Sermon for the Circumcision of Our Lord and Divine Name of Jesus – January 1, 2012 by Monsignor Perez
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
First of all, a happy new year to everybody, and it is, of course, as usual, a year full of January 1st resolutions and hopes for the new year that we are just starting. And I think it is, of course, providential that we are beginning with the Feast of the Circumcision, the day on which Our Lord received the name that was given to Him that angels told the Blessed Virgin that He was to have when he was conceived at the Annunciation.
Normally, I would talk about the Holy Name, of course, which is what today’s Mass is basically about. But on the Feast of the Holy Name, which would be a Sunday, but because both Christmas and the Feast of the Circumcision came on a Sunday, it throws off the Sunday schedule just ever so slightly. So the Feast of the Holy Name is actually tomorrow. So I am going to preempt it a little bit by saying a few words about that subject.
Now, think of the Holy Name — in fact, think of any name. You know, when parents are going to have a child, they sometimes agonize, especially in our culture. I think some other cultures what you call your kid almost might be automatic, I’m not sure. But, you know, it’s a little easier. Yet, in our culture the parents just — oh, we get books and encyclopedias of names and everything. But there are so many considerations, you can see why they agonize. On the one hand there is, Well, what’s your last name, and what does it sound like with the first name you are thinking of is one thing they think of. That’s kind of a secular consideration. But, I mean, if your last name is Henry, as some people it is, we’ve had parishioners whose last name is Henry, then you probably don’t want to name the kid Henry, you know. Because that wouldn’t be good for the kid. You know how people save up for college? Well, you would have to save up for therapy for kids like that, because, you know, being named Henry Henry, it sounds cute and maybe the parents would think it would think it was a cute little joke, but then it has implications for the kid.
And you don’t want the names to sound, the first name and last names to clash, like if the last name is Beck, you don’t want the first name to be Chuck, or something, because the consonants kind of clash. So, they agonize. And then favorite saints play into that, what saint’s name you want to invoke for the patronage of this child. And in the Christian sense that should be kind of number one on the list. Not just is it a trendy kind of name, but what saints are involved. But also there are names that are family names that need to be considered. It’s like, okay, well, if it’s a boy, we’ll name it after your father first, and the second boy will be after your father, you know, this kind of thing. Families do all kinds of things. But they do literally agonize over the names for their new child and for all the above reasons.
In fact, people even hold their own names in a sort of reverence. Like sometimes you know you have like Thurston Howell, III. Well, if there’s a boy born, there’s all this — especially if the grandparents are still alive, there has to be a 4th and a 5th, and I’m not sure where this ends. I’ve never heard of like a 10th, except with like Pius’s. But I’ve never heard of people going on that one, but there is a certain amount of pressure there, too, to carry on family names. Those are held for secular reasons even in some amount of reverence.
And as far as people’s own names go, they want their name to be held in blessing and be remembered for something. Thus, they endow chairs at Universities in their name so their name will be remembered. Or if they have lots of money, they give money to the University to build the building or some charity with their name on it so that their name will, in fact, be remembered as being a benefactor.
Now, on this, then, the anniversary of when Our Lord Jesus Christ was given the name spoken by the angel, let’s consider a moment the wonders of this Holy Name. Think about the Holy Name, first of all, Jesus. This was the name that God Himself chose for Himself in His Incarnation from all eternity. That was the name He chose for Himself. There’s lots of things He could have been called. There were a multitude of names that could have been chosen. It could have been Michael or James or Bartholomew or any other good name. But this was the name that not only did Our Lord choose, but He chose for Himself for all eternity. So, it is no ordinary name. It isn’t just a name that was picked out of one of the books that sounded good with His last name, whatever that might have been. Well, they would have called Him bar-Joseph, so it would have been Yeshua bar-Joseph because it went by the “son of”, so his apparent father was Joseph, and so he would have been Jesus, son of Joseph.
So, this was the name He chose for Himself from eternity to be the name of His Incarnation. The name wasn’t a new one. In fact, it was — you see the name through the Bible. You might not know it because you see it in its’ Hebrewized form until the New Testament comes along. It was originally Hebrew, turned into Greek, turned into Latin, is where we get it from. And it wasn’t a new name. In fact, the name of Our Lord in His native language would have been Yeshua, which is the same name as Joshua. So, if you know somebody who is named Joshua, they actually have the name of Jesus. It’s just in a more Hebrew form.
It went from Yeshua to Yeshus (?), spelled in Greek letters and much longer, to Jesus in Latin, spelled with either an “I” or a “J – e – s – u – s”. So, the name wasn’t a new one. But the moment that in obedience to the word of the angel, Our Lady and St. Joseph gave it to Our Lord at His circumcision, it would never be the same again. By the way, the circumcision was in a sense, not sacramentally but like our baptism. You know, it is at our baptism that we officially get our Christian name when the priest says, “I baptize you,” or so and so, you know, Joseph or Johnny or Mary, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. That’s when we officially receive our name. Well, with people in the Old Testament up to the time of Jesus, that was officially done at their circumcision, which was their equivalent of baptism.
