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Knowing and Sanctifying His Name: A Lenten Reflection | Carl E. Olson | IgnatiusInsight.com
The 1970s rock band The Doors had a popular "love" song with the lyric,
"Hello, I love you, wont you tell me your name?" If God had been the
lyricist, it would have been far, far better: "Hello, I love you, thats
why I told you My name."
The Christian life, including Lent, is about true and eternal love. And
true love longs to be in the presence of the one loved. And so, when we
pray the Our Father, we first place ourselves in His presence. This is what
Jesus does when He journeys in the desert: "Filled with the Holy Spirit,
Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert
for forty days" (Lk 4:1-2). If Lent is going to take us into a deeper relationship
with the Father, we need to begin by first being in that relationship. It
begins at baptism, but it will sometimes need to be restored through the
sacrament of reconciliation. This is why Ash Wednesday focused so strongly
on repentance and confession; its purpose was to reorient us and prepare
us for the forty days of Lent. Only after acknowledging our true relationship
with God as needy sinners seeking His holiness can we can journey on to
grow in that holiness and in our love for Him.
Thats one reason it is so fitting to contemplate the Our Father during
Lent, for this great prayer of the Church is meant to guide us into holiness
and spiritual growth. It does so by setting the proper priorities and lifting
our hearts and mind to heaven: "Our Father, who art in heaven." Then the
first three petitions of the Our Father orient us towards the Father: His
name, His Kingdom, and His will. The final four petitions focus on our relationship
to Our Father, asking us to sustain us on our Lenten journey: asking for
daily bread, for forgiveness, for protection from temptation, and deliverance
This week we will examine the first petition of the Our Father: "Hallowed
be Thy name." The word "hallowed" is not one we hear in everyday conversation.
Perhaps the only time we hear it out in the "real world" is at Halloween,
or All Hallows Eve, when the Church celebrates the saints, who are "holy
ones." Hallowed is the Old English word for "holy" or "sanctified." The
ancient Hebrews recognized that a name is virtually the same as the thing
or person being named. And so they would not state His name so immense was
their respect for Gods holiness.
As important as holiness is, we sometimes have an incomplete understanding
of it. Oftentimes holiness is associated exclusively with moral purity and
"being good." But we dont pray that Gods name will be good or
morally pure. Rather, we express our desire that Gods name will be
set apart, that we will always keep it sacred, recognizing that God alone
is worthy of worship. "We pray Hallowed by thy name," Saint
Cyprian writes, "not that we wish that God may be made holy by our prayers
but that his name may be hallowed in us."
A literal translation of this phrase from the Our Father could be, "May
Your name be sanctified." Only God is sanctified, holy, and complete in
Himself. Only those chosen by God to be set aside, or made holy, will be
sanctified. Only those united to the Father, through the Son, in the power
of the Holy Spirit, can be holy. "He has, however, willed to make men holy
and save them," the Catechism explains, "not as individuals without any
bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might
acknowledge him and serve him in holiness." This service is really about
being in love with God, the God who is love and sent His Son for our salvation.
When we ask the Father that His name be hallowed, or holy, we enter more
deeply into His plan of salvation for us, what the Catechism calls
the "innermost mystery" of the Godhead and "the drama of the salvation of
our humanity." In the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul
states, "For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved," (Rom 10:13)
and that salvation comes through Jesus Christ. The holy name of God is fully
revealed by Jesus; he gives it to us and sanctifies His own name so that
we might also be consecrated, or made holy, for His work: "Holy Father .
. . for their sake I consecrate myself." Jesus alone, who is the Holy One
of God, can call God, "Father." United to Jesus, the holy ones of God can
now called God, "Our Father."
As Christians, we share in the name of the Christand in His holiness.
And when we recognize and proclaim Gods holiness, we promise to make
His name and reputation holy here on earth. In praying "Hallowed be thy
name," we swear an oath, out of love for the Father, to pursue holiness
for His sake and for the sake of His Church. This requires hard work and
training, trials and difficulties. It requires fasting and prayer. In other
words, Lent is meant for this life-giving pursuit.
The uniqueness of Christianity is not primarily in its moral code, for we
share many of the same moral and ethical beliefs as other religions. The
heart of Christianity is ultimately not doing good thingsas important
as they are. Its in entering into intimate communion with that most
loving of relationships, the Holy Trinity. Becoming holy and being a saint
involves the complete gift of ourselvesbody, soul, and spiritto
the One who gives Himself completely to usbody, blood, soul, and divinityin
the Eucharist. In a word, its about love. True love.
God is love and holiness. Gods holiness is at the "inaccessible center
of his eternal mystery," the Catechism states. A beautiful picture
of this is found in The Apocalypse, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which
describes the throne room of God echoing with the great song of praise,
"Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and who
is to come" (Rev 4:8). The Psalmist sings, "Blessed be the name of the Lord From this
time forth and forever" (Ps 113:2). Now thats a song worth singing.
(This article was originally published in the February
29, 2004 edition of Our
Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
He is the co-author of The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author
Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous
Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic
Register and writes the regular Scripture column, "Opening the Word" for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.
He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland,
Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, and two children.
Visit his personal web site at www.carl-olson.com.
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