If I were to give this homily a title, it might be, "what's in a name?"*
There are three things we emphasize on this feast day:
Mary’s title as Mother of God; Jesus’ circumcision as a baby;
and his naming. Let’s focus on the last one.
According to the law of Moses,
a boy was to be circumcised on the eighth day;
and at that time, he receives his name publicly.
When you think about it, isn’t it obvious
that one of the most consequential decisions parents make,
is the name they give their child?
(Here I added something about how the Archangel Gabriel took the trouble to tell both Mary and Joseph that the Messiah's name would be Jesus -- so obviously, this was important to heaven. And I also explained the first reading; namely, that it recalls when the High Priest would invoke the Divine Name over the people, once a year, otherwise, the Name was never spoken. However, we are privileged to speak the name of God: Jesus!)
If you go through the Scriptures,
you see many examples of the importance of names;
so much so, that many times, God will change someone’s name.
Abram becomes Abraham; Jacob becomes Israel;
Simon becomes Peter.
Our name goes a long way in defining who we are.
The giving of a name is a great responsibility.
So I want to encourage our parents to consider carefully
the names you give your child.
A few weeks ago, I read a story about a priest
who was asked to baptize a baby with the name of Lucifer.
That’s right, Lucifer!
Meanwhile, I’ve also heard about children being named for pagan gods,
such as Thor, Jupiter or Aphrodite.
Don’t forget about the famous tennis player whose name is Venus.
There’s no requirement to name your child after a saint,
but I would like to encourage parents to do so –
at least to have one of the names you give your child be that of a saint.
Indeed, even before you choose a name,
may I suggest that you pray about what to name your child?
Ask the Holy Spirit, ask your child’s guardian angel,
to guide your decision.
And when I say, pick a saint’s name,
that includes names from the Bible –
that is, those who were exemplary.
Pilate, or Herod, or Ahaz are not names to pick!
Another point: when you pick a saint’s name for your child,
you are giving your child a patron saint.
A priest I knew some years ago
told me about being called to the hospital for an emergency;
when he got there, he found a child had just been born,
and the boy wasn’t going to survive.
So he only had a few minutes to baptize the baby.
The parents didn’t have any name in mind,
so the priest named him for the saint of the day: Polycarp!
I know, that sounds like a kind of fish!
It doesn’t sound like a name we’d want.
But if you remember to do it, when you get home,
look up Saint Polycarp.
It’s an inspiring story of a faithful witness to Christ.
And when that child breathed his last a few minutes later,
and went to heaven, he had a patron saint, waiting to meet him!
It’s a wonderful thing to have a patron saint
who you know is praying for you throughout your life.
Your patron saint becomes a special, spiritual friend and companion.
I am so looking forward to meeting my patron, Saint Martin de Porres,
and I am grateful my parents gave me someone to watch over me.
So that leads to another suggestion which might seem obvious:
Know what patron saint you have in mind –
and teach your child about that saint.
I’ve talked to a lot of kids over the years
who had no idea who their patron saint was. No one had ever told them!
Now, if you are listening, and you’re thinking,
I have no idea who my patron saint is, that’s no problem.
First, of course, you can ask your parents.
But if that’s not possible, you can still look up your name
and see which saints have the same name.
And if, after all that, you can’t find any saint with your name,
then I suggest you simply pick a saint for yourself.
Speaking of names, let me make a point
about the name which the Church gave to Mary,
and that is “Mother of God.”
The point of this title isn’t primarily about Mary, but about her son:
He is truly God, and so she is truly the God-bearer.
And this title is one of the ways we express our joy
at what God has given us in his Son,
and our gratitude to Mary for saying yes to God’s plan.
How fitting then that the Church grants a plenary indulgence
to encourage us to recite on Dec. 31 the Te Deum,
and on January 1, the Veni Creator.
The indulgence is granted
when we also make a good confession and receive holy communion –
within eight days is a good rule of thumb –
and say a Hail Mary and an Our Father
for the intentions of the holy father.
So at the end of Mass, instead of the Saint Michael Prayer,
we’ll pray the Te Deum/Veni Creator together,
plus an Our Father and a Hail Mary.
The prayers are in the books in your pews, and are in English.
* Additions during Masses today.