The Most Holy Name of Jesus

Fr. Brian Mulcahy, O.P.

Blasphemy. Even the word itself sounds ugly, doesn’t it? Blasphemy.

It is said that only people from traditionally Catholic cultures can really swear or curse well, because most of their swear words are, in fact, blasphemies: using sacred names and titles in a profane and irreverent manner. The gutter language one overhears on the streets these days, coming from the mouths of young and old alike, is just trash talk  — offensive, no doubt, but usually not blasphemous, except for the incessant use of the Most Holy Name as an expletive or expression of exasperation.

The whole notion of blasphemy also strikes many of us as rather old-fashioned, almost passé, hearkening back to a more genteel time and place, we who live in an era when the line between the sacred and the profane has been deliberately blurred, if not completely obliterated, not just in our world but even within the Church.

However, blasphemy these days, or even the accusation of blasphemy can also cost you your life in places such as Pakistan, where anti-blasphemy laws on the books are regularly used to seize the property, and intimidate, and even terminate the Christian minority in that country, as in the case of Shahzad and Shama Masih, the married parents of four children, who were beaten by a mob and whose bodies were thrown into a kiln after it was claimed that burned pages of the Koran were found in their trash.

And as you know far better than I, since the late thirteenth century, at the request of Pope Gregory X at the Second Council of Lyons to Blessed John of Vercelli, the fifth Master General, our Order has been tasked by the Church with the preaching and promotion of devotion to the Most Holy Name of Jesus and with the direction of Holy Name Societies throughout the world. Certainly in 1912, when your Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus was formally re-established, after many decades of Dominican labor in the western United States of America and in Mexico, there was probably a Holy Name Society erected and active in just about every parish in these United States. I have seen old black and white photographs of Holy Name parades being held along Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC, stretching for blocks, with ranks of Dominicans, followed by ranks of Franciscans, followed by the secular clergy, and the laity, holding aloft banners of parish Holy Name Societies from far and near. The building in which the Provincial offices (of the Eastern Province) in New York are now located, with which many of you are familiar, is still referred to by us as the “Holy Name Building” from the days when it housed the National Headquarters of the Holy Name Society. The Provincial and the Diffinitorium will, towards the end of your Chapter, dutifully appoint your Provincial Promoter of the Holy Name as one of their many tasks, along with Promoters of the Confraternity of the Angelic Warfare and the Confraternity of the Rosary, also entrusted to our Order.

We, in the East, have experienced over the past four years a sudden, quite astounding resurgence of interest in the Confraternity of the Angelic Warfare, particularly among teens and young adults who live their lives inundated with sexual imagery and the constant pressure to be sexually active, but who want to live their faith and remain chaste according to their state of life at this time. I believe the interest is spreading elsewhere, as well. Could we also expect a revival of interest in devotion to the Holy Name? Listen to this excerpt from the pledge of the Holy Name Society: “I promise to give good example by the regular practice of my faith.  In honor of His Divine Name, I pledge myself against perjury, blasphemy, profanity and obscene speech.” Do men – and women – these days struggle with these vices? Perhaps we as an Order are holding on to a treasure, of which we seem to have lost sight of the value, but perhaps we should “bring forth from our treasure house both the old and the new” for a new generation?

How best can you and I show reverence to the Holy Name of Jesus, the Name at which “every knee should bend, of those in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth” as it says in the Christological hymn from the Letter to the Philippians, which we all know and love by heart? I would like to propose that it is by responding to St Paul’s exhortation at the start of the second chapter of Philippians, by doing what he asks of us:

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus…

How appropriate this exhortation is for you as a community, as brothers of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, as you move into chapter! Here, summed up, is a plan of action that, if followed, will not only guarantee a fruitful outcome of your chapter but will give great honor and glory to the Holy Name of Jesus: To be of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Doing nothing out of selfishness or vainglory, acting humbly, looking out for your brothers’ interests before your own.

That kind of unity of heart and mind is only accomplished in the Spirit, and each of you has been given to drink of the One Spirit. And it is only in the Spirit that we able to confess, with all that we are, with our very lives, to the Glory of God the Father, that Jesus Christ is Lord! To Him be the Power and the Glory, both now and forever. Amen.

Fr. Brian Mulcahy, O.P., is from the Province of St. Joseph and joined us as retreat master for our Provincial Chapter in January. Photo courtesy of David Silverman Photography, LLC.