Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

What’s in a name?

January 29, 2012

The third edition of the post-Vatican II Roman Missal now being used to worship God in the Mass has a wider choice of Eucharistic Prayers and Prefaces and includes the feasts of saints canonized in the last 20 years. It also restores to the liturgical calendar some feasts that had been dropped in the first and second editions of the Missal after the Second Vatican Council. Among these restored feasts is that of the Holy Name of Jesus, now celebrated on Jan. 3 each year. This restoration is important for the Archdiocese of Chicago, because the Holy Name of Jesus is the titular feast of our cathedral church and parish.

Knowing someone’s name allows entry into a relationship, an acquaintance or friendship and perhaps more. If, on first meeting a stranger, he or she refuses to give their name, no relationship can develop. Names, however, can also be used to control. We name pets and animals so that we can call them, and we expect them to obey. We freely give our name to another person when we promise to call or keep in touch in a way that respects each party’s freedom and dignity. A name forced out of someone means the relationship is not free; one person is the other’s prisoner. A name freely given is an invitation to a relationship that is liberating.

Throughout Holy Scripture, human beings, even those closest to God like Moses and the prophets, asked for God’s name. God took a very long time, many centuries, to respond because he was teaching his people that he was not one of the “gods” worshiped by other peoples. They all had names. They were super-beings in the pagan myths, but they were not God. Consequently, the chosen people used substitutes, like “Lord,” for a personal name when they addressed God in prayer. No one gives God a name; no one controls God.

The invitation to intimacy with God that is possible because we know the name of Jesus is therefore something to reflect upon as a new year begins to unfold. The Archangel Gabriel told Mary when she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit that she should name her child “Jesus.” Years later, this same Jesus would tell his disciples that the Father and he are one and that anything they asked the Father in his name, the Father would give them (Jn 16:24). Because through baptism we are Jesus’ brothers and sisters, we dare to call God “Father.” Jesus’ relation to the Father is shared with us. Praying for his disciples the night before he died, Jesus said: “Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me … I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17: 11-12, 26). Christian prayer to God, Jesus’ Father and ours, is always made invoking the name of Jesus, our brother and our Lord. The prayers of the Roman Missal are always made “through Christ, our Lord.” God trusts us with a name to which he will respond. This entails great responsibility on our part. Prayerful conversation should never be taken lightly. God should not be taken for granted. The name of Jesus is holy.

In January, we also celebrate Catholic Schools Week. What is distinctive about our schools, which are the schools of choice for people who often make great sacrifices to send their children to them, is that they are free to speak about God and about human destiny and about what is most basic and important about our lives: our relationship to God. This freedom to speak of things beyond the merely material creates a community of faith and love in which children are safe to be themselves and to learn the truth. I am very proud of our schools, as we all should be. I thank all those who create them day after day and those who support them so generously.

On Jan. 22, the new Roman Missal for this country includes a Mass asking for forgiveness for the Supreme Court decision 39 years ago that removed the protection of law from children still in their mother’s womb. Many young people from Chicago went to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life. (See story on Pages 12-13.) Our prayers continue, but this year the same legal system that removed the protection of law from unborn children almost four decades ago is also removing protections for the church to exercise her ministries freely. Basic freedoms we took for granted, the right to life and to the free exercise of religion, can be taken away by a civil court or the stroke of an administrator’s pen. Whose freedom or what ministry will be next? What is legal is not always moral. We all know that and can live with it. What we cannot live with is a legal system that punishes those whose moral standards are not cut to legal cloth.

Also in January, we pray for unity among all those who call on Jesus as “Lord.” Jesus’ prayer for unity is taken up by us during the week of prayer for Christian unity that ends on Jan. 25, the feast of the conversion of St. Paul. Christian unity cannot be negotiated. Like faith itself, unity is a gift. It flows from the conversion that takes place when, through God’s grace, Jesus’ desires become our own. The theme for this year’s week of prayer for the visible and effective unity of all Christians is: “We will all be changed by the victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our conversion, the fundamental change of our mind and heart, is possible because Jesus is victorious over death. Our conversion and that of our society is the work of truth and love. It will happen if we ask for it in Jesus’ name. That is my prayer for myself and all of us each day. God bless you.