Today we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus in the Extraordinary Form calendar, always the Second Sunday after Christmas, which Blessed John Paul restored in the Ordinary calendar to January 3. Thank God that he did, because this feast is most important to our understanding of the Divine Person of Jesus. A person’s name reveals much about him, especially when that name is assigned by an angel before his conception in the womb, as we heard in today’s very short Gospel. The Holy Name of Jesus is the password, so to speak, to heaven; His Name is our protection from evil here on earth. As Blessed Peter says in the first reading: “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we are to be saved.” But is a name so important?
What’s in a Name?
Yesterday I did a wedding, and the maid of honor was a girl named Sam—Samantha, that is, a beautiful name for a girl. But her sister, the bride, called her Rob, and the rest of the family called her Bob—not a very nice name for a girl. The bride’s name was Nikki, but her Dad kept calling her Katherine and her Mom called her Kate and sometimes Kathy. It was confusing for anyone outside the family, and it makes one wonder: what’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, saith Shakespeare. “Call me Sam or call me Bob but don’t just call me late for dinner.” But the name “Jesus” stands apart from all names in human history. In their beautiful reverence for God, the Jews would never speak the divine name or even write it. They would never presume to address the Divinity on a first name basis. But even before Jesus was conceived in the womb, God’s angel revealed his Sacred Name to Mary, and so we dare to address God by name. Eight days after his birth, the world first heard the name “Jesus,” the simple utterance of which demons are cast out and souls are saved from damnation. These simple five letters manifest at once God’s delicate immanence and his terrifying transcendence. We speak his name both with fear and trembling, and with familial confidence.
Unlike any other Name
I’ll tell you a story about my brother. During an enthusiastic stage in his faith, he bought all sorts of “Christian” T-Shirts. I loved the simple and direct messages on these shirts; my favorite said “Two things are true: 1. There is a God 2. You are not He.” My brother’s favorite simply had one word in gigantic letters across the chest: “JESUS.” He wore it to work every day, and after a week his co-workers demanded that he take it off. Any other name on a shirt—like “Jimmy Carter” or “Johnny Cash”—would have been OK, but that name was too powerful. Jesus is the one name you can put on a billboard, and everyone will get the message. The message is that God is with us and that we cannot ignore Him. Anyone else’s name on a billboard or T-shirt, for example “Obama” or “Oprah,” can be ignored, but the Holy Name cannot be ignored. The name itself is salvific. It contains within itself unspeakable power. At the end of our lives, it is the one Name that will grant us entrance into heaven.
“God is my Salvation”
“When eight days were completed, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The name Jesus, of course, means “God saves” or “Yahweh is my salvation.” Simply by calling on that name, by uttering it, we profess our faith in God. The name Jesus means “God saves me; I don’t save myself.” Jesus, take the wheel. I can’t drive this car without you. “There is a God, and I am not he.” There is only One Name. We say all that when we say the Holy Name reverently, devoutly, and faithfully. I am wearing a chasuble with the name of Jesus monogrammed on the back: “IHS,” which are the first three letters of the name “Jesus” in Greek, and also the acronym Iesus Hominum Salvator, “Jesus, Savoir of Men.” You will see that monogram, and that name on the chalice veil at today’s Mass as well, on sacred books, vessels, emblazoned on church walls and windows and doors. It is the Holy Name.
Our Lady Named Him
We begin this year professing the holy name of Jesus, our Salvation. His mother Mary was the first to hear that Name, from the lips of the angel Gabriel. She faithfully named him eight days after his birth. One of the best ways to profess this name is in the holy rosary, in which we say the name of Jesus faithfully 53 times. The holy name is at the center of the Hail Mary, the pivot-point, as it were, on which the prayer, and the whole rosary, turns. As we literally bow our heads at the Holy Name at Mass, so we bow our wills at the Holy Name in the rosary. In this name, given us through Our Blessed Mother, we find hope, joy, and delight. Let us profess it faithfully this coming year.