In a recent conversation with a convert to the Faith, the point was made that, as Catholics, our public discourse often suffers a noticable lack: we don’t talk much about Jesus.
We talk about abortion, canon law, the magisterium, Church history, principles of apologetics, natural law, "faith," virtue, sacraments, grace, divine Providence, the priesthood, liberalism, social justice, the criteria for the worthily reception of Holy Communion, pornography, Calvinism, contraception -- and well we should.
But plainly personal talk about Jesus?
My homespun theory as to why we habitually avoid talking in a simple direct way about What's His Name of Nazareth is this: deep down, we think it’s for simpletons.
Those of us engaged in higher-level apologetics are particularly prey to the subtle (?) temptation to present an image of ourselves as intelligent, subtle, ironic even. Sure, so the mental habit goes, salvation is important, but sophistication is awfully cool.
Unvarnished "sharing Jesus" is fine for one-note Protestants and for the hoi polloi Catholic faithful. But whether it increases my chances of being thought of as a True Innerleckshul is another question.
The truth is, in fact, scandalously simple: the source of all things Catholic is our Lord Jesus Christ, whose holy name is the only one under heaven by which men can be saved (Acts 4:12). I hope this doesn’t offend pious ears, but I suspect that one reason for the subconscious preference for “Christ” over “Jesus” in daily usage is that the former is a title, the latter a name. A title is a few degrees more remote from my heart, and safer by far. A name (if I'm not careful) brings me immediately into a precinct of intimacy and vulnerability.
Of course, the reticence to talk about Jesus does not exactly square with the biblical data. The word of God emphasizes in numerous places how the name of Jesus is attached to all manner of divine helps and blessings. Start the list with:
- "In my name they shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover". (Mark 16:17-18)
- In the name of Jesus, the Apostles gave strength to the lame (Acts 3:6; 9:34) and life to the dead (Acts 9:40).
- "If you ask the Father anything in my name he will give it you." (John 16:23), the truth of which provides the basis for the traditional endings to liturgical prayers: "Through our Lord Jesus Christ,” etc.
- At the “name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth" (Philippians 2:10).
This is not to disparage the intellectual life or to wave the flag of a naive fideism. Catholics love truth wherever it’s found, and we can justly boast of 2000 years’ worth of brilliant men and women of science, philosophy and theology.
Still, only one Person in history described himself as the truth. And we love the Church because we love him. If Jesus becomes our mascot and not our Savior, we’re in it for the wrong reasons. I say we bring up the mighty name of Jesus at that cocktail party. Drop it in at the 19th hole. Lay it on your atheism co-worker in the next cubicle. The name is not magic, but it does have power, as Peter Kreeft explains in his zinger of a book book, Jesus Shock.
The editors and reporters over at MSNBC and The New York Times may have an excuse for omitting references to What’s His Name of Nazareth.