A day or two ago as I was driving around for work and listening to the local AM Catholic radio station (Sacred Heart Radio [740 AM for you Cincinnati dwellers]), I was struck by a quote from St. Francis of Assisi given by the show host. The quote was a prayer of St. Francis that the host credited to instilling Francis with his sense of joy and love of God's creation. "Lord, show me Who You are, and who I am." What a profound prayer in its simplicity. It has been weighing on my mind since I heard it, and it has been welling up from within my heart as well. Lord, Who are You? And who am I? As I was thinking on this tonight, I realized some connections that this has to the Jesus Prayer, and how the Jesus Prayer actually answers both of those questions for us, if we are willing to open our hearts and listen to God speaking to us through the Prayer.
The answer(s) revolves around the simple word "mercy." Our God is a God of mercy. He is a merciful God not only in the sense that when we fell from His love and grace He went to the Cross in order to save us and restore our relationship with Him. But He is merciful in the very act of creation itself! It is, after all, better to be than not to be; there is no question about that despite Shakespeare's question from the lips of Hamlet (I think). God is also merciful in that after creating us He not only wished to maintain a relationship with us, but entered into covenant relationship with us. Dr. Scott Hahn and other biblical scholars have gone to great lengths to demonstrate to us that covenant bonds in ancient societies were oftentimes even stronger than familial bonds. So, although we speak of our being "foster" or "adopted" children of God the Father in Christ Jesus, the reality is that our relationship to our Heavenly Father is much closer than that of adoption. It is so close that Christ taught us to call the Father "Abba" - an affectionate title the connotes intimate familiarity and family ties (in much the same way that my family referred to my late grandparents as "Ma'am" and "Pops," and I refer to my dad as "Pops").
But what does the Jesus Prayer reveal to us about ourselves? Or rather, what does God our Abba reveal to us about ourselves through the Jesus Prayer? At surface-level we might be tempted to say that the Jesus Prayer teaches us that we are sinners: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. I won't deny that such a reading is true. We are all sinners. I am a sinner. I have fallen short of God's plan for me. But there are two things that we must remember here. First, the more ancient form of the Jesus Prayer does not include the final words "a sinner." That was an addition that was added through Russian piety. I am not saying that it shouldn't have been added, but simply that it was a later addition. The more ancient form, in my opinion, focused more on God's mercy and our need of His mercy regardless of whether or not we sin.
Secondly, by admitting that we are sinners and that we are in need of God's mercy we are admitting something else. Archbishop Fulton Sheen points out that "sin" simply means missing the mark, or missing a target. It is, quite simply, falling short of an intended goal. Think of that! Sin isn't a violation of some arbitrary commandment placed on us by a tyrant God. Sin is missing the mark. It is failing to live up to who and what God created us to be! It is failing to "be all that you can be," as the Army so aptly puts it. Who are you? Who am I? We are children of God our Abba! We were created to share in the very life and glory of the Trinity! We weren't created to merely worship God in an extrinsic manner, offering praise and sacrifice to Him because He's God. God, in His love and mercy, created us to share in His very life. Our sins, therefore, are not breaking a commandment that is extrinsic to us. Our sins are a refusal to participate in that life for which we were created! Our sins are a denial of our very nature, who we are! We were created for light, not darkness, for life, not death, for glory, not misery, for joy, not suffering. That is God's mercy!
So Who is God? God is our Abba, our Daddy, our Papa. He is our Abba Who showers His love, His steadfast love, His longsuffering love, His mercy upon us from creation to the very act of sending His only begotten Son for our salvation. He is a God, a Father, an Abba Who so earnestly desires a relationship with us that He is willing to give up and has given up everything for that relationship. "God, show me Who You are."
And who are we? We are His creatures, His greatest creation, His adopted children, His covenant family! What mercy! But we often fall short of our dignity as members of His family. We often cast ourselves out of that family through our own sinfulness. We often participate in that life, the Trinitarian life, for which we were created and we choose, rather, darkness, despair, nothingness, death. But the reality doesn't change. In God's eyes we are still His children. God does not reject us. In our sinfulness we reject Him. But He is always there to welcome us back into the family. What mercy! On the one hand we need to take a sort of "holy pride" in who we are. We are, after all, God's children. What child who grew up in a loving family is not proud of that family? I know some folks who are so proud of their family that it is almost annoying. I'm very proud of my family. I believe that I grew up with the greatest parents and siblings a person could ask for, and I hope to pass that on to my children as well. So if we can be proud of our earthly families and our role in those families, how much more so God's family! But at the same time we must be humble and recognize how we abuse and reject our "family pride;" how we cast ourselves outside of the family through our sinfulness. "God, show me... who I am."
He is Abba, we are His children. Think about that the next time you pray, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me (a sinner)." May heaven consume us!