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What’s in a Name?


“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” ~ W.C. Fields

A most appropriate 1st Reading (1 John 3:22-4:6) awaits us on this the day we celebrate The Most Holy Name of Jesus, an Optional Memorial that made its way onto the Liturgical Calendar by way of an extension offered by Pope Innocent XIII in the year 1727. The month of January has traditionally been dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus. In fact Pope Clement XIII granted a 25 day indulgence to all those who invoked the most holy name of Jesus with proper reverence and awe. (September 5, 1759).

“We receive from him whatever we ask,” the Apostle John explains in the 3rd Chapter of his 1st Letter (1 John 3:22-4:6), “because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this:We should believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he and them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit, whom he gave us.”

Names are important. Nicknames too for that matter, particularly in the sports world. Lefty Grove, Magic Johnson and Night Train Lane dominated the diamond, hardwood, and gridiron while only their most ardent fans even knew their real first name. As we know from Luke’s famous Annunciation discourse (Luke 1:26-38), Jesus’ name was chosen from Heaven. Unlike other parents, Joseph and Mary did not compile a list of male and female names in order to go through a meticulous selection process. There were no elaborate "gender reveals" like we see today on social media, with makeshift cannons blasting baby blue confetti into the air or cakes cut in half to reveal layers of creamy pink icing.

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

In the alternate Gospel Passage chosen for today’s Memorial (Matthew 1:18-23), an angel conveys the name of Jesus to Joseph in a dream. That “the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son. He shall be called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.“ Joseph awoke and, as he always did, went forth and obeyed God’s will.

The holy name of Jesus must always be held in the highest esteem. Some of you may even recall a time when the name of Jesus would cause those in the conversation to bow, whether his name was mentioned during the celebration of the Holy Mass or on the corner of 44th Street and 9th Avenue. Those were different times of course, and reverence of that magnitude has largely fallen by the wayside, departing along with modesty, prudence and self-control. As Saint Paul exhorts us in his Letter to the Philippians (Philippians 2:5-11), “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him a name which is above every name. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth. And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

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Never should Jesus’ name be taken in vain or used in a casual manner, whether it be in a fit or wrath or frivolously by way of an irreverent or disrespectful meme on social media, a phenomenon that has become alarmingly commonplace. Humor of course has its place but most of these attempts are rarely clever or particularly funny. Many are, in a word, to quote the late great Father Benedict Groeschel, classless.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “The second commandment prescribes respect for the Lord’s name. Like the first commandment, it belongs to the virtue of religion and more particularly it governs our use of speech and sacred manners.” Jesus’ name brings with it awesome power. It is the name that brings with it salvation. Many have pointed out that the very name of Jesus is in and of itself an Exorcism. Repeating it over and over undoubtedly causes Satan to flee in utter fear and horror.

May we always call upon the most holy name of Jesus, affording it the proper and loving adoration it warrants. For in the words of Saint Bernardino of Siena, “The name of Jesus that makes us children of God is a firm foundation of faith. The faith of the Catholic religion is based upon the knowledge and recognition of Jesus Christ, who is the light of the soul, the gateway to life, and the foundation of eternal salvation. Whoever lacks this knowledge and recognition or has abandoned it is like a man that walks through the darkness of night without a light; like a person who rushes headlong through dangers with his eyes shut”

We need the light of Christ in order to grasp the secrets and mysteries of eternal life. Through the brilliance and sweet savor of the most Holy Name of Jesus, we are called into the marvelous light of eternal paradise.

"O Sweet Jesus, how glorious is Thy name. Be to me Jesus, my savior. Sweet Name of Jesus, may all poor sinners call upon Thee and so find mercy. Sweet Holy Name of Jesus, joy of angels and saints, I adore and bless Thy Holy Name, and earnestly pray that it may be known, loved and praised throughout the world." ~ Amen

“The name of the Lord shall be blest forever.” ~ Psalm 113

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