What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Today’s Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, presents us with readings that are all about names.  Names are important.  When we meet people for the first time, we ask their name.  Is there a story behind the name?  Often there is.  Each of us can probably tell a story about our name.  In my own case, I was named for an uncle.  He was Larry, Uncle Larry to be specific.  I was always Lawrence.  It was the family’s way of keeping us separate.

In the Scriptures, names gather up and indicate the direction of a person’s life.  When the path of that person’s life changed, so did the name.  Abram becomes Abraham.  Sarai becomes Sarah.  Jacob becomes Israel.  Simon becomes Peter.  Saul becomes Paul.   

The reading from the Book of Numbers today, God speaks to Moses and appoints him as a mediator between God and the priests of Israel.  Moses is to instruct his brother and the other priests to bless the people by invoking God’s name upon them.  Because these people did not vocally say the name of God, they substitute a title, Elohim.  We translate that word as “Lord.”  So the blessing reads: “The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!”  Invoking God’s name on the people blesses them with graciousness, kindliness, and peace.  These are the attributes that sum up God’s name as it was revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

The Gospel for today tells us that when Jesus was circumcised, he was given the name Jesus.  The name was given to him by the angel that announced his birth.  The Hebrew name, Yeshua, means deliverer, rescuer, or, as we often render it, savior.  When the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, they said: “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you.”  The shepherds reacted to the name by going in haste to find the savior.  The Gospel also makes it clear that they became the first human beings to tell others the good news.  The shepherds became missionary evangelists that night.  They must have been convincing preachers, for the Gospel also tells us that those who heard them were filled with amazement.

We often speak of baptism as “christening.”  The first question asked of parents when they bring the child to be baptized is: “What name do you give your child?”  As soon as the minister of baptism hears the name, he signs the child with the cross using that name.  From that moment on, the child’s name and the cross of Jesus are inextricably linked.  Ransomed by the cross, we become adopted children of God.  Even today, when one is adopted, the name of the adoptive parent becomes our name. 

As we begin another year, the liturgy asks us to reflect on the importance of God’s name, the importance of Jesus’ name, and the importance of our own name.  At the same time, we celebrate the Virgin Mary who is now named the Mother of God.  Those of us who were born before 1967 remember that this day has borne many liturgical titles.  It was called the Feast of the Circumcision as well as the World Day of Prayer for Peace.  The liturgical renewal of the Vatican Council restored the day to its oldest title, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.  So in addition to invoking God’s name, we also invoke the name of Mary and ask her to intercede with her son Jesus for peace in our world.  Once again we celebrate the Eucharist at the opening of a new calendar year, the Eucharist which is the sacrament of reconciliation between God and the human family.  May God bless us with a year filled with graciousness, kindliness and peace!

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator


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