When someone calls me Catherine, I don’t like it. My name is Kathleen. We are sensitive about our names because they stand for us. I wonder how the Savior feels when we call him Jesus. He and his people spoke Aramaic, which has no “J” sound. His name would have been Yeshua, a common Jewish name. It’s akin to the name of Joshua, the great leader who succeeded Moses and led the people through Jericho into the promised land. Both names are short forms of Jehoshua, which means “Yahweh is his salvation.” The name Yeshua then is appropriate for the savior of the world. We use the Greek equivalent Jesus. I don’t suppose he minds it, no more than my Italian friend Lorenzo minds being called Lawrence here in America. As Shakespeare observed, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
God personally chose the name Jesus for his Son made man. The angel Gabriel told Mary that Jesus should be her baby’s name, and then to insure that this would occur, he appeared to Joseph in a dream and repeated the instruction. As is still the Jewish custom today, on the day the infant Jesus was circumcised, he received his name.
Since the name Jesus stands for God the Son, it is powerful and holy. The apostles cured people in this name. St. Peter preached, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). Jesus told us that whatever we ask the Father for in his name, we will receive. (That’s why our Mass prayers conclude with a variation of “We ask this in Jesus’ name.”) St. Paul wrote that God gave Jesus a “name above every every name” and “at the name of Jesus every knee should end, in heaven and on earth and under the earth. (Philippians 2:9–10).” Some people have the habit of bowing their heads whenever they hear the name of Jesus.
We just celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus on January 3. It originated in 1530, was removed from the Roman Calendar in the liturgical reforms of 1969, but reinstated in the reforms of 2002. St. Bernard preached, “JESUS is honey to the mouth, and music to the ear, and gladness to the heart.” The Franciscan St. Bernadine of Siena in the 15th century gave impetus to the devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus by carrying an image of IHS as he preached. These were the first letters of the Greek name “Jesus.” The Jesuits adopted this abbreviation as their insignia, adding a cross and three nails to the letters. Traditionally, the whole month of January was dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus (like May is dedicated to Mary).
One of the oldest prayers is the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. This prayer is repeated over and over as a mantra, breathing in on the first half and exhaling on the second half. An even shorter prayer is simply the holy name: Jesus! You might look up the Litany of the Name of Jesus, which contains a number of titles for Jesus. The following video does too.
What is your favorite name for Jesus? Why?