Sunday, April 25, 2021

When the Name of Jesus is Said, What do You Think of?


(Fourth Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on April 25, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118:1-29; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2021]

Sometimes all you have to do is say the name.  That’s all that’s necessary.  Say the name, and certain images and ideas will immediately come to mind.

For example, say the name “Tom Brady” and most people will immediately think of football games, clutch passes and world championships.  Say the name “Albert Einstein,” and people will think of science, and intelligence and complicated formulas.  Saying the name “Mother Teresa” will lead, quite naturally, to thoughts of prayer and holiness and self-sacrifice.  Say the name “Fr. Ray” and some will immediately have thoughts of a big mouth about the size of the Grand Canyon.  Others might think of Sominex, if they’re among the people who “snooze through” his homily every week.

Which brings us to Jesus Christ: the King of kings; the Lord of lords; the Son of God; the Savior of the world!  When the name of Jesus is said, what do people think of?  In this case, my brothers and sisters, it’s hard to say.  Hopefully we’re like the apostles in this regard.  When the apostles heard the name of Jesus, a number of wonderful ideas filled their minds.  They thought of God’s love and God’s gift of salvation.  They thought of power—the power present in the name of Jesus to forgive sins, and expel demons, and cure the sick and raise the dead.  When the name of Jesus was mentioned, the apostles had thoughts of reverence, awe and mercy.  They had thoughts of gratitude.  They had thoughts of joy.  They had thoughts of heaven.  Today’s first reading from Acts 4 illustrates this beautifully.  Peter is speaking here to the Jewish authorities about a crippled man who had just been healed.  The man had asked Peter and John for an alms, and Peter responded, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you!  In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, walk!” 

And the man walked!  Incredibly, he walked!  Later on, when the members of the Sanhedrin questioned him about it, Peter said the words we heard a few moments ago: “Leaders of the people!  Elders!  If we must answer today for a good deed done to a cripple and explain how he was restored to health, then you and all the people of Israel must realize that it was done in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead.  In the power of that name this man stands before you perfectly sound. . . . There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved.”

These are some of the holy thoughts the apostles had when they said (or heard) the name of Jesus.  However, in our modern world, not everyone has such sacred thoughts regarding the name of the Lord.  And here I’m not only referring to non-believers; I’m also referring to some who would call themselves believing Christians.  For example, when some contemporary Christians say the name of Jesus they don’t have the wonderful thoughts the apostles had; believe it or not, these people think of their thumbs.  (Yes, you heard me correctly: they think of their thumbs!)  Others think of their toes.  Others think of their disobedient children or their aggravating boss

Why do I say this?  Simple—it’s because the only time these individuals say the name of Jesus in public is when they hit their thumb with a hammer, or when they stub their toe, or when they get angry at their relatives or their boss!  It reminds me of something a comedian said once in one of his comic routines.  He said that for years he actually thought his name was Jesus Christ—because those were always the first words out of his father’s mouth whenever his dad would get angry at him.

Here is something that some of us may need to get very serious about.  I would say that it’s an absolute disgrace when Christians profane the Lord’s sacred name—this name that the apostles held in such reverence!  Now you might say, “But Fr. Ray, it’s just a habit—a nasty habit.  I really don’t mean it.”  Well, if that’s the case for us then we need to work hard at breaking the habit!  We need to find other, more appropriate ways to express our anger or surprise.  In today’s second reading from 1 John 3 it says, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us in letting us be called children of God!  Yet that is what we are.”  We are the adopted children of God the Father, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and yet amazingly some of us will use our elder brother’s name as a curse word!  Would we do that with one of our earthly siblings?  I sincerely doubt it.

Of course we also need to be aware of the fact that there are other ways to profane the Lord’s name.  In the examination of conscience that I sometimes give out to people, here are two of the questions for reflection that are listed under the second commandment (“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”):

Number 1: Have I been hypocritical by adhering to a ritualistic observance [of my religion] while not actually living out my faith in practice?

Number 2: In conversation, have I passively [acquiesced] to slander and to jokes aimed at demeaning religion, the Church, or God’s authority?

The message contained in those questions is this: If we’re not really sincere about trying to apply the Gospel message to our daily lives, or if we verbally demean the things of God, or if we engage in public defiance of the Church (something that Catholics like our current President do on a regular basis), then we are guilty of profaning the Lord’s name.  We’re profaning his name because as Christians we are known to be the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ—but we’re not conducting ourselves accordingly!

How very different the saints were!  The other day I read an account of the martyrdom of Paul Miki and his companions.  Paul Miki was born in Japan back in the 16th century.  He entered the Jesuits at a young age and did some marvelous work evangelizing the Japanese people.  Eventually, however, a persecution broke out against the Church, and he and twenty-five others (including some young children) were condemned to death and crucified. 

But here’s the interesting fact about their martyrdom: as they were hanging there on their crosses, minutes from death, they were all saying the name of Jesus—over and over and over again.  These holy souls found strength and peace in the Lord’s name—the strength and peace they desperately needed at that decisive moment.  They experienced those graces because they said his name with a deep love, a deep reverence, a deep faith.  That’s the type of example we should all want to follow.

Our Lord once said, “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”  That’s a beautiful reminder that countless blessings are available to us through the name of the Lord: the blessing of healing (when it’s God’s will); the blessing of mercy and forgiveness; the blessing of God’s peace. 

Some of you were probably taught in Catholic school or in Catechism class to bow your head slightly whenever you heard or said the name of Jesus.  Praise God!  I think that’s a marvelous gesture of faith and reverence; a gesture that reminds us of the attitude we should always have in our hearts toward name of the Savior of the world. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, may your name be praised and glorified by each and every one of us and by every Catholic—now and forever.  Amen.