A discourse of St. Alphonus de Ligouri for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.
“Vocatum est nomen eius Jesus.”
“His Name was called Jesus.” St. Luke 2:21.
This great name of Jesus was not given by man, but by God Himself; “The name of Jesus,” says St. Bernard, “was first preordained by God.” It was a new name: “A new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.” A new name, which God alone could give to Him Whom He destined for the Saviour of the world. A new and an eternal name; because, as our salvation was decreed from all eternity, so from all eternity was this name given to the Redeemer. Nevertheless, this name was only bestowed on Jesus Christ in this world on the day of His circumcision: “And after eight days were accomplished that the Child should be circumcised, His name was called Jesus.” The Eternal Father wished at that time to reward the humility of His Son by giving Him so honourable a name. Yes, while Jesus humbles Himself, submitting in His circumcision to be branded with the mark of a sinner, it is just that His Father should honour Him by giving Him a name that exceeds the dignity and sublimity of any other name: “God hath given Him a Name which is above all names.” And He commands that this name should be adored by the angels, by men, and by devils: “That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow of those that are in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth.” If, then, all creatures are to adore this great name, still more ought we sinners to adore it, since it was in our behalf that this name of Jesus; which signifies Saviour, was given to Him; and for this end also He came down from Heaven, namely, to save sinners: “For us men and for our salvation He came down from Heaven, and was made Man.” We ought to adore Him, and at the same time to thank God Who has given Him this name for our good; for it is this name that consoles us, defends us, and makes us burn with love. This will form the three points of our discourse. Let us consider them; but first let us beg for light from Jesus and Mary.
In the first place, the name of Jesus consoles us; for when we invoke Jesus, we find relief in all our afflictions. When we have recourse to Jesus, He wishes to console us, because He loves us; and He can do so, because He is not only man, but He is also the Omnipotent God; otherwise He could not properly have this great name of Saviour. The name of Jesus signifies that the bearer of it is of an infinite power, infinite wisdom, and infinite love; so that if Jesus Christ had not united in Himself all these perfections, He could not have saved us: “If anyone of these,” says St. Bernard, “had been wanting, Thou couldst not call Thyself Saviour.” Thus, when speaking of the circumcision, the Saint says: “He was circumcised as being the son of Abraham, He was called Jesus as being the Son of God.” He is branded as man with the mark of sin, having taken upon Himself the burden of atoning for sinners; and from His very infancy He began, to satisfy for their crimes, by suffering and shedding His Blood; but He is called Jesus, He is called the Saviour, inasmuch as He is the Son of God, because to God alone does the office of salvation belong.
The name of Jesus is said by the Holy Ghost to be like oil poured out: “Thy name is as oil poured out” And so indeed it is, says St. Bernard; for as oil serves for light, for food, and for medicine, so especially the name of Jesus is light: “it is a light when preached.” And how was it, says the Saint, that the light of faith shone forth so suddenly in the world so that in a short time so many Gentile nations knew the true God, and became His followers, if it was not through hearing the name of Jesus preached? “Whence, think you, shone forth in the whole world, so bright and so sudden, the light of faith, except from the preaching of the name of Jesus?”
Through this name we have been happily made sons of the true light, that is, sons of the Holy Church; since we were so fortunate as to be born in the bosom of the Roman Church, in Christian and Catholic kingdoms, a grace which has not been granted to the greater part of men, who are born amongst idolaters, Mahometans, or heretics. Further, the name of Jesus is a food that nourishes our souls. “The thought of it is nourishment.” This name gives strength to find peace and consolation even in the midst of the miseries and persecutions of this world. The holy Apostles rejoiced when they were ill-treated and reviled, being comforted by the name of Jesus: “They went from the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.” It is light, it is food, and it is also medicine to those who invoke it: “When pronounced, it soothes and anoints.” The holy Abbot says: “At the rising of the light of this name, the clouds disperse, the calm returns.” If the soul of anyone is afflicted and in trouble, let him pronounce the name of Jesus, and immediately the tempest will cease and peace will return. Does anyone fall into sin? Does he run in despair into the snares of death? Let him invoke the name of Life, and will he not at once return to life?” If anyone has been so wretched as to fall into sin, and feels diffident of pardon, let him invoke this name of Life, and he shall immediately be encouraged to hope for pardon, by calling on Jesus, Who for this end was destined by the Father to be our Saviour, namely, to obtain pardon for sinners. Euthymius says that if when Judas was tempted to despair, he had invoked the name of Jesus, he would not have given way to the temptation: “If he had invoked that name, he would not have perished.” Therefore he adds, no sinner can perish through desperation, however lost he may be, who invokes His Holy Name, which is one of hope and salvation: “Despair is far off where this name is invoked.”
