Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday Reflection - New Names in Christ

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.

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. 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.” Branson, your name comes from an English surname meaning “Son of Brando;” brando comes from medieval German, derived from brand which meant “sword.” Cody, your name comes from the Gaelic Mac Oda, meaning “son of Otto.” And Ricardo, your name is the Spanish and Portuguese form of Richard, meaning “brave power;” it comes from the Germanic roots ric meaning “power” or “rule,” and hard meaning “brave” or “hardy.”

Biblical names are rich in meaning. The prophet Elijah was sent to Israel during a time when the king and his people followed many gods; the name Elijah means “the LORD is God.” Jesus’s name in Hebrew, Yehoshua, means “the LORD saves.” Several times in the Bible we read of people being given a new name by God: Abram and Sarai were renamed Abraham (“father of many”) and Sarah (“princess”) in light of their covenant with God (cf. Gen 17); Jacob was renamed Israel (“he struggles with God”) after contending with a messenger of God (cf. Gen 32:28); King David’s son Solomon was named Jedidiah (“beloved of the Lord”) in his infancy (cf. 2 Sam 12); and Simon was named Peter (“rock”) by Jesus (cf. Matt 16:18, John 1:40-42).

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. Victor of Marseilles was a 3rd century Roman soldier who was imprisoned when he would not worship pagan idols. While awaiting execution, he converted other prisoners to Christianity. His name, a common one among early Christians, comes from the Latin word meaning “conqueror.” As a given name, it has a profound connection to Jesus Christ. St. Paul asked the Church in Rome: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom. 8:35, 37) Christ himself endured tribulation, distress, persecution, hunger, nakedness, peril, and the sword, but the Lord conquered death through them. In the book of Revelation, Jesus sends a message to seven churches; at the end of each message, he promises a reward to those who conquer: to eat from the Tree of Life, to not suffer eternal death, to taste the hidden manna, to receive power, to be dressed in white, to be a pillar of the temple of God, and to sit on his heavenly throne.

St. Peregrine Laziosi is the patron saint of cancer patients. In his youth, in the late 13th century, St. Peregrine was staunchly opposed to the Church. During one civil disturbance, the pope sent Philip Benizi to mediate a peace; Peregrine struck St. Philip on the cheek, and St. Philip did not retaliate but rather turned his face to let Peregrine strike his other cheek. Peregrine was so overcome that he repented and entered the Church. He was ordained a priest of the Servite order, and led many people to the faith by his fervent preaching and faithful witness to the Gospel. St. Peregrine’s name means “wanderer” or “pilgrim,” and at the Second Vatican Council, the Church identified herself as “present in the world, but as a pilgrim,” recalling the words of St. Paul to the Church in Philippi: our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we also await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. In his early life, he was a wanderer and a pilgrim, but he found his home, the Church, and from then on, he was on pilgrimage to the Temple of God in Heaven.

St. David the King was an ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the second King of Israel, beloved of God. God said of David, “I have found in David, the son of Jesse, a man after my heart, who will do all my will.” (Acts 13:22) The name “David” in Hebrew means “beloved.” And yet, David was a sinner. After he caused Bathsheba’s husband to die in battle to cover up his own adultery with her, David was utterly sorrowful; moved to repentance, he wrote Psalm 51. In words which prophesy the cleansing of Baptism, St. David cried out to God: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your merciful love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. / Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! / Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. / Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” When Jesus, a Son of David, was baptized in the Jordan, the voice of the Father came out of Heaven saying “This is my beloved Son” – His “David-son”, His “beloved Son”. In Baptism, in Christ, we become beloved of God.

The first Christian saints 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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