The Holy name of Jesus
One of the great moments for a parent is the choosing of names for our children, frequently before they are born. Having chosen the name of each child we watch the name and personality become intertwined. Then one of the great gifts the child can do is to confirm their approval of their special name. The giving of names to each new person within a family is not only a privilege but has a sacred value that many miss these days. In the past Christian parents would give their offspring names of saints and heroes of the Christian faith together with names of valued ancestors within the family, all of which will convey identity and belonging. Sadly, with the decline of faith, these traditions are becoming rare, and names are chosen now from the ranks of celebrities and idols of the moment or even names that have no meaning or ancestry whatsoever which surely cannot contribute to the development of a stable person!
The gospels highlight the sacredness and value of the name Jesus, given to Our Lord. Both John the Baptist and Jesus, were not given names by the parents, but in both cases the names were divinely given by God alone before the actual birth. Matthew recalls the words of the angel, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins”. [Matthew 1;20] This underlines that the child Jesus was uniquely of God but had also has a human genealogy too that could be traced back through Hebrew history, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham”. [Matthew 1;1] It is St. Luke who then underlines the fully human dimension of the child Jesus who on the eighth day received circumcision and named as a male child of the Hebrew nation. Within the Christian tradition, the giving of names has a sacred purpose. The disciple Simon was renamed Petros, Saul renamed Paul, we dedicate our church buildings with the names of saints and priests like Popes and Patriarchs will take sacred names as signs to inspire their ministry.
From the earliest days of the emerging Church, power was attached to the Holy name of Jesus itself as can be seen in St. Peter’s address to the Jewish leaders after the feast of Pentecost, “there is no other name under heaven given among men by whom we must be saved.” [Acts 4;12] Again we read in letters of St. Paul, “God has given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” [Philippians 2;9–11]
We see the same power in the witness of the Early Fathers who taught their people the great virtue of exulting in their prayers the name of Jesus. The elderly St. Ignatius went to face martyrdom saying, to the amazed onlookers, “that he carried the name Jesus within his heart”. This was the birth of an important development in Christian devotion to the Holy name, which was to grow over the centuries reaching a high point in the use of what we now call, “The Jesus Prayer”. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner”. This is familiar to some who know the classic book “The way of the Pilgrim”. So often in the minds of many, prayer becomes a matter of asking God for something, but praying the holy name of Jesus, places Christian prayer on another level. It not only sums up everything we believe, recognising that the name Jesus Christ implies true God and true Man the saviour and can only be on the lips of a Christian. The prayer has solid meaning in the mind but grows inwardly taking root in the heart, transforming the person allowing the name Jesus as St. John Chrysostom says; “Descending into the depths of the heart allowing body and soul to become one.”
We wish all our readers a Blessed New Year!