But sinners leave off invoking this saving name, because they do not wish to be cured of their infirmities. Jesus Christ is ready to heal all our wounds; but if people cherish their wounds, and will not be healed, how can Jesus Christ heal them? The Venerable Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified, a Sicilian nun, once saw the Saviour, as it seemed, in a hospital, going round with medicines in His hand, to cure the sick people who were there; but these miserable people, instead of thanking Him and begging Him to come to them, drove Him away. In like manner do many sinners, after they have of their own free will poisoned their souls with sins, refuse the gifts of health, that is, the grace offered them by Jesus Christ, and thus remain lost through their infirmities.
But, on the other hand, what fear can that sinner have who has recourse to Jesus Christ, since Jesus offers Himself to obtain our pardon from His Father, having paid the penalty due to us by His death? St. Laurence Justinian says: “He Who had been offended, appointed Himself as intercessor, and Himself paid what was owing to Him.” Therefore, adds the Saint, “if thou art bound down by sickness, if sorrows weary thee, if thou art trembling with fear, invoke the name of Jesus.” Poor man, whoever thou art, if thou art weighed down by infirmity or by grief and fear, call on Jesus, and He will console thee. It is enough that we pray to the Father in His name, and all we ask will be granted to us. This is the promise of Jesus Himself, which He repeated many times, and which cannot fail: “If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give to you: ... that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you.”
In the second place, we said that the name of Jesus defends us. Yes, it defends us against all the deceits and assaults of our enemies. For this reason the Messiah was called the Mighty God; and His name was called by the wise man a strong tower: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower;” that we may know that he who avails himself of this powerful name will not fear all the assaults of Hell. St. Paul writes thus: “Christ humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the Cross.” Jesus Christ during His life humbled Himself in obeying His Father, even to die on the Cross; which is as much as to say, as St. Anselm remarks, “He humbled Himself so much that He could humble Himself no more;” and therefore His Divine Father, as a reward for this humility and obedience of His Son, raised Him to such a sublime dignity that He could have no higher: “For which cause God hath given Him a name which is above all names ... that every knee should bow, of those that are in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth.” He has given Him a name which is so great and powerful that it is venerated in Heaven, on earth, and in Hell. A name powerful in Heaven, because it can obtain all graces for us; powerful on earth, because it can save all who invoke it with devotion; powerful in Hell, because this name makes all the devils tremble. These rebel angels tremble at the sound of that most sacred name, because they remember that Jesus Christ was the Mighty One Who destroyed the dominion and power they had before over man. They tremble, says St. Peter Chrysologus, because at that name they have to adore the whole majesty of God: “In this name the whole majesty of God is adored.” Our Saviour Himself said, that through this powerful name His disciples should cast out devils: “In My name they shall cast out devils.” And, in fact, the Church in her exorcisms always makes use of this name in driving out the infernal spirits from those who are possessed. And priests who are assisting dying persons call to their aid the name of Jesus, to deliver them from the assaults of Hell, which at that last moment are so terrible. If we read the life of St. Bernardine of Siena, we shall see how many sinners the saint converted, how many abuses he put an end to, and how many cities he sanctified, by trying when he preached to induce the people to invoke the name of Jesus. St. Peter says that there is no other name given to us by which we can find salvation but this ever-blessed name of Jesus: “For there is no other name under Heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.” Jesus is He Who has not only saved us once for all, but He continually preserves us from the danger of sin, by His merits, each time we invoke Him with confidence: “Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in My name, that will I do.”
