The merciful power of the Name

Put aside, I beg you, any name implying political power;
let there be no mention of vengeance, no mention of justice.
Give us the name of mercy.
St. Bernardine of Siena

 Today the church, especially the Franciscans and the Jesuits (the Company of Jesus), celebrate the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

In the fifteenth century, the Franciscan reformer, Bernardine of Siena, revived the devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. He popularized a medallion with IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek capital letters: ´ΙΗΣΟΥΣ.

The Jesuits also have a special devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus and their main church in Rome, the Gesù, bears the medallion over the main door.


Names have power.

When you call out someone’s name, how often does that person turn around.

When someone gives you a nickname, how often does that in some way “define” you – for good or for ill.

In the first days of the Christian community, Peter healed the beggar at the temple gate “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 3:6).

The name Jesus means “the Lord is salvation” – a reminder that we are not completely in charge, but also that God made flesh in Jesus is a God who reaches out to save in mercy.

And thus St. Bernardine’s admonition in this morning reading from the Office of Vigils makes a lot of sense.

The salvation of Jesus is not a political power – though it has political implications. Thus, politics must be put into context.

The salvation of Jesus is not vengeful; the God of Jesus is not a vengeful God, seeking recompense.

Nor is the salvation of Jesus mere justice – tit for tat. It is a manifestation of the deeper Justice of God which brings health and healing.

The salvation of Jesus is the salvation of mercy.

So today, I pray that the mercy of God may penetrate the hearts of all the world, especially political leaders and those who live by violence.

Mercy upon mercy…

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