Tag Archives: Holy Name of Jesus

The name of mercy

Yesterday was the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, a feast solemnly celebrated by the Franciscans and the Jesuits.


The name, Jesus, “Yahweh saves,” was given by the angel Gabriel, as a sign that God had come among us, born of the Virgin Mary.

DSC00827The devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus was spread by the Franciscan reformer, Saint Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444). Reading one of his sermons this morning at Vigils, I was stopped by these words:

“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. Let the name of Jesus resound in my ears…”

The name of Jesus is not a word of power, of vengeance, even of political justice. It is the name of mercy. Our God, made flesh in a poor weak babe in an occupied land, brings mercy.

Each morning I begin my prayers with a form of the Jesus prayer, a prayer that is a mantra, repeated over and over.

The long form of the prayer, profoundly biblical, from the Orthodox monastic tradition, is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The shortest form is just repeating the name “Jesus.”

I have my own modified form, “Jesus, Lord, be merciful,” which I occasionally pray in Spanish, “Jesucristo, ten piedad.”

I don’t know when I began using this prayer, but it has accompanied me for decades. At times, I wake up praying the Jesus prayer. Many times, whether in church or just working, I find myself praying the prayer. I am not grateful enough for this gift.

But now what is important for me is the mercy of God. In the face of the violence and unrest here, in the fears of nuclear war and the abandonment of the poor in the US, the mercy of God should pervade us – and move us to be instruments of mercy.

The Holy Name

This morning Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the church of the Gesù, the major Jesuit church in Rome, on the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.


Today both the Franciscans and the Jesuits celebrate the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, a devotion that goes back to the early church.

Holy Name, Santa Croce Church, Florence

Holy Name, Santa Croce Church, Florence

In the early 15th century St. Bernardine of Siena promoted devotion to the Name of Jesus. In one of his sermons he emphasizeS how the name of Jesus is a name that reveals to us the mercy of God:

When the moment of grace arrived, [the most holy Name] was given with mercy. Put aside, then, 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

St. Bernardine of Siena

In 1530 the pope gave the Franciscans permission to celebrate a special Mass and office to honor the Holy Name.

Years later when Ignatius and his companions came to Rome, they were known as the Company of Jesus.

The devotion to the name of Jesus reminds us that God comes to us with a special name – Jesus, Yahweh saves.

As we all bear a name, God-made-flesh has a name, a name that tells us who He is, what He does – the one who saves.

In the Eastern Christian tradition, one of the most important prayers is the Jesus prayer.

At times, a long form is prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I use a shorter form: “Jesus Lord, be merciful.”

But today perhaps a prayerful invocation of just the name “Jesus” may serve us to call to mine this mystery of a savior-God who comes among us as a human.

The name of Jesus – St. Bernardine

St. Bernardine

St. Bernardine

St. Bernardine of Siena, celebrated today in the Catholic calendar of saints,  is mostly known as the Franciscan who promoted devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus.

He was a famous preacher who could project his voice so well that thousands could hear him, yet, according to one report, he had a ‘defective utterance” when younger,

A few days ago I was speaking with the Dulce Nombre parish council about ministries and was about to state that if someone stutters that person should not be one of those who preach at the Celebrations of the Word. But I stopped, because I know one layman who normally stutters but when he preaches or prays in church, he is remarkably fluent.

God works in strange ways – and we need to be open to God’s use of people who stutter to share with us the Good News.

But then, don’t we all stutter. Don’t we all fall short of speaking the Truth of God.

Maybe it’s for that reason that St. Bernardine promoted devotion to the Holy Name. Supposedly, he was impressed by a dying woman who could only pray the name of Jesus. The Jesus prayer, so important in Eastern Christian spirituality, has many forms, one of which is merely the repetition of the name of “Jesus.”

St. Bernardine, as part of this devotion, displayed a tablet with the first three letters in Greek of the name of Jesus (Ἰησοῦς) in capitals IHS.

When I was in Italy this past February I saw this at least three times –

on the façade of the Jesuit church of the Gesù in Rome,

among the remains of a monastery in Ravenna near the church of San Vitale,

and on the façade of Santa Croce church in Florence.

 The last is ironic. Santa Croce is a church of the Conventual Franciscan friars. St. Bernardine was the first vicar-general of the Observant Friars who broke with the Conventuals, promoting a stricter observance of the Rule of St. Francis.

But then, who I am to deny anyone the blessing of honoring the name of Jesus.


The statue of St. Bernardine is from a side chapel in San Apollinare Nuova in Ravenna.