In temptations, then, I repeat with St. Laurence Justinian, “whether you are tempted by the devil, or are attacked by men, invoke the name of Jesus.” If the devils and men torment you and urge you to sin, call on Jesus, and you will be delivered; and if temptations do not cease to persecute you, continue to invoke Jesus, and you will never fall. Those who practice this devotion have experienced that they keep themselves safe, and that they always come off victorious.
Let us always add also the name of Mary, which is likewise terrible to Hell, and we shall always be secure. “This short prayer – Jesus and Mary – is easy to remember,” says Thomas à Kempis, “and powerful to protect; is strong enough to deliver us from all the assaults of our enemies.”
In the third place, the name of Jesus not only consoles us and preserves us from all evil, but it also inflames with holy love all those who pronounce it with devotion. The name of Jesus, that is, of Saviour, is a name which expresses in itself love, for it recalls to us how much Jesus Christ has done and suffered to save us. “The name of Jesus,” says St. Bernard, “places before thee all that God has done for the salvation of the human race.” So that a pious author said, with all the affection of his heart “O my Jesus, how much did it cost Thee to be Jesus, that is, my Saviour!”
St. Matthew writes, when speaking of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, “And they put over His head His cause written: This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” The eternal Father then so ordained that on the Cross on which our Redeemer died should be written, This is Jesus, the Saviour of the world. Pilate wrote this, not that he had judged Him guilty because Jesus Christ took to Himself the title of King; for Pilate made no account of this accusation: and at the same time that he condemned Him he declared Him innocent, and protested that he had no part in His death: “I am innocent of the blood of this just man.” Why, then, did he give Him the title of king? He wrote it by the will of God, Who thereby wished to say to us men, “Do you know why My innocent Son is dying? He is dying because He is your Saviour; this Divine Pastor dies on this infamous tree in order to save you, His sheep.” Therefore it was said in the sacred Canticles, “His name is as oil poured out.” St. Bernard explains this, saying, “that is, the effusion of the Divinity.” In the Redemption God Himself, out of the love which He bore us, gave Himself and communicated Himself entirely to us: “He hath loved us, and hath delivered Himself for us.” And, that He might be able to communicate Himself to us, He took upon Himself the burden of suffering the pains due to us. “He hath borne our infirmities, and carried our sorrows.” By this title, says St. Cyril of Alexandria, He desired to cancel the original decree of condemnation which had already been passed against us poor sinners: “By this title affixed to His Cross He blotted out the decree issued against the human race.” According to the word of the Apostle, “Blotting out the handwriting of the decree that was against us.” Our loving Redeemer wished to deliver us from the malediction we had deserved, by making Himself the object of the Divine curse in taking all our sins upon Him: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.”
Therefore it is not possible for a soul that is faithful to pronounce the name of Jesus, and to remember all that He has done to save us, and not to be inflamed with love towards one Who has loved us so much. “When I utter the name of Jesus,” says St. Bernard, “I see before me a man of meekness, humility, kindness, and mercy, Who at the same time is the Almighty God, Who heals and strengthens me.” When we say Jesus, we should imagine to ourselves that we see a man, meek, benignant, kind, and full of all virtues; and then we must think that He is our God, Who, to cure our wounds, chose to be despised, wounded, and even to die of pure grief on a Cross. St. Anselm, therefore, exhorts all who call themselves Christians to cherish the beautiful name of Jesus, to have it always in their hearts, that it may be their only food, their only consolation. “Let Jesus be ever in thy heart. Let Him be thy food, thy delight, thy consolation.” “Ah,” says St. Bernard, “it is he alone who experiences it, that can know what sweetness, what a paradise even in this valley of tears, it is truly to love Jesus.”
“The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His lov'd ones know.”
Well did St. Rose of Lima know this happiness, from whose mouth came out such a burning flame of love, after she had received Holy Communion, that it burned the hands of those that gave her water (as was the custom) to drink after Communion. As also did St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, who, with a crucifix in her hand, cried out, burning with love, “O God of love! O God of love! even mad with love.” And St. Philip Neri, whose ribs were forced out to give room for his heart, which was burning with Divine love, to beat more freely. St. Stanislaus Kostka, who was obliged to have his breast bathed with cold water to mitigate the great ardour with which he was burning for the love of Jesus. St. Francis Xavier, who for the same cause unclosed his bosom, saying, “Lord, it is enough; no more,” in this way declaring himself unable to bear the great flame that was burning in his heart.
