January, as well as suddenly becoming a month where people become vegan for a few weeks, is traditionally the month dedicated to celebrating the Holy Name of Jesus, following the feast of the Holy Name on the 3rd. There aren’t many people who are so important that we even treat their name as something holy and dedicate a month to celebrating it! Can you imagine what it would be like if there was a month dedicated to the ‘name of Ed Sheeran’ or the ‘name of Ariana Grande’?!
Jesus’ name is significant for so many reasons. Firstly, the original Hebrew name for Jesus is Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ), or Joshua in English. Jesus was named after the Old Testament figure Joshua who brought God’s chosen people to their homeland after decades of wandering in the desert, just as Jesus leads us to our heavenly home after we have wandered in the desert of sin. Yeshua means ‘saviour’ or ‘God saves’ – not a very subtle hint about what Jesus was going to do when he grew up! Yeshua was also quite a common name at the time – a reminder that in Jesus, God became incredibly ordinary – like us in almost every way.
Some people have pointed out in the last few years that Catholics often avoid using the name of Jesus. We’re happier to say ‘God’ or ‘Lord’ or ‘Christ’ but for some reason we can squirm a bit if someone uses Jesus’ name casually in conversation. If we’re not careful Jesus can seem a bit like Voldemort from Harry Potter – ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’. That certainly wouldn’t help bring other people to get to know Him. Of course, sometimes it’s out of respect that we use other names for Jesus and it’s important that we remember that Jesus is God and Lord and Christ and many other things too. But it’s also important that we remember that God, through the Angel Gabriel, gave the name ‘Jesus’ to His Son.
St. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians that “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth”. St. Paul is telling us that Jesus is worth so much of our devotion and attention that even his name should cause us to worship God. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about how we use Jesus’ name – do we avoid it? Do we swear with it? Or do we use it as a way of showing that God saves? After all, a name that can save us from sin certainly deserves more airplay than the name of Harry Potter’s fictional nemesis and is worth far more celebration than the plant-based diets of Veganuary.