By the way, those of you who are going to have more children or going to get married someday and have children, choose a Christian name for at least one of the names of your child, because the name I’m going to use or one of the priests is going to use to baptize your child will not necessarily be the one you thought up in a fit of pique in the delivery room and gave to the people who make birth certificates. Sometimes these names are questionable, sometimes they are just non-Christian, sometimes they are nuts, and when you come for baptism you either have to have picked out a Christian name or I’ll make up one for you, and that will be the name that goes on the baptismal certificate. Now, we don’t have too much problem with this. One of my worst problems with this was a Marine Corps family that was kind of coming through and needed their baby baptized. And the name that the stupid mother had picked out for this kid was — the middle name was Chaos. They called him Jack Chaos. And they expected us to baptize their infant Jack Chaos. Well, we wouldn’t do it, of course. We gave the child a Christian name. But think about that, you know, having your kid with the middle name Chaos. Would he ever clean his room? You wouldn’t expect him to clean his room. He goes, Well, you named me Chaos, now live with it. I’m not cleaning my room. And I think he’d probably be half right, to tell you the truth. And these things come along from time to time.
But when you are doing that — you know, you can pick a pretty name or a nice sounding name, just so long as at least the middle name is Christian, because that’s the tradition of the Church.
But, anyway, as soon as they gave Our Lord that name, then, no matter how many people throughout history were named Yeshua or Joshua or Jesus, as we say, that name would never be the same again. This name carries four principle blessings with it, as a matter of fact, because of the promises of Our Lord. And I’ll say a couple of words about that, kind of the four categories of blessings that the name carries with it. As I say, in English the name is Joshua, which is exactly the same name. If you noticed, Hispanics, Mexicans and others, they often name their child Jesus. And when I was little I thought, Well, isn’t that cheeky. You don’t see us white people naming our kid Jesus. What are they doing naming their kids after Our Savior just like that. And it was just a lack of understanding. The Battle of Lepanto is when the Christian armies decisively drove back the armies of the Moslems and the Navies of the Moslems, the forces, to keep them from overrunning Europe. And the Army was largely composed of, principally, as a matter of fact, of Spaniards. And, so, as part of their reward for giving so many lives to defend Christendom against the Moors, they were given the privilege by the Pope of naming their kid Jesus. And their descendants are allowed to avail themselves of the same privilege. So, when we hear that, that’s because their ancestors gave so much in defense of the Church, that it was something of a reward.
Anyway, I said that this has four kind of main blessings associated with it. And when I say that, I don’t mean just any time you say the name, but it’s when you say the name with love and respect and reverence as a prayer. It is a prayer. In fact, every time you say the name, it’s a prayer in itself when you say it correctly. And, so, when you use that name with love and respect and reverence, there are four promises of Christ that can come into effect. The first is, it brings help in our daily or bodily needs according to the promise of Christ. Our Lord said, “In My Name, they shall take up serpents, and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them. They shall lay their hands upon the sick and they shall recover“, etc., as you see in the gospel of Mark. In the Name of Jesus, if you look in the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles cured people, drove out devils, even raised the dead by the use of the Holy Name. It also gives consolations in spiritual trials. When we say the name with reverence, what we are actually pronouncing is an act of faith and love in all that that name represents. It’s not just the name, it’s not just the words, the letters, or whatever it is. Obviously, they don’t have any effect as just letters on a piece of paper or spoken word. It’s everything that goes with them. So, when spoken with reverence and all that, then we are recalling what Our Lord has done for us up to and including His passion and His death, dying for our sins, but also becoming Incarnate and all He continues to do for us by sending us graces from heaven to aid us in daily life.
So, in effect, the Holy Name can be a one-word prayer. You know, sometimes if you need quick help, then you can just pronounce the Holy Name, and you will get quick help, believe me, if you say it with the proper respect. So, it gives consolation in spiritual trials, it protects us against Satan and his wiles, for the devil both fears and hates the name of Jesus. You know, it is not given to Satan or any evil spirit to even say the name of Jesus. They can’t do it. And, consequently, they have this fear and a hatred of what that name does to them every time a good Christian reverently invokes the name. So, if you are having undue temptation or you need some spiritual help or whatever against the devil, you feel some assault of the devil, then you invoke the Holy Name.