Let us also try as much as we can to keep Jesus in our hearts by loving Him, and to keep Him on our lips by often calling on Him. St. Paul says that the name of Jesus cannot be pronounced (that is, with devotion) except by the operation of the Holy Ghost: “And no man can say the Lord Jesus but by the Holy Ghost.” So that the Holy Ghost communicates Himself to all those who devoutly pronounce the name of Jesus.
The name of Jesus is strange to some, and why is it? Because they love not Jesus. The Saints have always on their lips this name of salvation and love. There is not a page in all the epistles of St. Paul in which he does not name Jesus many times. St. John also names Him often. The blessed Henry Suso, the more to increase his love for this holy name, one day, with a sharp iron, engraved the name of Jesus on his bosom over his heart; and being all bathed in his blood, he said, “Lord, I desire to write Thy name on my heart itself, but I cannot; Thou Who canst do everything, imprint, I pray Thee, Thy sweet name on my heart, so that neither Thy name nor Thy love may ever be effaced from it.” St. Jane of Chantal imprinted the name of Jesus on her heart with a hot iron.
Jesus Christ does not expect so much from us; He is satisfied if we keep Him in our hearts by love, and if we often invoke Him with affection. And as whatever He did and said during His life, He did it all for us, so it is but just that whatever we do, we should do it in the name of Jesus Christ, and for His love, as St. Paul exhorts us: “All whatsoever you do, in word or in work, all things do ye in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” And if Jesus has died for us, we ought to be ready willingly to give our lives for the name of Jesus Christ, as the same Apostle declared he was ready to do: “For I am ready, not only to be bound, but to die also in Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Let us now come to the conclusion. If we are in affliction, let us invoke Jesus, and He will console us. If we are tempted, let us invoke Jesus, and He will give us strength to withstand all our enemies. If, lastly, we are in aridity, and are cold in Divine love, let us invoke Jesus, and He will inflame our hearts. Happy are they who have this most tender and holy name always on their lips! A name of peace, a name of hope, a name of salvation, and a name of love. And oh, happy shall we be if we are fortunate enough to die pronouncing the name of Jesus! But if we desire to breathe out our last sigh with this sweet name on our tongue, we must accustom ourselves to repeat it often during our life.
Let us also always add the beautiful name of Mary, which is also a name given from Heaven, and is a powerful name which makes Hell tremble; and is besides a sweet name, in that it reminds us of that Queen who, being the Mother of God, is also our Mother, the Mother of mercy, the Mother of love.
Since, then, O my Jesus! Thou art the Saviour Who hast given Thy Blood and Thy life for me, I pray Thee to write Thine adorable name on my poor heart; so that having it always imprinted in my heart by love, I may also have it ever on my lips, by invoking it in all my necessities. If the devil tempts me, Thy name will give me strength to resist him; if I lose confidence, Thy name will animate me to hope; if I am in affliction, Thy name will comfort me, by reminding me of all Thou hast endured for me. If I find myself cold in Thy love, Thy name will inflame me by reminding me of the love Thou hast shown me. Hitherto I have fallen into so many sins, because I did not call on Thee; from henceforth Thy name shall be my defense, my refuge, my hope, my only consolation, my only love. Thus do I hope to live, and so do I hope to die, having Thy name always on my lips.
Most holy Virgin, obtain for me the grace of invoking the name of thy Son Jesus in all my necessities, together with thine own, my Mother Mary; but let me invoke them always with confidence and love, so that I may be able also to say to thee as did the devout Alphonsus Rodriguez: “Jesus and Mary, may I suffer for You; may I die for You; may I be wholly Yours, and in nothing my own!” O my beloved Jesus! O Mary, my beloved Lady! give me the grace to suffer and to die for Thy love, I will be no longer mine own, but altogether Thine; Thine in life, and Thine in death, when I hope by Thy help to expire saying, Jesus and Mary, help me!
Jesus and Mary, I recommend myself to Thee; Jesus and Mary, I love Thee, and I give and deliver up to Thee my whole soul.