What’s in a Name?

Several years ago I was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping in a department store in midtown Manhattan. I was “on line” to check out. The cashiers were doing their best is accommodate the customers and get them on their way. Suddenly, one of the cashiers on seeing her manager approach cried out: “O Jesus, we’ve been waiting for you! I’m so glad you came!”

I stood there somewhat surprised by what I had heard. It sounded like an Advent/Christmas message wrapped up in two sentences. I quickly realized that Jesus had probably been born Jesús and that the English pronunciation of his name instead of Spanish sounded out of place in the retail setting. Yet Jesus, Jesús, Jésus, Gesú, Иисус, 耶穌, Ιησούς or אלוהים is not just any name, but as Christians declare that “name above all names!” (Philippians 2:9). There really is a lot in this name!

The angel told Mary, “And behold. you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31 RSV). And then in a dream the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20b–21 RSV).

Today is the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Jesus would have been officially named on the eighth day after his birth at the time of his circumcision. His name, Jesus, means “God saves.” This is what the angel told Joseph: “for he will save his people from their sins.” Again and again in the New Testament we see salvation tied to the name of Jesus.

  • Acts 2:38—And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Acts 3:6—But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk.”
  • Acts 4:12—”And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
  • Philippians 2:9–11—Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Collect for The Most Holy Name of Jesus

O God, who founded the salvation of the human race
on the Incarnation of your Word,
give your peoples the mercy they implore,
so that all may know there is no other name to be invoked
but the Name of your Only Begotten Son.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What’s in a Name?

A Stumbling Block for Many

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I just returned from Mass celebrating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It was wonderful to see the church completely full on this holy day of obligation. It was my privilege to be one of the lectors, reading from Genesis 3.

Coming from an evangelical heritage I understand the issues someone from that tradition may have with a day like today. Many point to the fact that it wasn’t until 1854 that Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be dogma in his encyclical Ineffabilis Deus, “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

This dogma did not come out of thin air. The Church through the centuries held this to be true, and then in defense of the divinity of Jesus Christ in the 19th century, the dogma was declared, not as something novel, but in accord with the time-honored beliefs of the Church, not to elevate Mary, but to glorify Jesus and his salvific work in and through his mother. Here is a sampling of what previous churchmen have said:

“Let us not imagine that we obscure the glory of the Son by the great praise we lavish on the Mother; for the more she is honored, the greater is the glory of her Son. There can be no doubt that whatever we say in praise of the Mother gives equal praise to the Son.”—St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 1090–1153.

From a sermon by Saint Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury (1093–1109)—

Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night—everything that is subject to the power or use of man—rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless for men or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by the acts of men who served idols. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendor by men who believe in God.

The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.

To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.

Truly the Lord is with you, to whom the Lord granted that all nature should owe as much to you as to himself. (Oratio 52: PL 158, 955-956, from The Liturgy of the Hours, December 8)

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

A Stumbling Block for Many

The Great Accuser

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We first meet the “great accuser” in Genesis 3, in the Garden of Eden. It is there that the serpent engages Eve in  conversation. He asks her a question about God and begins to plant doubts in her mind. Eve falls into the serpent’s trap, as would we, and when she restates God’s command with additions, the conversation continues with Satan accusing God:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5 NRSV).

We see the “great accuser” again in the book of Job, in the first chapter, and there Satan presents himself before God along with the other heavenly beings. Job becomes the subject of conversation and evidently he had become a source of irritation for the evil one who accuses Job of being faithful to God only because of God’s many blessings. Thereupon the conversation takes a fateful twist. Satan is given the power to afflict Job, but not take his life, in order to prove his allegiance to God. That’s a conversation we hope doesn’t ever take place with our name inserted! The story ends with Satan disproved and Job faithful to God and all things he lost and more restored to him, but the “great accuser” doesn’t hang up the tools of his trade.

