Monday, January 3, 2011

Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus: Believing in the Name of Jesus Means "Re-Naming" Jesus!

In today's first reading from daily Mass from the First Letter of John, the author states that one of God's commandments is to "believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ" (1 John 3:23). This implies much more than merely acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior and is especially worth pondering on this Feast day of the Holy Name of Jesus.

Belief in the name of Jesus points not to what Jesus has done, but, more importantly, it reveals who Jesus is and who Jesus continues to be for us. The name "Jesus" means, "God saves." Throughout the history of Christianity, the Church has associated many titles with Jesus' name in an attempt to articulate more precisely how God saves through Christ: Wonder Counselor, Prince of Peace, Son of God, Son of Mary, Alpha, Omega, Light of the World, Word Made Flesh, Messiah, Savior, Good Shepherd, etc. Given this history and the litany of titles associated with Jesus and his name, it would appear that faith in the Holy Name of Jesus requires not only believing in the name of Jesus itself, nor even professing the name with our lips, but, more importantly, engaging in the process of actively "renaming" the way in which "God saves" in Jesus.

Yesterday I had an interesting and thought provoking conversation with a fellow passenger on a flight from Minneapolis to Orlando. Shortly after she found out that I was a priest, we began talking about our mutually held Christian faith. One thing that I shared with her is the conviction that if the Christian faith is to be a dynamic and relevant force in our world, we must be constantly seeking ways to express the saving mystery of God in a manner that people of the 21st century can relate to and appreciate. In other words, the task of Christians is, in a very real sense, to "rename" the experience of Jesus in ways that people who live in a world marked by much complexity, technology, tension, stress, and unparalleled suffering can readily relate to. In the last thirty or so years, and in the face of much oppression and suffering, the Church of Latin American renamed the experience of the saving mystery of Jesus as one of "liberation." To this day Jesus continues to be known in Latin American Church circles as "Liberator." This is one example of the "task" of what belief and faith in the name of Jesus entails for every Christian: the process of naming for ourselves and the world the way in which God continues to "save us" in and through the name of Jesus. Pat, TOR