“And they called His name Jesus” (Luke 2:21).
What’s in a name and why do we attach such importance to them? I was once reading a biography of Chairman Mao, when I came upon one of his most monstrous plans. Mao wanted to get rid of names entirely. Rather than having names, people would be numbered. Mao died before he could implement his policy, but it gives us food for thought on this Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
A name given to a baby by its parents imparts to it an identity. Each and every name is distinctive. Once, I worked at a summer language day camp with a group of children from Somalia. While some of them had names taken from Muslim history such as Ali, others had names that were more evocative such Salah (Peace) or Shamsa (Sun). These names gave these children an identity that will be with them. Indeed, their names are who they are. Each name is the same for its bearer even though we might not like the sound of it on certain days.
Our Lord was given the name of Jesus when He was circumcised. It was the name that had been spoken by the Archangel Gabriel, when He appeared to Mary at the Annunciation. Indeed, it is a name that helps us to know and love Our Lord. It means savior and it is a variation on the name Joshua (God is our salvation). In Slavic speaking, countries the Prophet Joshua is sometimes called “Jesus, son of Nun” to differentiate him from Our Lord.
Yet Our Lord also has other names beyond His personal name. The prophet Isaiah called Our Lord “Emmanuel” (God with us). This is a prophetic name which the prophet meant to show Our Lord’s dwelling in our midst following the Incarnation. The name Christ means the Anointed One or the Messiah. Originally, it was not a name, but a title. It designates Our Lord’s work among sinful human kind. It is also the name of Our Lord that is most often heard in the Mass and the sacraments. Frequently, prayers will end with the invocation, “Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.”
Our Lady of La Salette indicated to Maximin and Melanie that Our Lord’s name was often taken in vain by the villagers of Corps. Indeed, it is still taken in vain by us today. Yet if we realized its power to heal and help us then we would not misuse it. Remember that by the mere utterance of Our Lord’s Holy Name, the dead were raised to life during the time of the apostles and that it was the Name that was carried forth by them and their successors throughout the ends of the world.
Among the Eastern Rite churches, there is a custom of reciting Our Lord’s name over and over. It is called the Jesus Prayer and a rosary of one hundred knots is usually used to help with meditation. This devotion was discussed at some length in J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zoey” and is best explained in the anonymous Russian classic, “The Pilgrim’s Journey.” Indeed, it is a prayer that begs Our Lord for mercy on us sinners and for ourselves: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
On this holy day, therefore, let us think about the meaning of Our Lord’s Name and how it encapsulates everything we know and love about Him. Let us strive not to offend Him anymore nor to utter it in vain.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!