We see him again in the early chapters of the synoptic Gospels after the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism. During a period of 40 days and nights, during which time Jesus fasted, Satan plies his trade attempting to defeat his greatest target to date. We know of three of the temptations or category of temptations, matching the same tactics that the devil uses on each of us. Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread (desire of the flesh), to jump off the pinnacle of the temple into the rescuing arms of the angels (desire of the eyes), and to bow down and worship Satan and be given all the kingdoms of the world (the pride in riches). “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NRSV).

The “great accuser” is referred to again in the book of Revelation. There we read the words of the apostle John:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
    and the kingdom of our God
    and the authority of his Anointed.
For the accuser of our brothers is cast out,

who accuses them before our God day and night.
They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
    love for life did not deter them from death. (Revelation 12:10-11 NABRE)

What we see in every one of these situations where the “great accuser” is at work, he is falsely accusing: God, Job, Jesus, and our brothers whose holy reputation is being dragged into the mud by Satan. How do these brothers in Revelation overcome the accuser? By the blood of the Lamb–their sins were covered by His blood–and by the word of their testimony–they lived a life beyond reproach–and the accuser’s accusations could not stick.

Yesterday Pope Francis made this statement in his homily at Mass: “It seems that the Great Accuser has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible, in order to scandalize the people.”

We want to give the Holy Father the benefit of the doubt, but honestly his comment confuses. Our sins are not uncovered by the Great Accuser, but by the Holy Spirit. And when [the Spirit] comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” (John 16:8-11 NRSV). We can trust the Holy Spirit to poke and prod at our lives, convicting us of sin. And if we do not respond, for our good and the good of his holy Church, he will bring to light the things that have been hidden in the darkness (1 Corinthians 4:5).

We are living in challenging times! Don’t let the work that the Holy Spirit is doing scandalize you. Satan and the scandals he has authored are being exposed. The deceiver wants to pull the wool back over our eyes.  Pray for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I heard someone respond to the statement that our Blessed Mother must be weeping over the Church. His answer was: “No, Mary is not weeping, she is sweeping!”

Lord, cleanse your Church and begin with me! Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!

The Great Accuser

I’ll Say a Little Prayer for You

When we were first married, my wife used to ask me to “whisper a prayer” whenever a situation would arise. At that time I thought her expression was quaint, maybe even lacking a degree of seriousness. However, it was not like her to not take prayer seriously. In those years of our marriage when prayer was struggle for me, Charlotte was steadfast and committed to “whisper up” a prayer that always seemed very effectual.

My track record with prayer was somewhat spotty. My reputation on prayer was “when all is said and done, more is said than done!” In seminary I took a class on prayer with a requirement to write a final paper. I didn’t get the paper in, but my professor gave me the grade anyway. He retired at the end of the semester. When I confessed the paper fail to his successor, he told me to write the paper and get it to him. That was 36 years ago!

I’m not saying I didn’t pray. I did, probably not as consistently as someone in ministry should have, but I prayed. And it always felt like a burden to pray for everyone I should pray for, and it took a lot of energy to state to God how those prayers should be answered. I am being a little facetious, but pastors are good at framing prayers to either instruct the listeners or give coaching hints to God on how everything should come down.

I dabbled in all kinds of prayer techniques and programs: “Change the World School of Prayer,” praying for the “10-40 Window,” “Freedom in Christ” prayers, “Concerts of Prayer,” 24-7 prayer, prayer retreats, all good in and of themselves, but after a while I would have to move on to something else.

Over many years, and especially in the last five, I have learned that the key components to prayer are first, making time for it, second is a commitment to pray for specific people, specific needs and specific causes, third is the commitment to spend that time with Jesus. A growing conviction in my life has been the challenge from Jesus himself, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41, NRSV).

For me it started by incorporating a daily prayer guide. I started with Phyllis Tickle’s multi-volume Divine Hours. From there I moved on to the Book of Common Prayer. And as I was journeying into the Catholic Church and to the present I have made the Divine Office: Liturgy of the Hours my daily companion. I couple that with the Saint Paul Daily Missal that incorporates the readings and prayers of the Mass.

