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 from evil.
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 of Will 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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