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?

What Child Is This?

I’m sitting next to my week-old grandson on Christmas Eve while he peacefully sleeps. His three older brothers are occupied in pretend battles and other pursuits common to little boys. But back to baby Peregrine…

On the eve of the celebration of our Savior’s birth, little Peregrine gives me insight into the fragility with which our God entered our world. He was totally dependent on his mother for everything that he needed. He subjected himself to our weakest and most vulnerable state to become one of us and offer us his greatest gift–our salvation!

This morning I read a quote from St. Hilary of Poitiers that captures the essence of this Christmas miracle:

“What worthy return can we make for so great a condescension? The One Only-begotten God, ineffably born of God, entered the Virgin’s womb and grew and took the frame of poor humanity. He who upholds the universe, within whom and through whom are all things, was brought forth by common childbirth. He at whose voice archangels and angels tremble, and heaven and earth and all the elements of this world are melted, was heard in childish wailing. The Invisible and Incomprehensible, whom sight and feeling and touch cannot measure, was wrapped in a cradle.”

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Thank you Jesus! Merry Christmas!

What Child Is This?

Jesus Inevitably Brings Division

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Roman Catholic Man

The Youth Synod is Rome is mercifully in its last week. Reading and watching reports coming out of the Vatican has been like watching an impending train wreck in slow motion. You can see what is happening, you are in anguish, you even cry out to give warning, but to no avail. The car crossing the tracks will be obliterated by the oncoming train whose conductor is either asleep at the controls or willfully planning to ram into the car.

Now that may sound uncharitable or judgmental, but sometimes the truth is hard to say and hard to hear. This morning’s Gospel reading is one of those passages where our Lord speaks and we jerk ourselves to attention and say, “What?” In case you weren’t in Mass this morning, you can read it here:

Jesus: A Cause of Division.“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49–53 NABRE)

This is one of those passages that we would like to say that Jesus obviously doesn’t really mean what he is saying. Isn’t he the Prince of Peace? Didn’t the angels announce at his birth: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14)? He is, and they did!

We are uncomfortable with a Jesus who says he has come to set the earth on fire and he wishes it was already blazing. Bishop Robert Barron this morning in his devotional based on this passage writes, “He’s throwing fire down, much like the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.” He’s right and it’s the same God! This does not fit with the popular concept of Jesus “meek and mild” who looks and acts more like a 1960s flower child then the eternal holy God of the universe.

Jesus came to our world with a specific purpose. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” The only way that we can be brought to peace with God is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ His Son. But that doesn’t mean we get to say, “Thanks, Jesus! We’re good! I’ll quote you and give lip service to you, but for the most part I’m going to keep doing what I want to do and live in the way that makes me happy.”

And then Jesus asks that all important question: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Human beings want their cake and eat it too. We want peace without the cross. Oh, it’s OK in our minds that Jesus died on the cross, but don’t ask us to get anywhere near the cross ourselves. “I don’t want to die. I want to live. I want to be happy. I want to be fulfilled. I want to be free to express myself in the way that I determine is best for me.” Those words are heard and read everyday of the week and when they come from the lips of “Christians” they are lukewarm puke that Jesus can’t stomach.

Following Jesus causes division! In the family, in the workplace, in society, in the nation, and in the world. When we deny the rightful place of Jesus to apply his fire and sword to our lives in order to conform us to His righteousness, we automatically divide ourselves from him.

That’s what’s so disturbing about what seems to be happening in Rome this month. A Protestant theologian who writes for First Things and other publications, Carl Trueman, wrote today in Public Discourse, the Journal of the Witherspoon Institute the following:

Whatever side one chooses in the Reformation of the sixteenth century—be it Bellarmine or Calvin—one thing is for sure: the Tridentine Catholics and the Magisterial Protestants were debating matters of real, ultimate significance. I am a Protestant by conviction and have very serious disagreements with Rome, but I regard traditional Catholicism as asking the right questions and providing substantial answers about the nature of sin, redemption, grace, faith, the sacraments, and eternal destiny. Christianity is a religion with a holy God and a tragic vision of a magnificent but fallen humanity at its core, so tragic that only a bloody sacrifice—the sacrifice of God Incarnate—can atone. I may reject the Mass but I can at least see that it marks the centerpiece of a serious theology and ecclesiology and is attempting to address the complexity of the human condition. By contrast Instrumentum Laboris (Synod of Youth) points to a church that seems to be losing sight of those central issues. The Catholic Church could well be exchanging her theological birthright for a Mass of sociological potage.

Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church and only He can rescue her from “this present darkness.” “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Amen.

Jesus Inevitably Brings Division

We Have Been Given a Trust

Today’s Gospel reading picks up where yesterday’s reading left off. Jesus tells a parable about a home invasion. He says, “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Luke 12:39–40 NABRE).

Then Peter, speaking for all of us, asks, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” (Luke 12:41). Jesus then teaches an important truth that is universal for all of us: the more we are entrusted with from God, the more is required of us. In fact, he says:

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48).

At this point we can echo Peter’s question: “Lord, is this…meant for us or for everyone?” I know my mind went immediately to those in Christian ministry, especially after spending more than 30 years in evangelical pastoral ministry. In my present circumstances I think of my priests, the bishops and cardinals, even the pope. They are the ones who have been entrusted with much and even still more.

Let me pause here for a moment and say that it is incumbent upon us to pray earnestly for those who are responsible for our spiritual care. There is a string of passages in Hebrews 13 that speak to this:

Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

17 Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are confident that we have a clear conscience, wishing to act rightly in every respect. 19 I especially ask for your prayers that I may be restored to you very soon.

At the same time that we pray for our spiritual leaders, we have to recognize that we too have been entrusted with much: life, health, talent, treasure, family, time, and especially as Christians, the call to make a difference with our lives. How are we stewarding that trust?

A. W. Tozer, an American evangelical pastor of the past century was fond of challenging his listeners and readers to “live with eternity’s values in view.” I quote him:

“The spiritual man habitually makes eternity-judgments instead of time-judgments. By faith he rises above the tug of earth and the flow of time and learns to think and feel as one who has already left the world and gone to join the innumerable company of angels and the general assembly and Church of the First-born which are written in heaven. Such a man would rather be useful than famous and would rather serve than be served. And all this must be by the operation of the Holy Spirit within him. No man can become spiritual by himself. Only the free Spirit can make a man spiritual.”

I know of no better way to recapture eternity’s values than participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as in that moment in time we on earth are united with heaven celebrating the timeless sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out:

“To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor, glory and might,
forever and ever.”

The four living creatures answered, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:13–14 NABRE)

With a full and grateful heart join with the angelic chorus today! You have been entrusted with much!

We Have Been Given a Trust

Angel of God, My Guardian Dear

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As a child living in the jungle interior of Suriname, South America, I frequently would visit the home of my widowed aunt and her two children who lived on the same mission compound as my family. One of the things in her home that captured my attention was the painting of the guardian angel watching over two small children crossing a very unstable bridge over a river full of rapids. The children seem so unaware of the danger, perhaps because they are young and innocent, but maybe because of the protection of their guardian angel.

Beyond that painting I don’t remember being taught that I had a guardian angel, yet I can also say nobody taught me to the contrary. Jesus actually teaches about guardian angels in the Gospel of Matthew (18:1-10 NRSV).

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.

And if that wasn’t enough the writer to the Hebrews (1:14) tells us: “Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” I can almost guarantee dear reader, that at some point in your life, you have a time in which you sensed protection from an invisible force, when you have looked back and maybe even declared, “God must have sent me an angel!”

God has assigned us this protection from our guardian angel. This angel continually sees the face of our Father in heaven. What a wonderful and sweet connection! This is better than any secret service detail afforded to the president and other high level officials. We don’t own the angel; we can’t tell the angel what to do; we don’t name the angel or try to control the angel.

Here is the prayer that Catholic children learn early in life:

Angel of God
My guardian dear
To Whom His love
Commits me here
Ever this day
Be at my side
To light and guard
To rule and guide. Amen.

On this feast day of the Holy Guardian Angels, we pray, “O God, who in your unfathomable providence are pleased to send your holy Angels to guard us, hear our supplication as we cry to you, that we may always be defended by their protection and rejoice eternally in their company. 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.

