Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Holy Name of Jesus

(26th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 1 October, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Mark 9:38-48)

How many times, in the course of an average week, do you hear the name of Jesus Christ spoken in public? There are many different ways of announcing that name; many different contexts in which that sacred name can be mentioned: in reverence, in devotion. But we can also hear that name spoken of in great irreverence, and with no devotion at all.

In St. Mark’s Gospel this morning, we hear the name of Jesus being used by a person who does not even follow the Lord. Yet because he uses that name with respect, and apparently with faith, it is able to wield tremendous power.

The apostles, St. John among them, are perplexed and even bothered by the use of Jesus’ name. John says to our Lord:

"Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us." Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.
—Mark 9:38-39

There is remarkable power in Jesus’ name. Later on in John’s Gospel, Jesus promises:

If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.
—John 14:14

Now, that is quite a promise indeed. Do we take that promise seriously? We are able to ask Jesus anything at all in His name, and He will respond to that need.

St. Paul, in His letter to the Church at Philippi, says:

At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth, and under the earth.
—Philippians 2:10

So exalted is the holy name of Jesus! St. Bernard of Clairvaux says that “To speak of it gives light; to think of it is the food for the soul; to call on it calms and soothes the heart.”

The Church we are worshipping in this morning was founded in 1853 as the Church of the Holy Name, only later to be changed to Our Lady of Mercy. In 1965, the current building we are in was dedicated, and the men and women who built it held the holy name of Jesus is very high esteem. We know that because if we look around the Church the morning, there are many different images of Jesus’ name still present.

In back of the altar, on the front of the canopy above the cross, in blue and gold, is the image of the “Chi-Rho.” It looks like an “X” with a “P” in the middle of it. Those are the first two Greek letters in the title of Christ or Хρίστος. That symbol was used widely in the early centuries of the Church, and still is popular today.

Off to the left of the sanctuary is a large sunburst with the letters “IHS” in the middle of it. That is taken originally from the Greek and then later became the Latin rendering of the same holy name of Jesus (it was later mis-translated as an abbreviation for Iesus Hominum Salvator, or “Jesus, Savior of man,” but Fr. Lolio and I have already clarified this misconception with a well spirited debate).

And finally, on each one of the 10 lights that illuminate our congregation, we find the same monogram: IHS. Obviously the men and women who built this place had great respect for that holy name. We can ask ourselves this morning: how well do we esteem the name of Jesus? How are we to approach the holy name of Christ in our own lives?

I would suggest three ways that we can honor Jesus’ name as people of faith, called to bear that name in the world around us.

First and foremost, we should never use that name in vain. This should be rather obvious, since that involves one of the Ten Commandments, yet unfortunately in our culture it is not something we can take for granted. We should be very careful not to fall into the habit of using Jesus’ name as a mere throw-away word, or worse.

In 1846, Our Blessed Mother appeared to two small children in the French Alps, near the mountain called LaSalette. It is that apparition that the Shrine up in Attleboro, Massachusetts is named for. Yet of all the apparitions of Mary—Fatima, Lourdes, and several others—it is the only one where Mary appears seated.

She is sitting down, with her face in her hands, weeping. The children, Maximim and Melanie, approach Our Lady and ask her why she is so sad. Her response to them was that the people had forgotten her Son. They no longer worshiped Him as they once did; no longer participated at Sunday Mass. They were so caught up in materialism, industry and other things that Christ was no longer central to them.

One of her chief complaints was that many of the men and women of that area, in the work places and in the fields, had begun to use the name of her Son in vain. She told them how much this disturbed her; how it was a sacred name, and should be kept holy.

Do we keep the name of Jesus sacred? Is it holy to us, and do we use it for good, and for God in our daily lives? That is important, because it brings us to the second way we should observe the holy name of Jesus: We should use that name frequently, calling on the name of Christ daily whenever we find ourselves in need.

There is a Country song out—quite popular right now—by the artist Carrie Underwood called, “Jesus, take the wheel.” Like many Country songs, it tells a story. It is about a young girl who is driving across the country to see her mother and father (her momma and daddy, if you are reading this from the South). Her little baby is buckled up in the back seat.

Suddenly, as she is driving far too quickly and is somewhat distracted, she hits a patch of black ice and the car begins to spin out of control. More out of fear and a gut reaction than anything else, she cries out, “Jesus, take the wheel.”

The car winds up safely on the side of the road and no one is hurt; yet, suddenly she begins to realize that her life is a lot like that car ride: it’s filled with distractions, and moving way too fast. She has made some big mistakes and she finds herself very much in need. So right there on the side of the road, she bows her head and devoutly prays the very words she had blurted out as a reaction only a few moments before:

Jesus take the wheel
Take it from my hands
Cause I can’t do this all my own
I’m letting go
So give me one more chance
To save me from this road I’m on
Jesus take the wheel

That is one clear example of the way we are called to live as people of faith. Whenever our lives are moving way too fast, when our minds are filled with distractions and we have made big mistakes—or perhaps a lot of little ones—we should not hesitate to call upon the name of Jesus. As we have already seen, there is tremendous power in that name, because it belongs to the person who can truly transform our lives and set us on the right road once again.

And finally, as men and women who bear the name of Christ, who are called "Christ-ians" by our very Baptism and eternal relationship with Him, we need to make sure that our words and actions are worthy of such a name.

The question has been asked before: If Christianity was suddenly outlawed in the place where we live, would there be enough evidence to convict us of that crime? Our words and actions speak volumes to those around us, people who know that we belong to Christ.

As we enter a whole new week with Christ, we ask for the grace to hold the name of Jesus in great esteem, never using that name in vain. May we call upon Jesus frequently, as He continues to guide us ever closer to eternal life. And may those around us recognize that we are worthy of the name of Christ, not only because we have His name on our lips, but because of the way we live and the way we love in the world around us.