January is the month we focus on the Holy Name of Jesus, celebrated January 3. It’s also the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God January 1. As the eve of the New Year leads me to reflect on the past year and my resolutions for the year ahead, I feel that God is re-directing me to a new way to make use of a fruitful practice of mine. I understand that it will help me again to heal from trauma, to walk free from injustices, losses and grief that I can do nothing more about now that I have done all I can with God’s help.
I have wondered how I will ever heal, ever be able to forgive, ever be able to be whole again. I begin to see the way, and I have a powerful tool to start with.
I can take the reigns of my mind once again. I can draw it constantly back to the healing, freeing presence of God, turning painful memories, overwhelming thoughts and situations over to Jesus and to the prayers of His Blessed Mother and ours by repeating their holy names when that sense of helpless outrage rises, or bitter thoughts try to take over my life.
This will be my main resolution: to repeat the holy names of Jesus and Mary, as others have for centuries of Christian history, as a way to attaining the mind of Christ, and to cultivate in my battered soul the beautiful receptivity of Mary. May God give me the grace to follow through, and if I fall away from this constant prayer, to draw me back to it. I have already begun to experience mental freedom and soul healing in making a new beginning with this prayer.
Should you be interested in joining me, but perhaps “Jesus Maria” doesn’t appeal to you, there are other choices that run deep in our faith tradition. They are oft repeated prayers that shine like paths well trodden by holy feet, blessed by the Communion of Saints, for you to choose from and make your standard in the battle of earthly life.
Eastern religions make use of mantrams (or “mantras,” as one hears more often.) We do too. We may not realize that we Catholics have some mantrams as well, and that we could put them to good use in our spiritual lives.
This is one way to pray without ceasing, one way to occupy the mind properly during a difficult temptation, or slow it down when it is racing or dwelling on something that makes it angry or destructive, a way to harness the power of anger, or to find guidance and inspiration, and to grow constantly in love of God.
As the author of The Cloud of Unknowing says, God is accessible only by the little spark of love, that impulse toward Him, even if for a moment we lift our hearts toward Him, this is how to reach Him as well as any arrow hits the bull’s eye on the target. This impulse of love is the way to penetrate the overwhelming mystery of God and to possess, even apprehend Him by love in a way our intellects are not capable of. A mantram gives voice to that spark of love and helps us consciously place all of our lives in the presence of God throughout the day.
For those of you familiar with “Centering Prayer,” (a form of Christian meditation, or mental prayer using a prayer word or phrase ) you will already have an idea what I mean.
This short prayer can be done all the time, even when we are busy, or bored in a lobby somewhere, or sweeping the floor. We can pray those moments with a word or phrase that we repeat either vocally or mentally.
Don’t worry. Vain repetition means just that: vain. Are you being vain or mindless? Is it vain to repeat something that means all the world to you: the Name of Our Lord perhaps, or of Our Lady, or both? Of course not.
Some Christian mantrams:
In the Eastern Church the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”) is used in a mantram fashion. One is encouraged to repeat it constantly from the heart… until it begins to pray itself within us on it’s own and becomes as much a part of us as breathing or the heart’s beating.
St. Francis is known to have stayed up all night at times repeating, “My God and my all, my God and my all, My God and my all!”
St. Rose of Lima memorized the Names of God from Scripture during a period of terrible aridity for her. She would say them over as she did embroidery and this practice gave her light.
The prayer received by St. Faustina is a good one to base our lives on, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing recommends simply the word, “God.”
The angels sing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” It seems like they are always saying it. We join them at every Sunday mass. Why not as often as we can?
There are a lot of very short, one line Catholic prayers that make good mantrams.
“Jesus, Mary, I love you, save souls,” is one I have heard people use. An elderly Carmelite told me it was her constant prayer.
“May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised, adored and loved,” is good.
Imagine how much good a constant spiritual communion would do. “Lord come spiritually into my heart.”
There is that great word from Revelation, too, “Maranatha” Our Lord come!
And then, there is the Holy Name itself, which, as St. Bernard says, brings to us Jesu dulcis memoria, “the sweet memory of Jesus.” Repeating it is a beautiful way to consciously live in His presence.
My mother used to say during chemo, “Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy,” especially since she was afraid of needles. If she started saying other mantrams that were not so good for her I would laugh and remind her of “Divine Mercy.”
Each of my daughters has a personal mantram that they repeat in times of trouble or difficulty praying or temptation or stress. Maire’s is “Stella Maris” or (Star of the Sea), one of Our Lady’s titles. Roise’s is, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary,” or “Ave Maria, Ave Maria…”
My fiancee, Mark, is beginning to explore the use of a mantram prayer. His choice is “Baruch atah Adonai.” It is Hebrew for “Blessed be the Lord,” a phrase that has been sanctified by centuries of pray-ers.
Mine, I got from my beloved St. Joan of Arc, from the words on her banner, “Jesus Maria.” I hope I’m saying it when I die, to accompany me into the the arms of Jesus and Mary.
Some ways to use a mantram and some practical advice:
When you’re mad or worried about something, a brisk walk repeating your mantra can really help put you in the right frame of mind. The mantram is a good way to pray when you are at a red light or a seriously dull meeting or doing something tedious. It is great during hard, physical work to keep you going and dedicate your work, says my fellow Carmelite, George. It’s not bad for when a mean dog is chasing you, either, according to my kids.
If you are not having to concentrate on anything like navigating freeway traffic or doing a delicate repair that requires all your attention, the mantram can and should be said anytime.
One of my favorite ways to use mine is when I am falling asleep. If I’m good about staying on it, my heart will repeat it all night and if I wake up I notice I am still at it.
I try to pray it as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. Sometimes it helps me get out of bed.
Sometimes when I am too upset to pray the rosary I just hold it. Sometimes I am in need of the greatest simplicity; something for my mind and heart to hold onto. A mantram prayer is perfect for that.
I would say don’t change it once you have chosen it. This way it will become part of you and sometimes your heart will start it on its own. It will grow with you and be with you all of your life. I have had mine for about twenty years. When I fall away from it, it is not too hard to get back to because of that. It has become a part of me, and my response to it is quicker and deeper now because it has grown over the years.
There’s nothing useless or vain about a mantram. Think of it as steps that lead you closer and closer to Heaven. Just choose it carefully so that it has the most meaning to you in your faith journey.
I have a little book I write the mantram in at times. I might dedicate a page to peace or to someone in trouble. There are several pages on which I have drawn pictures with the mantram in different colors and shapes. You will be amazed what a calming, peaceful activity this can be. It’s fun to do as a family too. We have made some mantram art together with all our different mantrams making a picture. Some of these hung on our refrigerator for years, serving as continuing prayers, and signs of family unity.
Try a mantram prayer with me this year. It couldn’t possibly hurt you. Most likely it will get you all straightened out when you need it and help you not waste time that you would ordinarily just use to worry when you are stuck somewhere or letting your mind go all over the place in unhelpful ways.
Perhaps it will help you regain focus on the present moment,
and to be present in the moment,
the **sacrament of the present moment,
where God always is.
It’s been very good for me.
I like to think of every repetition as a rose petal that drops into my heart as a gift of God, or that I let go into the wind to bless someone else, or the world in general.
The mantram “Jesus Maria” is my constant companion and has done me nothing but good. Have fun choosing yours, choose it carefully, make it part of your every day.
Maybe you will see what I mean.
*I am much indebted to one of my favorite spiritual authors, Eknath Easwaran, for first teaching me about the mantram and finding it in my own faith tradition.
**Jean Pierre de Caussade
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