The Blessing and the Name of Jesus

Arriving from home just today and finding my room in all its clutter, I thought I would be able to put everything in order and then make my homily for the new year. But when I hit the bed for a nap, I never realized I would spend the last day of the year in bed.

Nevertheless, promises are promises and I intend to keep them. So, I am posting one homily I remember by Fr. Victor Salanga SJ. Fr. Vic was my teacher in Scripture, and it was from him that I learned to explain the Scripture readings as an important component of homilies.

1 January 2005: Solemnity of Mary Mother of God & Imposition of the Name of Jesus
Num 6, 22-27/ Ps 67/ Gal 4, 4-7/ Luke 2, 16-21: Titular Feast of the Society of Jesus

My brothers and sisters, as we gather this evening to celebrate the Eucharist, I suggest we focus our reflections on two points: first, the meaning of ‘blessing’ and second, the meaning of the name, Jesus.

The first reading from the book of Numbers is appropriate on New Year’s Day. We ask God to bless us during the year ahead. The text says: “The Lord blesses you and keeps you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

One way of understanding ‘blessing’ in the Bible is taking its opposite. The opposite of ‘blessing’ is ‘curse’. To curse a person is to separate him and put him at a distance from, even cut his links with his group, family, clan or tribe. The curse is intended to destroy a person’s solidarity with others. That is why, for example, the curse on Cain turns him into a fugitive and a wanderer on earth, fearful that he might be killed by others. If the curse destroys solidarity with others, the blessing, on the other hand, strengthens solidarity with his group, family, clan or tribe.

For us then, when we ask for God’s blessing, we ask Him to build up our bonds with one another. I think we are aware how easily we can undermine solidarity, by tsismis, by spreading rumors, by giving a fellow person the silent treatment, hindi pinapansin. Instead, we beg God to deepen our union of minds and hearts, especially as we build a community here in the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, through the Eucharist.

I have met many of the older Jesuit fathers who are now in our Infirmary. Many of them have been great men when they were young. Now in the hospital, they looked completely helpless. A few years ago they would reveal that in their sufferings and aloneness, they had made the prayer of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, our former Superior General their own: They have placed themselves totally in God’s hands. Now in their sick bed, Fr. Arrupe’s prayer became so apt: “More than ever, I now find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life, from my youth. And this is still the one thing I want. But now there is a difference: the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in His hands.” I think their acceptance of their sickness and transforming it into a powerful spiritual resource is an example of what I mean when we pray for God’s blessing. As we experienced great natural disasters, economic and political strife, and as we encounter personal failures, we pray for genuine experiences which build up and strengthen our union with one another and with God.

Now to the second point: the meaning of the name, Jesus. The Hebrew root of the name Jesus is “hoshia”. “Hoshia” implies bringing help to those in trouble rather than rescuing them from it. The distinction is crucial. The human person, as “hoshia”, as “savior”, can help those in trouble, but God alone can truly rescue them from it. In the person of Jesus, God-made-made, He is able to do both: help those in trouble and rescue them from it.

We bear the name of Jesus. We are Christians. And following the meaning indicated by “hoshia”, our work is to help those in trouble, not rescue them from it. We remember three words: spiritu, corde, praxis. To act “in the Spirit” (Spiritu) meant to refer all to God and divine grace. To act “from the heart” (Corde) meant to bring the feelings to bear on whatever was being done, and never to act “only theoretically”. To act practically (praxis) meant that our affectivity should be directed to helping others. In a word, to act ‘practically’ meant to act pastorally. And thus, this New Year, we act with this triad: spiritu, corde and practice.

Tonight, in our Eucharist, we ask God’s gracious blessing: that He strengthens our bonds of solidarity as a community in this parish, and that He continues to draw us day by day, nearer and nearer to the ideal of becoming another ‘hoshia’, another Jesus in our world today.

On this feast of the Divine motherhood of Mary and as we offer this new year 2006 to her, let us seek her kind intercession that God grant our request. Let us then pray the “Hail Mary” together.

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