Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name. It is the eighth day of Christmas, the day on which Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple, offering him to God with the appointed sacrifices. In Judaism, this was the occasion on which the father named the child, and for Jewish boys, this was the day of their circumcision, which set them apart from all others and marked them as belonging to God’s holy people, Israel. “The Word became flesh and lived among us”… as a young Jewish boy.
We recognize, don’t we, that there is power in a name. In ancient Israel, and in other ancient cultures, there was believed to be a close connection between a person’s name and their soul. It was as if their identity, their personality, their temperament, and their character were all bound up in their name. To know someone’s name was to gain insight into them, perhaps even power over them. Recall the story of Jacob wrestling with a mysterious stranger throughout the night beside the river Jabbok, refusing to let go and demanding to know the stranger’s name (Gen. 32:29). Or remember in the gospels how demons tried to exercise power over Jesus by calling out his name and claiming to know who he was (Mark 3:11). There was power in knowing someone’s name.
To do something “in the name of” another person, or to evoke or call upon a person’ name, was an act of utmost weight and power because it made the other person effectively present in the transaction. Someone who was authorized to act “in the name of” another shared that person’s power and authority.
If these things were true of human names, they were even more true of the Divine Name. There was such power and majesty in that Name of God that the Jews did not permit it to be said aloud in the worship of the synagogue. The power and the glory of God were present and active in God’s Name. It was so powerful that to speak it was considered dangerous. To invoke the Name of God attentively and deliberately was to put oneself in God’s presence, to open oneself to God’s power, and to offer oneself as an instrument or as a living sacrifice in God’s hands.
On the eighth day, with his parents standing before Simeon in the temple, Jesus is given his name. In Luke’s gospel, it is the name that was revealed to Mary at the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel, who told her, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Luke 1:31). In Matthew’s gospel, it is Joseph who is given the name in a dream. The angel says to him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:20-21). “Yeshua” in Hebrew, from which we derive the name “Jesus,” means “the Lord is salvation.”
That Name has power. In the gospels, demons are cast out and people are healed through the Name of Jesus. Jesus promises his followers that whatever they ask in His Name shall be given to them (Jn 16:23). He instructs them to make disciples in every nation, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). The apostle Peter proclaims that there is salvation only in the Name of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 4:10-12) and the apostle Paul foresees the day when “at the Name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10).
These Biblical references to the power of Jesus’ Name that form the basis and foundation for the “Jesus Prayer,” a prayer that has been most widely used in the Eastern Orthodox tradition but has also gained acceptance in the West. In this prayer the Name of Jesus is a visible and effective sign of God’s presence and action, being linked to his divine personhood. When we invoke the Name of Jesus in faith and trust, we are uniting ourselves with him, joining our will to his will, making ourselves one with him.
How might you incorporate this powerful Name into your prayer? Anthony de Mello, the Jesuit spiritual master, suggests this method:
You might imagine yourself standing before Jesus, de Mello suggests, or picture him enthroned in your heart or in your mind… Once you have pictured him and have quieted yourself in his presence, you can simply begin to repeat the Name each time you breathe in or breathe out… Or, if this feels too frequent, repeat the Name every three or four breaths… If you are alone, you can pronounce it vocally in a soft voice…
“If, after a time, you tire of pronouncing the Name, rest for a while, then take up the recitation again, somewhat as a bird does when it flaps its wings for a while and then glides for a while, then flaps its wings again…
“Notice what you feel when you pronounce his name…
“After a while, pronounce his name with different sentiments and attitudes. First pronounce it with desire. Without saying the words “Lord, I desire you,” convey this sentiment to him through the way you recite his name…
“Do this for some time, then take up another attitude. One of trust. Through your recitation of his Name say to him, “Lord, I trust you.” Go on, after some time, to other sentiments, to adoration and love and repentance and praise and gratitude and surrender…
“Now imagine you hear him pronounce your name… as he pronounced Mary of Magdala’s name on the morning of the resurrection… No one will ever pronounce your name in quite the way that Jesus does… With what sentiments does he pronounce your name? What do you feel when you hear him pronounce your name?”
(Anthony de Mello, SJ; Sadhana: A Way to God, pp. 115-117.)
Call upon him in times of trouble and in times of rejoicing. Speak his Name with focus and attention, with love and devotion, with desire and longing, and with an open heart. You will find yourself being drawn increasingly into his heart of love. In the power of this Name, you will be able to overcome any trouble. Do not fear; only believe.
For further reading:
The Power of the Name: The Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality; by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia; (Fairacres Publications, Oxford, 1982).
The Jesus Prayer: Gospel Soundings; by Sr. Pauline Margaret, CHN; (Fairacres Publications, Oxford, 2008).
 Transferred from January 1st.
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