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Might this short prayer help us when we meet our maker?

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St Benedict in his Rule exhorts his monks to make prayer short, unless it is prolonged by grace. Prayer is like good nutrition, a little often works well.

There were a group of people of whom you have no doubt heard, the Desert Mothers and Fathers. These were Christian women and men from about the 3rd century AD who went into solitude together and alone to seek a deeper life with God. They knew all sorts of wisdom and one of them was the understanding of short prayers which one could continually say, so much so that these prayers would become a matter of the heart. One’s heart would just fall into saying them at a moment’s notice. It brought the person into a place of unceasing prayer.

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One of those prayers was this:

O Lord
As you know
As you will have mercy

Over the centuries a story grew up around this wonderful prayer. Let me tell you.

It happened once in rural France somewhere about the 17th century that man called Jacques found himself at one of life’s crossroads. Perhaps he was grip of depression, perhaps he had just lost his way, and perhaps he had done something he regretted.

Whatever it was he went to see a revered woman in his village known for her wisdom and experience and someone who had also known him all his life. After listening intently she simply said, “Jacques there is a prayer which I would recommend to you. ‘O Lord as you know, as you will have mercy.’ It’s an ancient prayer. Say it as you walk home, say it as you work your fields, at your fire at night, whenever you think of it, say it. Sometimes you will be overwhelmed. Just say, ‘As you know.’ Sometimes you will feel as though the world is weighted against you. Just say, ‘Have mercy.’ Sometimes you will not know what to do. Just say, ‘As you will.'”

Trust me this prayer will answer all your needs. Jacques did not necessarily find this helpful advice, he had hoped for something more constructive but to his credit he did it anyway. So began his lifetime recitation of the ancient prayer. It called to him in times of grief and loss, it beckoned him in times of confusion and doubt, it comforted him in times of illness, this prayer became his other self and the companion of his heart.

short prayer - The Catholic weekly

Finally as happens to us all, he went to meet his maker. He felt sure God would want to have a few serious words to him but no, God simply said, “Jacques I have been waiting for you. I have something to show you, come with me.” God took Jacques out into a paddock, green as you and I have never seen.

God asked Jacques to lie down on the soft grass under a tree. The dappled light played quietly across his face and a warm sense of wellbeing coursed through every fibre of this old man. Then God said gently, “Now close your eyes.” For a little while nothing happened and Jacques simply waited. At the right time the images began. You and I would recognise a modern-day concentration camp. Jacques watched in disbelief as scene after scene of human cruelty paraded before his eyes, he had never encountered such deprivation of decency and goodness.

He saw chronic despair, deep hate and crippling fear. Just as he thought he could bear no more, a welcome sound wafted into his consciousness. Jacques heard the most beautiful music joined by a choir of crystal clear voices. They began a soft chant, “O Lord, as you know, as you will, have mercy.” It went on and on. Jacques watched while despair turned to hope, hatred gave way to love, cruelty was replaced by kindness, fear was caressed into courage and colour of an entirely new dimension broke over the darkness.

The vision moved on and Jacques witnessed a repeat of the same theme, time and time again. A glorious musical composition wrapped itself around every kind of misery and uncertainty. Finally, it all came to an end and after a little while Jacques opened his eyes. He looked straight into the smiling face of God. With tears in his eyes, God whispered, “Thank you Jacques, I needed a song and you gave it to me.”  And that was Jacques’ judgement.

Might this be your song too? Prayer after all is our part in God’s eternal Opus.

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