Image from Appalachian Magazine
Angel of God, My Guardian Dear

“So I was afraid…”

The Gospel reading at the Mass this morning was from Matthew 25:14–30, “The Parable of the Talents.” It is one of the better known parables our Lord told. Matthew positions it between the parable of the ten bridesmaids and the judgment of the nations. I won’t reiterate it here, but I encourage you to take time to read it.

As you may remember there is a man who goes on a trip and he entrusts his property to three slaves: to one ten talents, to another five, and to a third one talent. The slave with one talent, we are told, “went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money” (Matthew 25:18 NRSV).

When the master returns, he asks all the slaves to give an account, and the man with the one talent replies, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24–25 NRSV). The master was not at all pleased with the slave and had him thrown “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30 NRSV).

Fr. Tim highlighted one part of the parable to speak on in his homily, which I have highlighted above. “So I was afraid…” and I basically did nothing with what you gave me. How often do we not take action out of fear? We might be afraid to take a stand for Jesus, His kingdom and His Church. We might be afraid to say “no” in the face of peer pressure or temptation because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. We may be afraid to use our talents or gifts to serve the Church and others because we diminish the gift we have been given.

Back on April 14, I confessed that fear to my confessor. I wrote about it in one of my earlier blogs. It took me almost four months to obey the impression I had from our Lord and the direct word from my priest to start blogging. This morning’s word from Fr. Tim was another confirmation that I cannot live in my little “monastic cell” and let everything go on around me. There is great joy in obedience! There is a whole lot to lose in disobedience. I will not be afraid!

“So I was afraid…”

The Bigger Agenda

Pope Francis has made one brief statement in response to the incriminating document released by former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò on Sunday. He said:

“I will not say one word on this. I think this statement speaks for itself, and you have sufficient journalistic capacity to reach your own conclusions. When time will pass and you’ll draw the conclusions, maybe I will speak. But I’d like that you do this job in a professional way.”

I have admired Pope Francis even before I was Catholic. I cheered his election as someone from the Western Hemisphere who had served the Church in a Latin culture and understood the concerns and issues of those of the Southern Hemisphere where the Church is growing and more dynamic than the Northern Hemisphere. I have wanted to give him every benefit of the doubt, even when some of his statements seemed problematic.

However on the topic of sexual abuse, his actions have not matched up to his earlier commitment of “zero tolerance” for those who use their position of power to abuse children, adolescents and even adults, specifically seminarians.

The situation in the U.S. is not unique. And the seeming slowness to respond to those who suffer has surfaced in Chile and Honduras most recently.

Not only is Pope Francis silent. But while we all watch and wonder, a self-appointed spokesman for the pope, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, spoke up to defend Francis in an interview with NBC News. He stated:

“The pope has a bigger agenda. He’s got to get on with other things, of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the Church. We’re not going to go down a rabbit hole on this.”

Most faithful Catholics would agree that there is a time and a place to talk about the environment. And if we’re ranking issues, protecting migrants should be above the environment, in my humble opinion. However, the Church, especially her prelates will have no moral authority to carry on the work of the Church, protect migrants or worry about the environment, if first they do not in humility seek the truth, and root out the rottenness that allows this depravity to continue.

Thinking about Jesus, who is the founder of the Church, He has some specific words that seem to go to the heart of this:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30, NRSV)

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6 NRSV)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15, NRSV)

In love it is time to speak the truth as Jesus did. It is better for those who have authority in the Church to excise that thing that causes sin–lose that–better that, than end up eternally in hell! If by your actions, actively or passively, you place a stumbling block before God’s children who look to you for spiritual guidance, Jesus has a special millstone that will have your name engraved on it. And finally, if you are saying one thing with your mouth, but living a lie and leading the flock astray, not only are you a child of hell, but hell will be your destiny.

For the love of God, for the love of Christ’s Church, for the love of the flock, and for the care of your soul–if you are living a lie–it’s not too late to confess and surrender yourself to the mercy of Almighty God. If you don’t, you are no good to us or to Jesus Christ and His Church.

The Bigger Agenda