Saturday, January 02, 2016

What's in a name? (Mother of God homily)

There are actually three things we recall on this feast day, 
and none of them has anything to do with the New Year.

First is the circumcision of Jesus; second is his naming; 
and third, is the Motherhood of Mary.

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. 
This is what observant Jews do to this day.

The Gospel also emphasizes his being named on this day. 
Of course, we remember that the Archangel Gabriel 
told both Mary and Joseph, “You shall name him Jesus.” 
Don’t forget what the name Jesus – 
in Hebrew, Yeshua or Joshua – means. 
It means, the salvation of God, or God saves.

All this still would have taken place at home, not the temple. 
Most likely, after Jesus was born in the stable, 
Joseph found some more suitable quarters for the Holy Family. 
And it would have been there 
that this first ritual in a Jewish boy’s life took place. 

This day recalls the first time the Gospel was announced: 
when Mary, or Joseph spoke up and said, “His name is Jesus!” 
That is to say, “Here is the salvation of God!”

This is a good time to talk about the importance of the names 
that we give our children, and the names we bear.

We all know that lots of things go into what names 
parents give their children. 
Even though no one seems to listen to my baby-naming advice 
(I’ve been dropping hints about “Martin” for over a decade, 
with zero success!), I’m going to give some anyway.

First, may I suggest that you pray about what to name your child? 
The name we bear is a powerful sign of who we are. 
And your child’s life will be shaped by the name he or she bears. 
Ask the Holy Spirit, ask your child’s guardian angel, 
to guide your decision. 

Second, I want to echo what the Church 
has always strongly, strongly encouraged the faithful to do: 
to choose names of saints, including Biblical names.  

Remember, when you pick a saint’s name for your child, 
you are giving your child a patron saint. 
Thankfully, lots of names are saints’ names, 
even when people don’t know it. 
You can easily look it up either at the Patron Saint Index,* 
or a site called Behind the Name
Please give your child at least one saint’s name, if not two.

Which leads to another suggestion: 
know what patron saint you have in mind. 
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! 

That made me sad, because my parents told me who my patron was: Saint Martin de Porres. 
As I grew up, I learned more about him. 
It’s a wonderful thing to have a saint in heaven 
who you can call your own!

Now, if your name, or your child’s name, is “Oak” or “Summer,” 
what do you do? No problem. You can still choose a patron. 
Give it some thought. Pray about it. 
For example, if I ever meet someone named “Oak,”  
I’ll suggest Saint Boniface as his patron. 

Finally we come to the name of today’s feast: “Mary, Mother of God.” 
That title isn’t mainly about Mary, as much as we love 
to honor and celebrate her faithful cooperation with God’s plan. 

The point of the title is to emphasize who Jesus is. Son of Mary, yes; 
Son of David, yes; Savior, yes; but also: True God from True God!

This is why Mary was called “Mother of God” early on, 
and when some attacked this title, the Church’s bishops, 
at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431, 
reaffirmed that Mary truly is the “God-bearer.”

Even though this title, “Mother of God,” 
is mainly about who Jesus is, 
that doesn’t keep us from taking this opportunity 
to honor Mary as well. 

Some of our fellow Christians find fault with this; 
as if to say that somehow, Jesus isn’t happy 
when we his disciples shower our love on his mother. 

But once I say that, doesn’t that seem silly? 
Why wouldn’t Jesus, like any devoted son, 
be delighted to see his mother treated with great love?

It reminds me of a custom we had in my home, growing up. 
On our birthdays, we would go find mom 
and wish her “Happy Mother’s Day.” 
Because, after all, isn’t that true? 

And so, that’s what the Church does throughout the world today. 
We come to Mary, still holding her Son, our Savior and our God; 
we adore him; and to Mary, we say, 
“Hail Mary!” “Thank you Mary!” “Happy Mother’s Day!”

How fitting then that the Church grants a plenary indulgence 
when the Faithful 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.

* I just discovered this site is now called Catholic Saint Info.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Sorry, but there are some names that are hard to work into our Catholic family. "Martin" and "Luther" are now seldom used for obvious reasons. And of course "Adolf" is also a no go. We have a mutual friend who who chose "Henry" for his son. I used to asked if he was named for Henry VIII.

John F. Kennedy

BTW, having the name that I do, I think the naming is a foundational element in the development of the child's personality.