Lord, Have Mercy
Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner. Luke 18:13
St. Patrick urged his followers to make their own these words, which he had learned was the constant prayer of the universal church: ‘Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy’.
In the story (Luke 18) Jesus contrasts the wordy triumphalism in the prayers of the religious person, with the simple heart-cry of the man who knew how sinful and needy he was: ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner’.
The desert Christians began this prayer with the words ‘Lord Jesus Christ’, to make sure that God’s own Son, and not any old lord, was being addressed. Some groups would repeat this constantly, hundreds and thousands of times, until in the end it became ‘a conditioned reflex’. This custom has been continued amongst some Eastern Orthodox Christians and is now reviving also in the West. It is known as The Jesus Prayer.
This is not vain repetition, as some have alleged, if it comes from the heart and not just from the head. Some Christians reserve the Jesus Prayer for Saturday evenings, when they say it repeatedly as a preparation for Sunday. Others shorten the prayer to just the name ‘Jesus’.
For myself, this prayer comes into its own when I am desperate, despondent, physically frail, or pressed by competing demands. In these circumstances, I lack the energy to form my own prayers, I lack the purity to be sure that my prayers are not really ego demands, and I lack the wisdom to know how to sort out competing demands. So I give up trying to be in charge, or on top (like the pharisee in the story); I carry on doing whatever I have to do, praying the Jesus Prayer in my weakness.
Isn’t that all that God requires of any of us?
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.