Saturday, May 19, 2012

What's in a name?

The Navy Chief noticed a new sailor and asked him, “ What’s your name sailor?”  “John,” the young man replied.  “Look,” said the Chief, “I don’t know what they’re teaching sailors in boot camp nowadays, but I don’t call anyone by his first name. It breeds familiarity, and that leads to a breakdown in authority. I refer to my sailors by their last names only; Smith, Jones, Baker, whatever. And you are to refer to me as ’Chief’. Do I make myself clear?”  “Aye, Aye Chief!” the sailor said.  “Now that we’ve got that straight, what’s your last name?” The man sighed and said, “Darling. My last name is Darling.” Without skipping a beat, the Chief said, “Okay, John, you’re dismissed.”

What’s in a name?  We heard Jesus say something very interesting in our Gospel passage today.  He said, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me.”  Keep them in your name.  That phrase brings to mind the famous question pondered by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Our Gospel today asks us much the same question as Jesus prays to the Father to keep His followers in God’s Name. 

So, our Gospel invites us today to ponder that simple question: what’s in a name?  Just think of your family.  One of the outward signs that unites a family are the common names we share.  People often want to know – what are your family names?  Last names and what they mean are important. First names are important.  For myself, every time I find out someone is pregnant, I remind them what a beautiful name Thomas is.  No takers yet.  But, isn’t it a source of pride when the newest member of your family becomes your namesake?

Time Magazine recently had an interesting article about names.  You know, not too long ago, Catholics always gave their children religious names – naming them after Biblical individuals or saints. I think half of the North End is named Anthony or Michael and just think of how many women and girls have some version of Mary or Marie in their names.  Why?  Because a name says something, means something.  It says something about who we are, and it says something about who we hope to be.  This is less the case today. We live in an age where names come from wherever – movies, television, sometimes just made up.  Just to give you an example.  I have two beautiful twin nieces who just celebrated their seventh birthday at the end of April.  Their names are Samantha and Makayla.  I think it took me the first five years of their lives to figure out how to spell Makayla.  Is it Michaela, is it Mikhala, is it Makayla?  It’s the last one by the way.

But, the good news, according to the Time article is that in our post-9/11 world, people are returning to Biblical names for their children.  In the top 10 boys names last year were Jacob, Michael, Noah and Anthony – all good Biblical or saintly names.  Popular girls names are not necessarily Biblical, but definitely spiritual.  Girls are being named things like Destiny, Genesis, Trinity and perhaps the most interesting one Nevaeh.  That’s Heaven spelled backwards.

So, what’s in a name?  Well, our name is reflective of our identity. It tells people who we are, where we come from.  It is attached to our reputation for whatever we have done, good or bad, in the world.  Just think of some names in our history – all you have to do is say the name and it instantly calls up its heritage.  Names like Hitler or Bin Laden or names like John Paul, Mother Teresa and so on, need no further explanation.  The name alone tells a story of the person.  Whether famous or infamous the mere mention of their names brings to mind their deeds and we react with acceptance or rejection.

At the beginning of the Rite of Baptism, the very first question asked of parents is, “What name do you give your child?”  This name is carefully written in the permanent records of the Church and over the years the dates of other important sacraments will also be recorded.  The Church marks with pride the milestones of growth in the Christian faith and practice of each person who enters this family through the waters of Baptism.  It is through this Baptism that we are welcomed into the Christian community as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and it is through Him that we come to know God as our Father.

In our Gospel today, Jesus prays for us, to the Father and asks that we be kept in God’s Name.  He knows how important a name is and so He gives us the identity of the most important name ever – the name of God. Jesus places us under the protection of God’s Name so that we may share in the joy of God’s eternal kingdom.

We hear in Acts of the Apostles that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians; a name which means literally “little Christ.”  We are called to be little Christ’s going out into the world witnessing to the One in whose Name we have been claimed. As we sing in the familiar hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”  It is up to each of us to claim the name we have been given, the name of the Sons and the Daughters of God, the name Christian.  It is up to us to live up to that name and all that it challenges us to and all that it promises.

So, what is in that name?  Well, in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, since the day of our Baptism, we have been claimed for eternity; named for the Savior, welcomed into the family of God.  In the name of Jesus, in this Church today, bread and wine will become His Body and His Blood.  In the name of Jesus we will be blessed at the end of Mass. In the name of Jesus, sins are forgiven, the sick are healed, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, demons are driven out, the dead are raised.  In the name of Jesus, we can pray for what we need with a confidence that what we ask for in His Holy Name will be granted.  In the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we were welcomed into this community of faith and it is in this same name that we will be commended to the joy of Heaven when our final day comes.

“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.”  Let us allow ourselves to be kept in God’s Name.  Embrace this name that has been given to you.  Live as a son or daughter of God; as a little Christ in the world. Indeed we pray with the whole church today, in the words of the Divine Praises, “Blessed be God, blessed be His Holy Name.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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