Friday, 3 January 2014

Most Holy Name of Jesus

How can one love a name? The closer one gets to death, the more one clings to the Name of Jesus. It is a kind of sacrament, a kind of presence. Words have power, because they are not just labels, as the Nominalists thought. The right name for something touches its essence, and invokes it. It makes a connection with the thing or the person itself – in this case with the Word that was with God in the beginning; the Word that is God, the light of the world. In the Word is contained the love of God that created the world, and that saves us from sin and death. Our faith is a supernatural breath that enables us to pronounce the Name in such a way that the One named becomes present to us. Supernatural hope enables us to place our trust in that Name. Love draws the Name into our heart. The Name prepares us for Holy Communion, it opens the place in ourselves where we are to receive Jesus.

Apart from the Jesus Prayer, we need no other words rattling around our soul, wasting our energy and time. Nothing else can help us so well to live in the present moment. In Exodus, God reveals his Name as "I AM" (or "He Is" in the third person). This is the expression Jesus uses of himself, seven times on its own (e.g. John 18:5-6) and seven times coupled with a title or predicate, such as "I am the Light of the World" (John 8:12). The name Jesus or Yeshua means "YHWH saves". How better to indicate the meaning of his life and person on earth? He is not the only one to bear this name, but he is the One who fulfils it.

For more on the Holy Name and its implications, see:
The Name of God
The Heart of Wisdom
The Jesus Prayer
'The Lord Jesus promised, “Whatever you ask for in my name, I will do” (Jn 14:13). For “the name ‘Jesus’ contains all.... His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies” (CCC 2666). “You have been washed clean, and sanctified, and justified through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Co 6:11). “For of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved.” (Ac 4:12). This memorial provides us the chance to live with special attentiveness before the Holy Name. “If you think the name ‘Jesus’ continually, it purges your sin and kindles your heart; it clarifies your soul, it removes anger and does away with slowness. It wounds in love and fulfils charity. It chases the devil and puts out dread. It opens heaven, and makes you a contemplative. It puts all vices and phantoms out from the lover” (Richard Rolle).'
          This is from Magnificat, January 2014, p. 51. The quotation from Richard Rolle shows that the Jesus Prayer was alive and well in England in the 14th century.

The full text of para 2666 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads as follows: 'But the one name that contains everything is the one that the Son of God received in his incarnation: JESUS. The divine name may not be spoken by human lips, but by assuming our humanity the Word of God hands it over to us and we can invoke it: "Jesus," "YHWH saves." The name "Jesus" contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray "Jesus" is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him.' (The Catechism then goes on to teach the Jesus Prayer.)

Who Is God?
In all that is created, there is a distinction (a “fracture”) between the fact THAT it is and the question of WHAT it is—between its existence (is it?) and its essence (what is it?). In God alone is there no such fracture, since God is the Principle, the Absolute, whose very nature is to be, so that his essence is his existence. In other words, if we ask “What is it?” we can only answer, “It is,” or “It is Being (esse).”

But while in God there is no distinction between THAT and WHAT, there does seem to be a distinction between THAT (“AM”) and WHO (“I”). For as soon as God’s name is revealed to Moses—“I AM”—the question arises: HE is—but WHO is he? The answer is eventually given by the Church in the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Trinity of Persons does not divide God, nor multiply him. Nevertheless, it reveals a set of distinctions within divinity, within the Godhead: I, Thou, We – each of them the same essence undivided. These distinctions do not represent difference or disunity. All the confusions of the world begin with a mistake on this point. Each Person exists ("AM") in relation to the other Persons, but in itself as the centre of awareness ("I").

To separate I from AM is to regard the Trinity from outside, as though the three Persons could stand next to each other and be counted. If we are within the Trinity, in the Son, through the Holy Spirit, then we participate in the knowledge that each has of the other, in one act of love, of perfect knowing. To be divinized is to be within the Trinity—to be one with them as Jesus and his Father are one (John 17:22).

The answer to all the confusions of the world is to unite the two parts of the I AM. Our Father who (“I”) art (“AM”) in heaven, hallowed be thy name… How do we hallow the Name? By worshipping it in the Holy of Holies. By seeing it as One. Awareness (“I”) and presence (“AM”) are One, identity and being are One—in the Holy of Holies, the “secret place” (Matthew 6:6) where there is only room for One.

One may hallow the Name, the I AM, by the Jesus Prayer, if each mention of the Name of Jesus (which means “I AM” SAVES) is accompanied by the thought of the Person Jesus. The Name of the Father is not just “Father” but refers to God the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is the common essence—thus Jesus can say, “Before Abraham was, I am.” We come to the Father in the Spirit, through the Son; or through the Spirit, in the Son. We address Jesus in the Jesus Prayer, and the Father in the Lord’s Prayer. In both cases, we pray in the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit prays in us.

In turning to the I AM we are turning to the centre of our being, beyond the “I am” of our own personality, the awareness of our own existence, our own presence in the world. We are turning to the secret place, the place we come from. We discover that there is nothing created there—that the centre is not the “me”, the “self,” but God. This is the illusion we must free ourselves from by prayer, before we are freed from it by death.

This is where the light comes from, the uncreated light that shines everywhere for those who can see (those whose eye is “single” or “clear”), which becomes created light insofar as it becomes part of our own nature, making us not uncreated but divine—we remain creatures of God, but we participate in God as much as our being permits and as much as we are willing to receive. The light is experienced as fire to those who need purification, and eternal fire to those whose purification is never complete.

These notes are inspired by Priest-Monk Silouan, though I write as a Catholic and I don’t know if he would agree with everything I say.

1 comment:

  1. I've recently been reading an English translation of St. Thomas Aquinas' Commentary on the Gospel of John. He makes precisely this point. The really fascinating thing is, is just how universal is the belief in the potency of names so that in Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and Sikhism there are all variants of a most sacred prayer which involves saying formally the name of the One True God invoked - so much so that the Name Itself becomes (and, in Christianity and some variants of Early Judaism, is said to be) a hypostatic reality.