On speaking the Holy Name

I’m a big believer in small, achievable goals. There are times when it’s appropriate to take a giant leap and commit to drastic changes, and there are times when drastic changes are forced upon us, and we have to decide whether to handle it poorly or well. But most of life is about little things. It’s the little things that end up being big.

The name of Jesus is one such “little thing.” I say it’s little because it comes into our life so rapidly, and then disappears again. It takes a fraction of a second to say; it takes up a tiny space in print or on your phone screen. Just a little breath of air, a precarious second on the lips and tongue, or a little sliver of dark pixels on a bright field, and then it’s gone again: Jesus.

So, how do we treat this name? Carefully. Carefully, is my advice. I hope that most Catholics will, at least, refrain from using the Holy Name as a curse word, or as an exclamation of surprise. If not, that’s the place to start. When you say “Jesus,” mean Jesus, and not anything else.

(I’m thinking of my mother, who willingly took her elderly Jewish parents into our home to care for them, but eventually got fed up with hearing her father use “Jesus” as an expression of irritation. She eventually blurted out, “You know, Dad, if you keep calling him, he’s going to show up.” That made him stop!)

If you can eradicate actual profane use of the name of Jesus from your own vocabulary, a reasonable next step is to make a commitment to show reverence to the name when other people use it, either rightly or wrongly. Some people will say “Blessed be the name of Jesus” as a small act of reparation, if they hear someone using the name irreverently.

If you’re not up for that (and it can be very awkward, depending on the situation), you can probably manage to bow your head whenever you hear the name. Bowing one’s head at the name of Jesus is a good practice on any occasion, whether you’re making reparation for irreverence, or simply showing reverence when someone uses the name appropriately. It doesn’t have to be a big, showy thing. Just lower your eyes and bow your head briefly.

What is the point of all this? It’s a practice that I think of as putting things in their proper order. Order doesn’t sound like much until you’ve lived with profound disorder…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: A male face with head bowed, expressing veneration. Engraving by M. Engelbrecht (?), 1732, after C. Le BrunCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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One thought on “On speaking the Holy Name”

  1. “If we have not fixed Jesus as the immovable centre, with everything else remaining negotiable, then there can be no order.”

    The idea of “immovable” and “center” are as problematic as they may be comforting.

    When it comes to “immovable” the modern mind is forced to imagine what may be outside of space and time where every “thing” seems to hurtle away from every other “thing” at speeds faster than the speed of light even as they dizzyingly collide, collapse, and swirl in cycles inside cycles inside cycles of inter entangling dimensions. But that’s fine for Catholic theology perhaps to the extent it aligns with the concepts of transcendence and eternity (also outside of time).

    The metaphor of a “center” is even more problematic– and, of course, the “singularity” at the “origin” of any “Big Bang” does not offer any firm resolution as Georges Lemaître (the priest who first proposed it) cautioned Pope Pius XII. Still, we do like to imagine there is something “good”, “wise”, “loving” and “eternal” that is (or is at) our “center,” no matter how still and small it may be in the surrounding cyclones of pride, lust, arrogance, deceit, and fear that sometimes seem to fill us and often threaten to overcome us.

    Another metaphor for Christ has long been the “light” of the world. I think this works better to encapsulate the apparent dichotomy between “immanence” and “transcendence.” This metaphor makes Christ more like a guide and a goal. In it, we are moved to respond to its beckoning because there is something of a still small ember of a reflection of that light somewhere deep within our turmoil. But “still” (to me) does not mean “immovable” when it lies inside us where it must be something that “flutters” if only weakly. As for the beckoning light of justice, reconciliation, love, and unity that exists outside of us and which therefor must be reflected or absorbed by something within us… I fear any of my words would be obscenely beyond nonsense though I respect those like Hegel, Marx, and other theists and atheists who try to suggest how what seems to be *reflections* between some source and the multiple points of sentience are part of a vast process of mutual creation.

    If we think of “Christ” as what is *eternal*, inside and outside of all contradictions, and “Jesus” as Christ’s mortal incarnation then the attempted imitation of how Jesus lived and died a human life suggests so much involving goals, guides, challenges, and paradoxes. To consider the life, teachings, and gruesome death at the hand of an empire that ruled through terror is itself enough to force us to cry out in anguish. The historical Jesus was born about the time of Herod’s (a Roman client king) death whereupon Zealots in Judea launched a religio-nationlist revolt that provoked the empire to line the roads and byways of the land with thousands of crucified corpses left to dangle and rot in the sun after their prolonged and excruciating death passions. A biblical generation after Jesus’ own crucifixion, another rebellion prompted Rome to level the temple, destroy and evacuate Jerusalem, and send the Judean priestly and noble elite that survived the bloody war to die underground in Egyptian copper mines once they had finalized their (at the time) “new and improved” version of genocidal massacres.

    The four canonical Gospels were all written a biblical generation or more after the crucifixion. (A biblical generation is forty years.). They give us (despite certain contradictions) all we can know about the human life of Jesus and his teachings while he walked with mortal men. Paul does not seem to have begun writing until more than twenty years after the crucifixion (and therefore twenty years before the first officialized Gospel and the destruction of the sacrificial Temple) and never claimed to have met the flesh and blood Jesus. But, in his visions, he believed he met The True Christ and challenged those who had seen, heard, and touched a living Jesus with claims to an authority equal to theirs.

    When I ponder all these horrors, mysteries, paradoxes, contradictions, metaphors, and immensities, I’m still likely to cry out “Oh Jesus!” just as I might do so (even more profanely) when I’m confronted with other insuperable perplexing challenges such as those generated by my own venal stupidity or those of others, especially the “powers and principalities” of our day. But after that (though maybe not right away) it often seems right to bow my head and try to experience a bit of those mysterious immensities more humbly.

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