“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus!” In other words, “Jesus be my Savior!” This is a prayer that was prayed often by St. Ralph Sherwin. He’s one of the 40 martyrs of England and Wales canonized in 1970.
Young Ralph Sherwin was a very intelligent boy. And his natural talents gained him a spot at Oxford’s Exeter College. He earned his degree in 1574 with high honors. He could have done anything he wanted, law, medicine, politics, even priesthood in the Church of England. Instead, however, he had a major reversion to the Catholic faith. But this was a problem because this was the time of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, and it was illegal to be a Catholic, no priests were allowed to live out in the open. They had to hide.
So Ralph went to France to study for the priesthood, and there he was ordained in 1577. He then went on to Rome to finish his studies. In 1580 he was part of the first convoy of Missionary priests sent to England. He came dressed undercover as a French businessman. Fr. Ralph began to work in various parts of the country and he was very successful. His work was brief; however, and he was captured after three months and sent to the Tower of London. There he was kept in iron chains and tortured on the rack. That’s the device that stretches you until you scream. In the midst of all the tortures he was offered the title of Bishop and a prestigious post in the Church of England, if he would deny the Pope. He didn’t.
After a year of torture he was put on trial on a trumped-up charge that he had conspired to start a rebellion. At the trial he shouted out that, “The plain reason of my standing here is religion, not treason.” He was sentenced to be hung with drawing and quartering to follow. He prayed to God to forgive his persecutors and, if God so willed, to bring them into the Catholic faith, he even prayed for the queen. And his last words before dying were these, the prayer of his entire life, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus!” In other words, “Jesus be my Savior!”
I think this is one of the most beautiful prayers of petition. Prayers of petition, prayers that ask God for something, these are the most basic and most practical of prayers. Million upon millions of petitions are storming heaven at every minute of every day. Everyone prays them, even non-believers pray them in some way and that’s because we are naturally wired for God, and this is a prayer born of profound instinct, prayer of the human heart for God. Now as we know there are different types of prayers, adoration, mediation, contemplation, lectio divina, but Pope St. John Paul II once said that, “Every prayer is a prayer of petition, so don’t be afraid to ask for the simplest things.” Our Lord listens.
In our first reading from Exodus we get an example of petitionary prayer in the spiritual life. We meet the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land. They’ve left the slavery of Egypt and they are making the difficult journey to the Promised Land. This journey symbolizes our own spiritual life, where we move from slavery to sin to the fullness of life in Heaven. We are on this journey, right now, from sin to heaven.
Now on this journey through the desert the Israelites meet Amalek, an ancient tribe and a symbol of evil. We face Amalek on our spiritual journey too, sin, hate, depression, discouragement, temptation, any resistance to our spiritual life is Amalek. The Israelites fight against Amalek, and we do too. We are in a spiritual battle; we don’t stay on the sidelines we fight. And prayer is our weapon. We all have a God given mission and Amalek will rise against us all, but don’t surrender. And the necessary thing in this struggle against Amalek is prayer. When Moses prays (arms lifted) all goes well, but when he tires and his arms drop, he stops praying, Amalek get the best of the Israelites. Nothing great in this world is accomplished apart from prayer. No victory in the spiritual struggle is done or accomplished without prayer.
As we are often reminded prayer is a rising of the mind and heart to God. It keeps us in relationship, aligning our mind and will to His. And blessings will follow. But persistence is important/necessary, keeping us open to Him. So pray and pray and pray with persistence. Don’t give up; always ready to receive what our Lord wants to give. Maybe we can even make St. Ralph Sherwin’s prayer our own. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus! And we know He will.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley