Thess 5:16-17).

One simple, yet critical way to pray always is to call upon the name of the Lord. Psalm 113 encourages devotion to the Lord’s name, in words that have been incorporated into the Church’s Pontifical Blessing, used by bishops:

Blessed be the name of the LORD both now and forever. From the rising of the sun to its setting let the name of the LORD be praised.

Practically speaking, a person can simply whisper, “Lord.” This prayer could be offered by saying the Holy Name, “Jesus.” One could call out to any or all of the Persons of the Trinity: “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.” A beautiful expression of faith would be to echo the words of St. Thomas in John 20:28, “My Lord and my God!” Or one could use the more elaborate but powerful Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Simple prayers such as these are sometimes known as a prayer of aspiration. It is the breathing forth of a simple word of power, of praise, and of petition. The beauty of such prayer lies in its simplicity and versatility. It is possible to call upon the Lord in even the busiest and most challenging moments of the day.

Those who participate in the Church’s liturgical rites and devotional prayers already pray in this way. From the Sign of the Cross at the beginning of Mass and so many other rites and devotions, to the introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours (“O God, come to my assistance”), to the Divine Praises often recited during Eucharistic adoration (“Blessed be God, Blessed be His holy name”), the Church’s worship is punctuated by invocations of the Lord’s holy name.

Christians should similarly punctuate each day with such invocations. These prayers are like “sparks of fire from a burning coal,” according to the fourteenth century classic, The Cloud of Unknowing. Saint Augustine recounts that the ancient monks regarded such prayers as javelins hurled up to heaven. The Lord draws near to those who call upon Him, and they are also drawn to Him.

How effective is it to call on the name of the Lord? There is ample scriptural testimony to the greatness and power of the Lord’s name, of which only a portion can be offered here:

  • In Exodus 34:5-6, God reveals Himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai: “The LORD came down in a cloud and stood with him there and proclaimed the name, ‘LORD.’ So the LORD passed before him and proclaimed: The LORD, the LORD, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity.”
  • Psalm 8: “How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth!”
  • Psalm 111: “Holy his name, to be feared.”
  • Psalm 116: “The cup of salvation I will raise; I will call on the Lord’s name.”
  • Psalm 135: “Praise the name of the Lord, praise him, servants of the Lord.”
  • Psalm 138: “I bow low toward your holy temple; I praise your name for your mercy and faithfulness. For you have exalted over all your name and your promise.”
  • Jeremiah 10:6: “No one is like you, LORD, you are great, great and mighty is your name.”
  • Malachi 1:11: “From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations; Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere, and a pure offering; For my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.”
  • Malachi 1:14: “For a great king am I, says the LORD of hosts, and my name is feared among the nations.”
  • Reverence for the Lord’s name under God’s Covenant with Israel: Only the high priest could pronounce the Lord’s proper name, and only once per year, as he entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
  • From Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:49): “The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
  • Philippians 2:9-10: “Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”
  • Revelation 4:8: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.”

Many texts reveal not only the power of the Lord’s name in a general sense, but also specifically how that power benefits those who call upon Him:

  • Psalm 124 (also part of the Pontifical Blessing): “Our help is in the name of the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.”
  • Malachi 3: Those who “fear the Lord and trust in his name” are those of whom the Lord says, “And they shall be mine…my own special possession…and I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him.”
  • I Kings 18:24 (Elijah vs. the Prophets of Baal): “You shall call upon the names of your gods, and I will call upon the name of the LORD. The one who answers with fire is God.”
  • A reminder that prayer must be joined to doing God’s will is found in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21).
  • John 14:14: “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”

By calling on the name of the Lord, the Christian expresses his trust in the Lord and cultivates his sense of the nearness of God at all times. Saint Ambrose writes, “The Lord is always near to all who call upon his help with sincerity, true faith, sure hope, and perfect love. He knows what you need, even before you ask him.” In these words, there is an echo of Deuteronomy 4:7: “What nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?”

The Lord is near to those who call on His name and acts powerfully for their good. Saint Augustine preached in one of his sermons about the power of the Lord at work in the lives of those who call upon Him. “Are you afraid that you may fail the test? But why should you be? I shall call upon the name of the Lord. How else did the martyrs overcome, except that in them he overcame who said: Rejoice, for I have overcome the world?”

Invoking the name of the Lord can get a Christian through anything the world, the flesh, or the devil can dish out. This simple yet powerful prayer can effectively counter the attacks of temptation, sorrow, and frustration. For faithful disciples, this prayer of invocation can even engender the strength of the martyrs.

St. John De Brebeuf used to pray the following at the end of a vow he renewed each day at the time of Holy Communion, echoing Psalm 116 and calling upon the name of Jesus with remarkable faith and ardor:

And so, my loving Jesus, with a deep feeling of interior peace, I offer you henceforth my blood and my body and my life; in order that I shall die for You alone, if You grant me this grace, since You deigned to die for me. Grant that I may so live that You will accord me the grace thus happily to end my life. And so, my God and my Saviour, I shall take from Your hands the Chalice of Your Sufferings, and I shall invoke Your Holy Name, Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!


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About Fr. Charles Fox 81 Articles
Rev. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He holds an S.T.D. in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome. He is also chaplain and a board member of Saint Paul Street Evangelization, headquartered in Warren, MI.

2 Comments

  1. God’s truth in His unchanging word. A prayer warrior lifts us up. We thank you Lord that you send us men and women rooted and built up in Christ. A papa will come and go yet, the word of the Lord stands forever. Joy to the Lord:

    Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

    Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

    Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

    James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

    Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

    Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

    Thank you my brother, God is Good.b

  2. This prayer of St. Bonaventure took my breath away. What love he has for our Lord. Quite long, though.
    May my heart ever hunger after and feed upon You, Whom the angels desire to look upon, and may my inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of Your savor. May it ever thirst for You, the fountain of life, the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, the fountain of eternal light, the torrent of pleasure, the fullness of the house of God; May it ever compass You, seek You, find You, run to You, come up to You, meditate on You, speak of You, and do all for the praise and glory of Your name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with ease and affection, with perseverance to the end. May You ever be my hope, my entire confidence, my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my food, my refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my possession, my treasure, in Whom may my mind and my heart be ever fixed and firm and rooted immovably. Amen.

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