That is great! But how do I pray effectively for the concerns that I have, the people who ask me for prayer, and the burdens I sense from the world around me? Over time I have developed quite a list of prayers and pray concerns. There are prayers that I pray every day, prayers have a specific day focus, and even a monthly focus. I incorporate well-known prayers from the Church as well as ask for the intercession of my patron saint and other saints who are known to have specific concern for marriages, different illnesses, and world affairs.

I would be remiss if I did not mention again the important place the Rosary has played in my devotional life and growing discipleship. Who better to guide and instruct us in prayer than the one who knew how to ask of her Son, and then who tells us “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5 NRSV). Another great gift to prayer is spending time in the Adoration Chapel. There, as I sit or kneel before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I can wait before Him, open my heart and leave with Him the concerns that He wants me to share. I have been privileged to spend specific time there praying for my bishop, my priest, my loved ones, my friend who is soon to announce his resignation as pastor to come into the Catholic Church and many other things to come.

I love to pray, now! I haven’t written that paper, but Jesus has been writing it on my heart. So, “I’ll say a little prayer for you!”

I’ll Say a Little Prayer for You

Happy Birthday Mother!

Today is not my mother’s birthday, not the mother who gave me birth. Her birthday is September 26, and I haven’t been able to celebrate that day with her for the past 27 years, since her unexpected death in 1991.

However, I do get to celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our God, Jesus Christ. Each September 8 the Roman Church, as well as many Anglicans, celebrate the birth of Mary, nine months following the Immaculate Conception on December 8. The Church has been celebrating Mary’s birth since the sixth century. The Church only celebrates the births of three people: Jesus on December 25, Mary on September 8, and John the Baptist on June 24.

The “Saint of the Day” website from Franciscan Media for this day refers to St. Augustine:

Saint Augustine connects Mary’s birth with Jesus’ saving work. He tells the earth to rejoice and shine forth in the light of her birth. “She is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley. Through her birth the nature inherited from our first parents is changed.”

In honor our blessed Mother’s birthday, let us pray the words of the Collect from today’s Mass.

Impart to your servants, we pray, O Lord, the gift of heavenly grace, that the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin may bring deeper peace to those for whom the birth of her Son was the dawning of salvation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Happy birthday Blessed Mother! Pray for us!

Happy Birthday Mother!

Our Stomachs Tied in Knots

After the announcement of serious allegations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at the end of July, many Catholics, myself included, wondered when the other shoe would drop. Well, you might say a boatload of shoes were dropped on Tuesday at the press conference of the Pennsylvania attorney general and his report on the abuse perpetrated by 300 priests on 1000 victims over the past 70 years in six dioceses of that state, that had been covered up by superiors, some of them, now in higher levels of church leadership.

As much as all of this creates knots in our stomachs, none of this can be swept under the rug–not now, not ever! We are seeing that while actual incidents of abuse/predation are down since 2002, there has been, in a sense, only a bandage applied to the gaping wound. For the Church to be healthy and holy, the wounds have to be sterilized and cauterized and there will most likely need to be some debriding and even amputation!

That will start with each one of us. Let’s confess where we’re complicit: not praying like we should, not living like we should, not having any noticeable difference between our lives as Christians and the pagan world around us. When we have taken care of our own household, we can call our leaders to account and we must.

Last evening I attended Mass at the Basilica in Philadelphia to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As I prayed with knots in my stomach I remembered that our Lady is the “undoer of knots.” Back in the second century St. Irenaeus in his classic work “Against Heresies” presents a parallel between Eve and
Mary, describing how “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.”

We need the prayers and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this time of great knots. Blessed Virgin Mary, take into thy hands today this knot. I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all! In thy Immaculate Heart I place my hope! O Blessed Virgin Mary, undoer of knots, pray for us! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Our Stomachs Tied in Knots