The Hidden Meanings of Naming | Homily

The Hidden Meanings of Naming | Homily


The Baptism by Pietro Longhi *

Homily | Wednesday, 14th Week in Ordinary Time

Saint John was named as ‘John’ in order to reveal through his name and the totality of his life, the call that was in store for him. Names indeed, are also statements of our response to God. That is why, in naming children, parents should consider sensitively on how one should attach to their children their personal gratefulness through names.  This is considered a “spiritual heritage”. Through these names, they can ever ready reference themselves to and be reminded how to conduct their lives when they will grab their own center-stages in Christian life and witness.

Today, our Gospel reading is simply the naming and charging of the apostles by Jesus. The first part is the calling by name by Jesus to his apostles. This simple calling, when we consider profoundly in faith, is actually the formal entrustment of Jesus to His apostles the mission bore in their names, that is, to seek out the lost sheep of the house of Israel by proclaiming that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.

God knows us

In the naming of the apostles by Jesus’ calling them, He lets us realize that the God who calls actually and personally knows us. This is where the serious obligation of naming is fully realized as well. Parents naming their kids in a jokingly manner, is a kind of an insult to God who deeply knows us. Remember these biblical inspirations from Jeremiah 1:5 saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you”. God’s extent of love goes even before our physical birth; he knows us before we were born; is it not only sad that we belittle this Divine Knowledge by not honoring ourselves as bearers of God’s presence to others?

Drill of Christians

Second, the calling of Jesus is a kind of a drill of Christians whose life is a series of call. Some of which I find very important are the calling of our names on these stages: the first stage is the call to conversion: in calling our names, Jesus invites us to recognize a newer standard of life with Him. He permeates our lives with his calling. Saint Augustine reflected: “God calls us to correct ourselves and invites us to do penance. He calls us through the reader and through the preacher. He calls us with the innermost force of our thoughts. He calls us with the scourge of punishment, and He calls us with the mercy of His consolation” (En. In Ps. 102, 16). Then, the next stage is the call to vocation. Forgiven and made worthy to be an ambassador of God’s grace and mercy, the experience of conversion becomes a task of evangelization. We carry in us Jesus in love and mercy experienced in the first calling, to share it to others in proclaiming Him to others. That is why; the present election of the apostles is this second stage as they are led to their vocation. The final call is at the end of the toil of our vocation which is the call to eternal Life. This is the motivating factor of our enthusiasm to answer the call of God, to abandon our old self and embrace our vocation. The first two steps are important stages to attain eternal life because we practice ourselves to answer God’s initiative to respond at the last part of our earthly lives. Remembering the parable of Jesus when finally, after the successful investment of the Master’s money, the Master will say, well done my servant, come in and join the joy of our Lord (cf. Mat. 25.21).

Turning over and total trustful surrender

Lastly, naming in Semitic cultures indicates subjection. Only masters name their slaves. Parents name their children and not vice versa or the subject renames himself or herself. This has a negative connotation. So, are we saying that since Jesus “named” his apostles, would mean his apostles are slaves? This is not what it means. Subjection does not mean oppressive slavery. Subjection connotes turning over and total and trustful surrender. In our case, when God calls us by name, he calls us to trust and be humble, to entrust oneself to Him no matter what. To respond to God’s call is to wholeheartedly commit in faith because, as God, he does not fail us. “Cast your care to Him who truly cares for you” (cf. Peter 5:7). Jesus himself promised us a Sunday ago in the Gospel reading: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

As he calls us by name, let us not be fearful (cf. Is. 43.1). Rather, let us give another chance to respond more readily and more openly. As each second of every minute within an hour of the day, of the week and month and a year, is a precious chance to be called by name. Let us not waste the moment of God’s invitation. Reflection by: Rev. Fr. Ric Anthony A. Reyes, OSA

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