But, finally, and maybe most importantly, in the Name of Jesus we obtain every blessing and grace, not only for now, but in eternity. A lot of people don’t think in terms of eternity, of course, sometimes because we are limited in time here. But every time you get grace, for example, invoking the Holy Name reverently, that increases your grace here on earth while you are here. But it’s eventual effect is infinite, because when you pass into eternity, every little increase in grace becomes internal and infinite when you enter into eternal life. So, you are actually, by using the name in a holy manner, you are increasing your eternal reward infinitely by just that one little act. So that should be a good motivation in itself.
Now, how do we increase our reverence for the Holy Name? Well, there’s a couple of little suggestions I have. First of all, just thinking about what it is, think about that this is the Name that Our Lord chose for Himself in eternity, think about the power of the Holy Name, to protect us and drive away devils and bring blessings upon us and all this kind of thing. You know, because the devil hates it so much and fears it so much and cannot say the Holy Name, what does he do. Well, you know, he corrupts. That’s all the devil can do. He can’t create, he can only corrupt. And, so, he takes us human beings who have the ability to pronounce the Holy Name, and he gets some of us to use it in a bad way, to get people to use it as kind of a swear word or something like that. Now, we have to be very careful because remember that Catholic theology teaches us that commandments have more implications than just the one liner of the commandment. So, the second commandment, you know, to not take the Lord’s Name in vain, doesn’t just mean, well, technically speaking, the Lord’s Name from scripture is Yahweh. So, the fundamentalists would say, Well, as long as we don’t say Yahweh irreverently, we’re not breaking the commandment. But that’s not it. It’s any time you use a holy name irreverently and out of its’ proper context, you are sinning against the second commandment.
For example, very popular with texting these days, like OMG, you know, well, you hear people saying just all the time, Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God. That is a violation, that is a sin against the second commandment to say Oh, my God, unless you are starting the Act of Contrition or something. Now, if you are starting the Act of Contrition, great. And if you want to text Oh, my God, OMG, then put OMG period, period, period, dot, dot, dot after it, so at least it implies OMG, IAHSFOT, the whole Act of Contrition. Right? I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. By the way, in confession normally you get, you know, a decade of the rosary, I can always tell when someone thinks their penance is way too much, because normally after I give the penance, they’ll start, Oh, My God, I am heartily sorry …. But, if I have given like three rosaries, it’s like, Oh, My God, I am heartily sorry for offended thee, and I know, oops, they think it’s too much.
But, anyway, somebody just asked me recently, you know, What do I do to stop saying Oh, my God. Just say, for example, Oh, my. Why not. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re not implying anything, you’re just saying Oh, my. You know, a lot of old movies had grammas and Aunt Bea’s from the Midwest that always said, Oh, my. And there was nothing sinful about that. So, you have to train yourself in a certain sense.
The other is the Holy Name. If you use it in an inappropriate manner outside of prayer, then you have to weed it out of your vocabulary. There’s no two ways about it. You know, that is the name every knee must bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth when that name is said. And you are building up a lot of time in purgatory, if not hell, using that irreverently. So you’ve got to weed it out of your vocabulary. And people go, What happens, then, if I drop a hammer on my foot, you know. Well, I can sympathize with the need for a certain amount of release at that point. Okay? But say something that isn’t offending God at the time. You know, one of my favorites is Pasta Fazool. Okay? You know, you hit your hand or whatever, Pasta Fazool. (Father saying with gusto) It just means, you know, macaroni with beans, but it sounds terrible and it’s not a bad thing to say. So, train yourself there. And isn’t it curious, isn’t it curious that even amongst non-Christians, the Holy Name is used as an expletive. How is that? You know, do you hear them getting mad at somebody and saying, Martin Luther King, Jr., or something. No. It’s always because the devil is prompting them to do it. It’s a blasphemy when they do that. And they are building up worse and worse punishment in hell for themselves by using the name out of context and that’s just what the devil wants. But it’s curious, isn’t it? Of all the languages of all the world, the things that people could be saying as expletives, and they choose the Holy Name, because it’s the worst thing you can do. People come in and confess relatively minor things that they think are completely terrible, and then, as a casual thing, they said, Oh, yeah, I used the name of the Lord in vain. It should be the other way around. That’s really the worst in the pile, usually.
So, weed out the habit of using it inappropriately. Another thing is adopt from now the practice for yourself or teach your families something I grew up with and many of you did, too. When you say the name of Jesus, you bow your head. It’s simple. You should be taught that from the cradle. It becomes automatic after a while. When the Holy Name is mentioned, you bow your head. And make yourself do it until it becomes a habit. It’s the least you can do.
