As we sat there in the public side of the little chapel, my family and I strained to see and here all that happened around the corner and through the metal lattice-work that divided the world and the cloister, our family and my sister Nicole. It was a fall morning in 2012 and it was the day that my sister was entering the Dominican Novitiate. Now, becoming a novice is not as profound a jump as is entering the convent outright, at least in terms of the practical detail that there wasn’t a change in who-sat-where in the minivan, but it was the day that, besides taking one more step into full membership in the community, she would also receive her new name. The ceremony was brief but beautiful, and the Mother superior spoke her new name loud and clear: Sr. Mary Thomas, of the Holy Name of Jesus.
Our attention was first grabbed by “Thomas”. Was it St. Thomas, the Apostle of India? Or Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican scholar? Or, one of those other Saint Thomas’s Thomas à Kempis, who wrote the Imitation of Christ, or Thomas Becket, who was martyred after opposing King Henry II, or Thomas More, who died to uphold the authority of the Pope, and integrity of marriage? (It was Thomas Aquinas, who himself was named after the Apostle, so she got two for the price of one!)
But then we began to consider that second half of the name: “Of the Holy Name of Jesus”. What a tremendous title!? How magnificent to have Our Lord’s name brought into your own? The name of Jesus, which literally means “the LORD saves”, and Who, literally, is the LORD, saving His people! The name at which every knee shall bend, every person be saved, every grace given, every demon cast out… Needless to say, we were stoked at the name she had been given!
I mention all of that because, being named “Christians” ourselves, we, too, have announced to the world, and incorporated into our lives, the truth that Jesus is the One Whom we call upon. Not upon the “name” of money, power, worldly-prestige, or any other person do we rely on in our daily battles, nor our supernatural ones, but only the name of Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, that has to be the case above all when we find ourselves fallen into sin! As the tax collector in our Gospel today, we too, have to acknowledge our sin, and simply and humbly repeat that prayer “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This phrase, including Christ’s name, is a devotion as popular as the rosary in many parts of the Christian world. It’s so short, but incredibly powerful to simply repeat throughout the day the simple phrase: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” If you find yourself tempted, say these words! If you find yourself fallen into sin, pray this prayer! If you need peace in a moment of crisis, call on Christ’s name in this way! As you wake up, let these be your first words! If you have 5 minutes, stop and sit and slowly repeat this simplest of prayers! If you are lost, or burdened, or overjoyed, or in any situation whatever, simply repeat that Name above all Names: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Say that first phrase, of belief in Christ, as you breathe in, and the second half, humbly asking for His grace and mercy, as you breathe out, and the phrase of the justified tax collector begins to naturally enter into the entirety of our lives to the cadence of our respiration. With St. Paul, we learn to “pray without ceasing” and “call on the name of the Lord”.
Prayer is not just for cloistered nuns! It’s the mark of anyone who has taken the name “Christian” because it is the lifeline that connects us to Christ, the bond that keeps us members of His family. Our first reading emphasizes God’s attentiveness to the weak, oppressed, orphan, and lowly … for anyone who serves God, “the Lord will not delay”. But He can only come to our aid if we speak to Him and invite Him into our lives. God will never force His way in! Our Psalm says much the same: “When the just cry out, the LORD hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them … the LORD is close to the broken-hearted … The LORD redeems the lives of his servants.”. Paul lived this out: “I am already being poured out like a libation … But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength.”. How can we receive the Lord’s care, forgiveness, mercy, and strength? Call out to Him! Call on the name of the Lord!
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen!
Fr. Dominic Rankin is the Parochial Vicar for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.