Called by name

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What’s in a name? “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” So why is it significant that “when I was in the womb, before my birth, he had pronounced my name.” This same question arises again in the gospel – why is it important that the child be named “John?”

The Hebrew meaning of the name is “God is gracious.” Zechariah means “The Lord remembers.” Either name reflects a certain praise or gratitude for God. But where Zechariah connects us to the waiting time, the promise of God is yet to come; the name John implies the time of fulfillment has arrived. God’s graciousness, his gift of grace, is coming and John is called to herald the arrival.

In modern times, we give scant attention to the meaning of names, but it can be interesting to look at them more closely. In the Bible, we mostly see single names, although there are often qualifiers that tell us more about the person. Thus we have Simon Peter (the rock) and Simon the Zealot. We have James Boanerges – son of thunder, and James of Alphaeus. The surnames reflect their homeland, their ancestry, their personality or one’s vocation. Even today we see that trend. Crowley is the short form of O’Crowley – from the area of Crowley in Ireland. Maroney is derived from the ancient Gaelic O Maolruanaidh meaning a descendant of Ruanaidh, or Rooney. What sort of person do you think the first Stone was, or the first Bliss? It’s not hard to guess where names like Shoemaker, Potter and Smith came from.

Today we celebrate the infant John being inducted into the faith community through the Jewish rite of circumcision and naming. We Catholics can relate it to our sacramental Baptism, when we also receive a name. But we get more than that. At our baptism, we also get a calling. Just as John was called to be the Baptist, to be the voice crying in the wilderness, making straight the way of the Lord, we are each of us called to be a priestly people, to serve God. This doesn’t mean we are all expected to be a priest or enter the religious life. Most of us are called to serve as laity, either married or single.

As part of this holy calling – our vocation – God bestows on us certain gifts. Some people are born administrators; others are gifted to teach, or to manage the little services that help our church to run smoothly. Your gift may be in organizing, speaking, writing, or just listening. You may be a great cook, or a reliable handyman. Our society needs all. The diversity of gifts is what makes us strong. More important, that same diversity of gifts is what makes our church strong.

Sadly too many gifts are being lost. Nearly one third of the children conceived are aborted. Equally tragic are the adults who have turned their backs on their gifts and on service to God. At baptism, you received a name that may or may not reflect who you are and who you are called to be. It is your responsibility to look beyond your name to discern what your particular gifts and calling are. It is your responsibility to not discard what God has given.

Linda Crowley