Monday, December 30, 2013

Homily: The Holy Name of Jesus: 2013

At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow

We owe this feast of the Holy Name of Jesus largely to the 15th century Franciscan preacher Saint Bernadine of Sienna. In opposition to taking the Lord’s Name in vain St. Bernadine preached frequently on the Holy Name and even had a board painted with the monogram HIS – Latin version of the Name of Jesus – which he held up in his hand as he preached. We probably need these days a similar campaign directed not so much against frumpy old men but teenage girls on Facebook whose response to almost everything is OMG.

This was only one of the vices that St. Bernadine preached against. In sermons that often lasted three or four hours and were preached 50 days in a row, he preached against the excess of luxury and immodest apparel, against gambling, much to the dissatisfaction of the card manufacturers and sellers. "Bonfires of the Vanities" were held at his sermon sites, where people threw mirrors, high-heeled shoes, perfumes, locks of false hair, cards, dice, chessmen, and other frivolities to be burned.

Not surprisingly he encountered considerable opposition and he was delated to Rome on grounds that his devotion to the Holy Name was a dangerous innovation. It is also not surprising that he preached his way out of the charges.

I am not sure that the New Testament has all that much to say about mirrors, high heels,
cards and dice but St. Paul is perfectly clear when he writes that “at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow.”

That great Benedictine liturgical commentator Dom Prosper Gueranger said of the Holy name of Jesus it is “Light, and Food, and Medicine. It is Light, when it is preached to us; It is Food, when we think upon It; It is the Medicine that soothes our pains when we invoke It.”

The most tedious sermon, the dullest theological tract, even the most trite bumper sticker propaganda, if the Name of Jesus is part of it, brings light. The Name of Jesus is not just a name but something that sparks a whole series of associations of mind and heart: perhaps his birth, maybe his death and resurrection, his teaching, his miracles, and likely all of that at once.  His ‘way, truth and light’ are always available to us by simply allowing this Name to come to mind.

Just as physical food sustains us so the Name of Jesus sustains us. The best and easiest prayer is the Name of Jesus. St. Phillip Neri prayed “Jesus be Jesus to me.” The theological virtues of faith, hope and love come from this Name.  St. Peter proclaims “there is no other name by which we must be saved”. There is no other Name by which our spiritual lives can be sustained. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and end of the Christian life.

The Holy Name is medicine against fear and despair. Do you know why some people drink themselves into a blind drunken stupor on New Year’s Eve? It is regret over last year and fear at the approach of a new year and that is often the case even if you are stone cold sober on New Year’s Eve. You do not need me to remind you what went wrong last year or to help you to imagine what might go wrong next year. What you and I need is Jesus, his Name anchored in our hearts and minds, his Name governing our actions and his Name on our lips. The only Light, Food and Medicine we can depend on
come what may.

The Name which is above all other names that

At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow

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