Sunday, May 13, 2007

Scripture Reflection: Called by God (on Confirmation names)

Here is the reflection I gave on Holy Saturday, during the morning retreat for the RCIA candidates and catechumens. The names of the Saints selected as Confirmation names were: St. Francis for Francisco, St. Cecelia for Jenna, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for Lindsay, and St. Patrick for John.

I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Eph 3:14-15) writes Saint Paul. Ever since man could speak in words, he has named things, and the names given to things have had meaning. In Genesis, we read that, before man was even created, God, the Creator of all, named the light “Day” and the darkness “Night”, the firmament “Heaven”, the dry land “Earth”, and the waters “Seas” (cf. Gen 1:5-10). When God breathed into the first “Man” His breath of life – the first living soul, the first human in communion with God – God gave to Him the gift of language that man might name the creatures which God had created. The phrase “the Word of God” in Scriptures refers to revelation from God: [T]he word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." (Gen 15:1)

Names, which are made up of words, are important in every culture. A thing is given a name for a reason, and words themselves have origins. The name Adam and the Hebrew word for “man” are one in the same: adamah, which means both “reddish” and “earth” and describes the complexion and substance of man.

My name, Jeffrey, comes from Geoffrey, which comes from the Germanic name Godfrey, meaning “the peace of God”. Francisco, your name comes from the Latin Franciscus, which means “French-man”. Jenna, your name is a variant of Jennifer – a name in use only since the 20th century – which comes from Guinevere, the Old French rendering of the Welsh name Gwenhwyfar, meaning “fair and smooth”. Lindsay, your name is a Scottish surname, from Old English, describing a place called “Lincoln’s marsh”. And John, your name, the most Biblical of the group – with the exception of Sr. Mary, of course – comes from the Latin Iohannes, from the Greek Ioannes, which came from the Hebrew Yochanan, meaning “Yahweh is gracious”. Truly, John the Baptist, born to an aged Zechariah (“Yahweh remembers”) and his barren wife Elizabeth (“God’s promise”), was a sign of the graciousness of God to His people.

Several times in the Bible we read of people being given a new name by God: Abram and Sarai were renamed Abraham and Sarah in light of their covenant with God (cf. Gen 17), Jacob was renamed Israel after contending with a messenger of God (cf. Gen 32:28), the man we know of as Joshua son of Nun – a servant of Moses and the one who led the Israelites into the land promised to them – was born Hoshea and was named Joshua (or Yehoshua, meaning “Yahweh is salvation”) by Moses (cf. Num 13:16). King Solomon was also named Jedidiah (meaning “beloved of Yahweh”) in his infancy (cf. 2 Sam 12). The Apostle Simon was named Peter by Jesus (cf. Matt 16:18; John 1:40-42). The Pharisee Saul was named Paul after his conversion (cf. Acts 13:9).

Jesus – whose Hebrew name was the same as Joshua – was prophesied to have the name Emmanuel, “God with us”, as well as a host of other names: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isa 7:14, 9:6). Those phrases were names in Hebrew: Pele-joez, El-gibbor, Abi-ad, Sar-shalom.

Paul wrote in his second letter to the church in Corinth, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17). It is in our baptism that we are made new – restored and refreshed – by God, who calls each of us by name. We choose a baptismal name, as well as a confirmation name, as a sign of this rebirth in Jesus Christ. We choose the name of a saint, one who set apart his or her life for God, as a sign of our earnest desire to live a holy life and be a child of God. St. Francis of Assisi, inspired by a vision in a Crucifix, renounced his lineage and all his possessions and founded a religious order, the Franciscans. St. Cecilia, an early martyr of the Church whose name is mentioned in the first Eucharistic Prayer, praised God with her voice and with instruments. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American Saint, endured hardships and loss during her conversion to Catholicism, founded the first religious community of apostolic women in the country, the Sisters of Charity, and helped form a private charity organization – the first in New York City – dedicated to the assistance of widows with children. St. Patrick was a missionary to Ireland in the fifth century, and was recognized as Ireland’s patron only a few centuries after his death.

The first Christian saints – the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles – experienced the early form of baptism and confirmation. Baptism by water in the name the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit cleanses us from our sin; Confirmation seals us with the gift of the Holy Spirit, which manifested itself as tongues of flame at Pentecost. Water and fire, often seen by philosophers as contradictory and opposing, are understood in Christianity as united symbols of cleansing and purification. In being called by the Father, you will pass through the waters of baptism and the fire of the Holy Spirit, welcomed by so great a cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1): His Son, His Holy Spirit, His Saints, His Church.

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