Genesis 17:3–9; Psalm 105:4–5, 6–7, 8–9; John 8:51–59
When I was a boy, it was customary for Catholic men and boys from around my city to march in a “Holy Name” parade. We came from all over town and ended up at the ballpark, where an altar was set up for prayer and Benediction, the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament. This popular devotion was to counteract the improper use of the name of Jesus and to witness to the Catholic faith in a secular world. It is a devotion made popular in the fifteenth century by the Franciscan Bernardine of Siena.
Bernardine was acknowledged as a great preacher of the era. He had entered the Franciscans at age twenty-two, after spending time nursing plague victims in his hometown of Siena, Italy. After twelve years spent in prayer as a hermit, he embarked on a preaching career. He traveled throughout Italy, preaching in towns and cities.
To promote devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, Bernardine developed a logo of sorts—the first three letters of Jesus’ name, transposed into Gothic letters: IHS. We still see this symbol today in church art everywhere. While some thought this symbol bordered on idolatry, church authorities upheld Bernardine’s innovation. In today’s Gospel, Jesus confronts his opponents in debate by appropriating to himself the divine name, I am. His hearers interpret this as blasphemy, but Jesus is declaring the reality of who he is.
Our lenten journey must somehow come to grips with who Jesus is for us. Bernardine of Siena creatively invited his audience to acknowledge Jesus. May we accept that invitation and also help to share it with those becoming Catholic this season.
Meditate for a while on the name of Jesus.
Jesus, may your Holy Name be on our lips each day.
May we accept the saving power that comes through faith in you.