Jesus’ Name, Our Name and The Hope that Makes us Pure, Holy Name of Jesus, January 3, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus
January 3, 2015
1 Jn 2:29-3:6, Ps 98, Jn 1:29-34

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus and I’d like to focus on three successive aspects of this reality. The first is the name itself. The second is the reality of the name. The third is the response to the name. With the Holy Name of Jesus, the first is the name itself, Jesus, which means “God saves.” This is what the Angel for God told St. Joseph to name him, “for he will save his people from their sins.” In the Jewish mentality, names are highly significant. God famously changed the names of Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel and Simon to Peter to describe the realities he wanted them to incarnate. Likewise God through Gabriel commanded Zechariah to name his son John, to enflesh God’s graciousness. When we look at the name of Jesus, we celebrate the enfleshment of God’s saving will. I think it’s important for us on this day to ponder what Jesus’ name means and to relate to him precisely under that name. For many of us, we treat the name Jesus just as a sacred moniker without much reflection at all on what the name means. One good practice, that I use every once in a while while praying the Rosary, is that I actually translate the name at the end of the Hail Mary so that I can ponder its reality in each of the mysteries. In other words, I say, “… and blessed is the fruit of your womb, God saves.” That helps me never to forget that Jesus is the incarnation of God’s saving love. And that brings us to the second part of this celebration of Jesus’ name, which is the reality of his name. God doesn’t just have a name, but because of his divine simplicity, he is his name. To pray, for example, in the name of Jesus means to try to pray in the person of Jesus. To celebrate the name of Jesus means to celebrate the reality that Jesus is our saving God. That’s exactly what Jesus came to do, to save us, to save us from sin, to save us from death, to save us from everything from which we need to be saved, including sometimes ourselves. There is, in fact, no other name under heaven and earth by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). Today is a special day, in other words, on which we celebrate Jesus our Savior. The third is the response that we’re supposed to have to Jesus’ name. We’re to do more than say it — and bow our heads as we do! To invoke Jesus’ name well is to relate to him as Savior and to allow him to save us! The greatest way of all to celebrate this feast is to enter into the salvation of Jesus, to know that we need to be rescued, that he comes to our rescue, and that we reach out and grab his hand as he engages in that life-saving work.
  • This mystery of the name of Jesus receives even greater depth with the readings today. Jesus’ name, Jesus’ saving work, is one he wants to share. In today’s readings we see that Jesus’ incarnation of the saving work of God is meant to give us in turn a name, a reality, and a response. St. John tells us in today’s first reading, in one of the most important passages in Sacred Scripture that I’d encourage you all to memorize so that you can ponder it over and over again throughout your life: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” It would be the greatest privilege of our life simply to be named a child of God. We know how names and associations can change people. We see what happens when players with shaky reputations join the New England Patriots. They start to behave differently, as a result of Bill Belichick’s expectations and the good example of various veterans. They’re representing an organization and the name on the front of the jersey, rather than one on the back, changes them. Likewise when I became a Harvard student, I started to act different. I started to care more about how I dressed, how I tied my ties, etc., because I was representing Harvard’s name. We know that our family names are so important and, out of love for our family, we not only don’t want to bring any shame upon the name but want to bring the name honor. How much more this reality is true by our being called sons and daughters of God!
  • But this honor doesn’t stop merely with our being called children of God. St. John then says, “Yet that is what we are.” God has allowed us to become his sons and daughters through the wondrous reality of spiritual adoption in baptism. In today’s Gospel, St. John the Baptist points to the reality of the One coming after him — Jesus, God saves — who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit.” This is the Spirit that changes us within so that we may cry out “Abba, Father! (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), so that we may relate to God as a beloved “Dad.” Through God’s own work, we have actually become sons in the Son of God. That’s the ultimate meaning of salvation. That’s the purpose of the incarnation of the Word: Jesus took on our humanity, as we prayed on Christmas day, so that we might become sharers in his divinity, in his divine filiation. St. John tells us that this mind-blowing reality won’t be acknowledged by the world anymore than Jesus’ incarnation was acknowledged: “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” But that is the truth of who we are! And St. John goes on to say that we’ve got an even greater destiny still in store: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We were made in God’s image and likeness and God wants to bring that to fulfillment in the beatific vision of heaven.” Jesus really does want to make us sharers in his divine filiation, in his divinity, and that is what will happen provided that we remain in his name!
  • St. John, however, focuses on our response. He says, “Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.” If we have this hope to become holy as God as holy, to become truly like God, then we strive here on earth to do everything we can to be like him, to behave like him, to forgive like him, to love like him, to take on his virtues. If we are living according to our Christian hope, we start to align our choices here on earth to what God wants and expects, to how children of God ought to behave, to how God would want to love through us. One of the reasons why so many Christians do not live as saints is because they do not nourish “this hope based on him.” They forget that we will be like God. They forget that they are really children of God. They forget that God-saves is with them always until the end of time precisely to help them remain united to God. They forget their Christian dignity.  On Christmas Day, St. Leo the Great reminds Christians throughout the world in the Liturgy of the Hours to remember who they are and make themselves pure as God is pure: “Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom. Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.” This is the response we need to have not only to Jesus’ name, but to our name and reality as beloved sons and daughters of God, to live as his holy sons and daughters and flee all darkness and sin.
  • Today as we come forward on this day, we remember how God the Father wishes to nourish us to help us live according to this hope and according to this purity. It’s through Holy Communion with Jesus that we enter more profoundly into his divine filiation and are strengthened from within to live as sons in the Son. It’s here that we ponder him in all his self-giving love and become more like him by seeing him if even under the appearances of bread and wine. It’s here that we experience his salvation. There’s great meaning to the fact that on the tabernacle door here in our chapel we have the letters IHS, which are the three consonants in Greek for the name Jesus and they also constitute a Latin abbreviation, Iesus Hominum Salvator, “Jesus, Savior of Men and Women.” It’s a forceful reminder for us that whenever we receive Holy Communion, we receive God’s salvation in the flesh and are made capable of living truly saved lives by the saving power we’re now about to consume!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 JN 2:29–3:6

If you consider that God is righteous,
you also know that everyone who acts in righteousness
is begotten by him.See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure,
as he is pure.Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness,
for sin is lawlessness.
You know that he was revealed to take away sins,
and in him there is no sin.
No one who remains in him sins;
no one who sins has seen him or known him.

Responsorial Psalm PS 98:1, 3CD-4, 5-6

R. (3cd) All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
Sing praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
sing joyfully before the King, the LORD.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Alleluia JN 1:14A, 12A

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
To those who accepted him
he gave power to become the children of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 1:29-34

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
He is the one of whom I said,
‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’
I did not know him,
but the reason why I came baptizing with water
was that he might be made known to Israel.”
John testified further, saying,
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky
and remain upon him.
I did not know him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,
he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”