The Holy Name – Pastor’s Reflection (December 31, 2017)
Next to August, January might be my favorite month to be in New York. Sure, its cold; granted there may be blizzards, but a marvelous quiet also steals over the city. After all the hurly burly of Christmas and New Year’s what a treat to walk out onto a cold, clear Sunday morning. After a few steps, arctic energy kicks in and one establishes a vigorous harmony with winter. Manhattan though has no monopoly on this; the shore can so lift my spirit on such a day that I am sure June will come if only I walk a little faster.
In the days of true winter, hidden in plain sight, lies one of the calendar’s greatest opportunities for reflection and prayer. Official Church agencies have not yet found out about this time, so no hype announces it. Here is the time to be productively unbothered. After the thunder of O Come, All Ye Faithful, and before the Lenten solemnity of Lord, who throughout These Forty Days, we need a prayer for that winter walk in the park, or for tea by the fire. This prayer will allow us to let an unfelt sorrow rise to the surface, or a long unmet longing, or an unacknowledged happiness.
As God’s providence would arrange, the season itself offers a suggestion. On January 1 the Gospel for the Solemnity of Mary employs the Gospel of the circumcision and naming of Jesus.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given to him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)
The tradition begins to regard that Name as powerful in itself. Consider St. Paul’s lyrical passage in his Letter to the Philippians, “At the Name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on the earth…” (Phil. 2) The Acts of the Apostles corroborates this witness. Peter, accompanied by James and John, says to a beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, “I have neither silver or gold, but what I do have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” (Acts. 3, 1-6)
By the way, if you visit the creche at St. Vincent Ferrer look straight up and you will see this scene from Acts in the little window. It is not for nothing that are you standing in the “Holy Name Chapel.”
Somehow the name becomes a sacrament of the person, and to this day we give a quick bow of the head when the Liturgy mentions the Holy Name. The name connects to the one named. If you harbor doubts here think about being in love. What is the effect of the beloved’s name when seen attached to a gift or heard in a message? Consider also the power of our own name. When we make marriage vows, or religious vows, we use only the “first name.”
Jesus builds upon the power of the name to make his name a one word prayer. These two syllables carry so much: sorrow, longing, entrustment, and praise. One wonders how many people pack all of this onto the Holy Name because emotion or health will not allow them to form even a sentence. We will never know how many Christians mustered only this word in the last seconds of fleshly life, and who doubts that it did the work of volumes.
If the Holy Name accesses the Holy Savior, it also reaches inward to ourselves. We use the Name of Jesus viscerally and so our inflection of it may teach us about our own hearts if we will but listen to ourselves. Sometimes we use this name of the Most Beloved in ways we regret, but these moments also tell us the story of our stress and anger. Holy Name Societies have worked to end swearing, but the sacramental power of the Name suggests that this demands a more profound conversion than governing our tongue for politeness’ sake.
The prayer of the Holy Name invites us to an ongoing intimacy with the Savior. This is a companionship we can carry with us and within us even when winter’s quiet yields to the resurgence of activity in the “spring semester.” The prayer holds a promise that even our instinctive reactions can change under the renovating power of the Gospel.
The Liturgy has given the Holy Name uneven treatment. It has recently returned to the calendar as an optional celebration on January 3.