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The Importance of Our Name

The Importance of Our Name

Today’s feast is one of the solemnities of the liturgical year.  The day has been “named” several different ways in the space of my lifetime.  As a boy, I knew today as the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, a name that is still used in the Eastern rites churches.  In the 1960’s and 70’s, it was also called “The World Day of Prayer for Peace.”  However in today’s liturgical calendar, it is known as the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.  This, in fact, is the most ancient tradition, a fact that the II Vatican Council acknowledged when the missal and lectionary were renewed at the close of its deliberations.  The readings for today's liturgy, though relatively short, reflect the many different traditions of this day and are packed with all sorts of insights for us to contemplate, to ponder, just as the Blessed Mother did so many years ago. 

First, we read the blessing which God gave to Moses who in turn gave it to Aaron and his sons. God did not give the blessing directly to Aaron but rather confirmed Moses' role as mediator. God then speaks of the importance of the blessing by telling Moses that through this blessing they are actually putting God's name ON the people (a better translation than "invoking"). To better understand the importance of this detail, think back to when you were a child and your mother put your name in your coat or another piece of your clothing; or think of how you write your name on the inside leaf of a book.  In this way, we are stating that this piece of clothing or this book belongs to us; it is ours.  Thus God claims the people as His own through a blessing which repeats the name of God three times. 

St. Paul uses the imagery of Roman adoption to explain our relationship to God.  Adoption was not known or even necessary in Jewish culture because of the nature of the family in this society (cf. my blog for the Feast of the Holy Family).  So St. Paul employs a notion with which he would have been familiar as a Roman citizen.  In Greek and Roman culture if a son and heir has not reached majority when his parent dies, a legal guardian is appointed to watch over the inheritance until such time as the boy can claim what is rightfully his.  Just so, St. Paul claims that the Mosaic Law and Sinai Covenant were our guardians.  However, with the birth of Christ, we have reached maturity and can claim what is ours as co-heirs of Christ.  We are the adopted children of God.  Again, God claims us as His own, His children and heirs.

Finally, the Gospel speaks of the day when Jesus was circumcised and named.  Mary watches from the sidelines as Jesus is inducted into the ranks of God's people through this ancient ritual. Almost all that the angel told her has come about. The angel spoke the name of Jesus before his birth. Now it is accomplished. He is called Jesus, a name that means Savior. Strange as it may sound, St. Luke is the only evangelist to call Jesus by this name.

Just as the shepherds became evangelists as they spread the Good News that they heard from the angels, we are called to be evangelists, people who bear Jesus’ name. We are Christians; we belong to Christ.

Obviously, then, today is about names.  God places His name on His people.  St. Paul writes about how we are named through adoption.  The Gospel tells us of Jesus’ name.  Indeed, in Catholic culture, January is the “Month of the Holy Name of Jesus.”  God loves us so much; we are proud to bear God’s name.

What you gonna call yo' pretty little baby,
What you gonna call yo' pretty little baby,
What you gonna call yo' pretty little baby?
Born, born in Bethlehem.
Some say one thing, I'll say Immanuel,
Born, born in Bethlehem.

What you gonna call yo' pretty little baby,
What you gonna call yo' pretty little baby,
What you gonna call yo' pretty little baby,
Born, born in Bethlehem.
Some call him one thing, I'll call him Jesus.
Born, born in Bethlehem.

What you gonna call yo' pretty little baby,
What you gonna call yo' pretty little baby,
What you gonna call yo' pretty little baby,
Born, born in Bethlehem.
Sweet little baby, born in a manger.
Born, born in Bethlehem.

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

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