As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, the titular feast of the Western Dominican Province, Fr. Augustine Hilander, O.P., our promoter of the Holy Name Society, offers his reflections regarding devotion to the Holy Name.
Most people consider devotion as what dogs feel for their masters, and what cats do not feel for anyone. I have heard the phrase, “Look how devoted they are to each other,” regarding older married couples. Devotionals are books sold by the millions for people who need daily encouraging reminders of God’s loving presence. It seems that devotion is a wholly human thing, something servile, for old people or for weak people. Devotion and devotionals are to bolster people up in their dotage or weakness. But looking to Saint Thomas Aquinas, O.P., we are given a different response.
First, Saint Thomas countered this exact response. He argues that meditation leads to devotion. One of the counter arguments runs like this. If meditation is a higher activity of the mind and one needs meditation to be devoted, then why are weak men and women most often called “devoted,” since they are not able to meditate on the higher things? Now before you thrust me on a million toothpicks, I want to remind the gentle reader that we have this same problem in the first paragraph. In fact, society is worse. Society tells us that dogs are better at devotion than Christians. So what is devotion exactly?
Devotion is related to the word for to make a vow: devovere. Those who are devoted are those who dedicate everything to God. So Saint Thomas concludes that to be devoted is to “will to give oneself readily to things concerning the service of God” (ST, II-II, 82, 1). Since human beings are the greatest things to offer to God, we must offer our very selves. We see this in the celebration of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple and the Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple. Both feasts are highly esteemed by religious men and women who take vows.
Devotion also is related to the virtue of religion. Devotion is the readiness of the will to surrender everything to God. The virtue of religion concerns giving to God what is due to him. Devotion becomes necessary in preparing the will to give everything to God.
How hard it is to give something we love to another. “Will they treat it well? What will happen to it? Will they appreciate it? What will I do without it?” These and many more questions rush through our mind. Now man is the greatest thing in creation. But if we can entrust what is best to God, what a great act that would be? Devotion prepares us for this sacrifice and surrender of everything to God by preparing our will.
Devotion to the Holy Name of God and Jesus prepares us for this full offering. We offer to God the use of our lips for his praise and service. We are called to model Saint Dominic who only “spoke to God or about God.” First we offer prayers to God. To speak well of God we learn his name and pray the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus. We also offer to God our bodies in bowing our head at the name of Jesus. This gives us the correct understanding of God. Our very words are offered to God. We also offer to God our service by correcting those who blaspheme, and speaking well of God to others. We hear the name of God and Jesus misused every day. We can make reparation through the bow of our head and the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus.
Saint Thomas says that we have a bad name for devotion because of pride. Pride makes us hold on to ourselves and not give ourselves to another. If I have more to offer in this world, I want to receive the most from it. But the fundamental teaching of Christ has always been this: those who lose their lives, will save them. If I offer to God everything of mine, I will receive the most from God. If I do not, I will lose what little I have (and it is truly little in comparison to God’s goodness). We must offer to God our highest act, which in this world is meditation of the things of God.
Let’s us not be stingy with God. Let us take up devotion again. It is not because we need the crutch, but because we have so much to offer to a very good God. In offering devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, we offer some of the most human things around, our very words.