If you had a ‘swear box’ in the kitchen or the car and every time you used the name of Jesus you had to put in two euro, would there be much in it at the end of the day? The end of the week? I actually believe it is the worst swear word we can use. Worse than any other. Unfortunately I do swear from time to time but I have tried for a few years now to use words, that are recognised ‘bad words’ but not the Holy Name. I also believe no other group disrespect the name of God as much as we do. The young Jew, the young Muslim, none of them swear by God’s name to the degree that Christians do. Sadly I believe we Catholics are the worst offenders in this regard. Of course there are various degrees of this from those for whom it is an occasional slip to those who can hardly utter a sentence without the abuse of this most holy name. Indeed we often minimise it. Surely it’s not such a big deal? Or is it? As one man said to me recently, ‘sure Father, I could say worse’. That in itself is an interesting question. Could you actually say worse? Admittedly for the most part it is thoughtlessness. For many it is a habit. Perhaps if we give it more thought it would help us break the habit. I think at least part of the reason that we have cheapened this most sacred name is because we have become numbed to its beauty. Perhaps we were never made aware of its power.
We are reminded in the letter to the Philippians that the Lord said
‘ For it is written, ‘ As I live, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.’ ( Phil 2:10).
A key question about this is why? Why according to St. Paul, in the name of Jesus will every knee bend? The answer of course is that the name reminds us of God’s great love for us, the Incarnation. Namely God made man. God made flesh. If only we could remember every time we say the name Jesus that we are recalling that God loved us so much that he became one of us, in all our poverty and all our brokenness. If we were more conscious of this we would not use the name so lightly or thoughtlessly. It is of course a translation of Yeshua and it is a name that has brought comfort and healing. The beauty of the name is of course rooted in the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The name therefore is steeped in compassion, in gentleness and in mercy.
For me perhaps even more important than the beauty of the name is the power that it holds. This is actually well documented through history. In 1274 Pope Gregory X in the face of great dangers in the world and in the Church exhorted the frequent prayerful repetition of the Holy Name of Jesus. In the devastating plague that engulfed Lisbon in 1432 it was said that it was the widespread repetition of the Holy Name that saved the city. Throughout the centuries many of the saints had special devotion to the name of Jesus. St. Bernard got great joy and comfort from repeating the Holy Name, as did St. Augustine. The great St. Ignatius of Loyola gave to his great order not his own name but rather he called it the Society of Jesus. Francis de Sales felt sure that those who regularly repeated the name of Jesus prayerfully could rely on a happy and holy death. When St. Frances of Rome describes her ‘dialogue’ with the angel she records the delight of the angel when she said the name of Jesus. Indeed other saints, including St. Gemma, remark how they had encountered the devil and how enraged and frightened he was at the mention of the Holy Name of Jesus.
So we quickly see that when we throw the name of Jesus around thoughtlessly or even disrespectfully, we are a long way from both its beauty and its power. We would be making great progress in the spiritual life and on our pilgrim journey if we could resolve to deal with this issue once and for all. Our resolution could have two aspects to it. The first is to do everything we can to stop saying the name of Jesus in a thoughtless or disrespectful way. Not to say it in anger. The second aspect of this resolution is to begin the habit of whispering the name of Jesus as prayer. First thing in the morning and last thing at night. Jesus help me. Jesus protect me. Jesus heal me. Jesus forgive me. Jesus I am sorry. Jesus I love you.