Use it frequently. Say the Holy Name as a prayer often. Write it on your letters. And, if you don’t write the whole Holy Name of Jesus, something that has been revered for centuries in Christendom is the use of the Divine Monogram. We’ve seen IHS on things, we see it on vestments, we see it on chalices. Oh, by the way, in researching — you know, I look to research these sermons, something called Zazzle.com sells IHS t-shirts in most any size, even mine. And I think that’s pretty cool, actually, because it’s a way of carrying the Divine monogram before you wherever you go. But this same Divine monogram, IHS, there’s all kinds of fantastic, silly, but maybe pious but still silly ideas of what IHS means. It is simply the abbreviation for Jesus. In the middle ages, the Name of Jesus was written I – H – E – S – U – S, because they took it from the Greek and made it Latin and then cleaned it up a little bit in later centuries. So, I – H – E – S – U – S, simply became IHS. And the first time we see it, we’ve been able to record it in history as IHS is a gold coin from the Byzantine Empire that said on it D – N I – H – S C – H -S R – E – X Regnantium, which means, The Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings. So, that’s the first time we see it, but it is certainly not the last.
From then on, the Divine monogram was seen on many, many things, in churches, on walls, in mosaics and frescoes and things. But there was none greater proponent of it than St. Bernadine of Siena. St. Bernardine of Siena was around the 14th Century, sometime around there. Here we are in Southern California, San Bernardino. Everybody knows San Bernardino, California, probably there aren’t any people in San Bernardino who knows who he was or what he did or what his devotion was. And I think the mayor of San Bernardino should at least know what San Bernardino is about and probably doesn’t. San Bernardine’s great devotion was the Divine Name, was the Name of Our Lord. And he specifically used the IHS, and he had a board and on the board he painted the IHS and then kind of a sunburst around it. And, in those days, the world was a little smaller, towns were smaller, you could do this, he would simply go into a town, he was a Franciscan, and he would set up the board there and start preaching the wonders of the Holy Name. And he was such a good preacher that people would be very motivated to repentance and holiness and proper use of the Holy Name and things like that. But, in any case, it was this IHS. That same board with the IHS is preserved in the Church of Aracoeli in Rome and can be seen to this day. But, in the course of carrying the IHS around and putting it on things, there were plagues diverted and cured, people were cured of their illnesses, battles were averted, just all kinds of miracles he got by the monogram IHS, so he used to preach about it. At one point somebody got a little suspicious of him and turned him in to Pope Martin V who had a little trial for him. At the end of the trial he was defended so well by his defenders that the Pope not only allowed the devotion throughout the Church but also marched in procession with St. Bernardine of Siena carrying the IHS plaque. So, if nothing else, you can put a little IHS at the top of your letters, just like the old Catholic custom of putting SAG on your letters, St. Anthony Guide or one of those things that are of immemorial custom.
In fact, because St. Bernardine of Siena was so eloquent in his preaching on the Holy Name, I wanted to finish with part of one of his sermons that I found, and it is just so beautiful because it shows what a love he has for the Holy Name and what a love we should have for the Holy Name, especially if we don’t think too much about it.
“The sweet Name of Jesus produces in us holy thoughts, fills the soul with noble sentiments, strengthens virtue, begets good works, and nourishes pure affections. All spiritual food leaves the soul dry, if it contain not that penetrating oil, the Name Jesus. When you take your pen, write the Name Jesus: if you write books, let the Name of Jesus be contained in them, else they will possess no charm or attraction for me; you may speak, or you may reply, but if the Name of Jesus sounds not from your lips, you are without unction and without charm. Jesus is honey in our mouth, light in our eyes, a flame in our heart. This name is the cure for all diseases of the soul. Are you troubled? Think but of Jesus, speak but the Name of Jesus, the clouds disperse, and peace descends anew from heaven. Have you fallen into sin? So that you fear death? Invoke the Name of Jesus, and you will soon feel life returning. No obduracy of the soul, no weakness, no coldness of heart can resist this holy Name; there is no heart which will not soften and open in tears at this holy name. Are you surrounded by sorrow and danger? Invoke the Name of Jesus, and your fears will vanish.
Never yet was human being in urgent need, and on the point of perishing, who invoked this help-giving Name, and was not powerfully sustained. It was given us for the cure of all our ills; to soften the impetuosity of anger, to quench the fire of concupiscence, to conquer pride, to mitigate the pain of our wounds, to overcome the thirst of avarice, to quiet sensual passions, and the desires of low pleasures. If we call to our minds the Name of Jesus, it brings before us His most meek and humble heart, and gives us a new knowledge of His most loving and tender compassion. The Name of Jesus is the purest, and holiest, the noblest and most indulgent of names, the Name of all blessings and of all virtues; it is the Name of the God-Man, of sanctity itself. To think of Jesus is to think of the great, infinite God Who, having given us His life as an example, has also bestowed the necessary understanding, energy and assistance to enable us to follow and imitate Him, in our thoughts, inclinations, words and actions. If the Name of Jesus reaches the depths of our heart, it leaves heavenly virtue there. We say, therefore, with our great master, St. Paul the Apostle: If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.