Sunday Scriptures

In His Name, Salvation Awaits

By Father James Rodriguez

Pilgrims to Rome develop a seemingly strange and almost unconscious habit when they walk into churches: they instinctively look up. Truly, it is a city full of masterpieces, gems of art and architecture, all for the greater glory of God.

One of these stands out from the rest, and upward-gazing pilgrims quickly realize why. Where so many of the Roman Church ceilings are decorated with magnificent depictions of God, the saints and angels, the Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesù all’Argentina, or “il Gesù (The Jesus)” for short, is different. This church contains a splendid fresco of three simple letters: IHS.

This church is named after Jesus Himself because it is under the patronage of the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. What they realized in the design of this church was borne out of an ancient Jewish understanding of the power of names. IHS refers to the name of Jesus, in which the Apostles, in today’s first reading, preached, suffered and glorified God.

Beyond Mere Labels

What’s in a name? William Shakespeare famously asked this question in “Romeo and Juliet,” pointing to a reality we often take for granted. Our names, beyond functioning as mere labels, convey to the world something of our very selves. Our identities as people are intimately bound to the name our parents gave us.

Even pet owners, to differentiate their animals, give them names that they mysteriously come to resemble. Along these lines, I sometimes warn my students at Cathedral Prep about nicknames, because we can easily become what we allow ourselves to be called.

When Moses asked for a name at the burning bush, he was, whether he knew it or not, asking for more than a word. What Moses sought was God’s personality and character. In short, he was asking for God’s friendship, which is the very gift God desperately wants to share with everyone. For this reason, He responds: “I AM.”

For Friendship’s Sake

Indeed, He is here, present and committed to His creation. For the sake of this friendship, He commands the chosen people, through Moses, not to take His name in vain. He does not do this to frighten or threaten them, but to remind them of the purpose of the Name, that they were to use it to either speak to Him or about Him – and if they were speaking about Him then it had better be good. These are good rules to keep in mind when using any name, let alone God’s.

We all know the temptation of gossip and slander, so I add a caveat to my students about taking my name in vain: If it is bad, then it had better be true! For the ancient Jewish people, all the way to today, God is referred to as Adonai (Lord), G-d, or even Ha Shem, which literally means “The Name.”

This deep respect was in the hearts of those men who, freed from fear, were now boldly proclaiming the Name at which, according to St. Paul years later, “every knee must bend.”

This is the Name that pilgrims to the Gesù gaze at in wonderment. This is The Name of the Lamb of God, who sits on the throne that John was privileged to see in his apocalypse. “It is the Lord!” he exclaimed as a much younger man, in Peter’s boat that morning shortly after the first Easter.

Here the great British novelist C.S. Lewis drew inspiration for the culmination of his beloved “The Chronicles of Narnia” series. The sea voyagers in the Dawn Treader arrive at the mysteriously peaceful shores looking for Aslan, the great lion whose guidance runs through the series. Instead, they find a lamb – Aslan transformed – who invites them to breakfast.

Open to All

This is clearly an allusion to today’s Gospel, in which Jesus eucharistically feeds his disciples with bread, strengthening them to do the same for us – the rest of His sheep – and us for each other. Likewise, he gives them fish, and a great haul at that. Scholars believe that at the time there were 153 known nationalities, and that Peter’s net, filled without breaking, represents the Church, open to all. This very Church took as her first creed the Greek word for fish: “ichthus,” using it as an acronym for the words: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.

This is the Name that impelled these men to give their lives despite danger on every side. This is the Name that was first uttered to Mary at the Annunciation, when her “yes” radically changed history.

This is the Name that blesses the lips of believers, in times of trial and triumph alike. In this Name – and no other – salvation waits, like a gentle lamb offering breakfast to weary travelers. This is the Name we bear when we dare call ourselves Christians.

Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 5: 27-32, 40b-41
Psalm 30: 2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13
Revelation 5: 11-14
John 21: 1-19 or John 21: 1-14

Father James Rodriguez is the associate vocation director for the diocese and teaches at Cathedral Prep and Seminary, Elmhurst.