It is good to have people in our lives who inspire us.
Our faith tradition provides us with a great number of heroes who over the centuries have lived especially deep and loving lives. We call them saints. It has been a custom in Christian life for centuries to name children in honor of the saints, the hope being that the saint would inspire the person who bears his or her name. We also have had the long practice of inviting people being confirmed to choose a saint’s name on that occasion.
Both customs have grown weaker over the years; I think, to our loss. More and more the venerable practice has given way to names that are currently in fashion but that do not evoke any particular awareness of the faith, or of people of great virtue.
My own name, Matthew, honors immediately my father whose name I bear and — going up the line — my grandfather who was the first of the three Matthews. To me the name has always linked me in a warm and pleasing way with two people who taught me a great deal and have always meant a great deal to me.
My father took delight in our name. He loved to encourage me when St. Matthew’s name was mentioned that "if that Matthew made it, we’ll be OK." His obvious reference was to the fruits of God’s grace operative in the life of one who had no particular claim or entitlement to God’s gracious mercy. That’s true of all of us for sure. But I knew that my father also was referring to Matthew’s occupation as a tax collector. My dad also was a tax collector; he was an officer for U.S. Customs at the Port of Albany. Dad gladly packaged himself with Matthew in that occupation and was sure he enjoyed the prayers of the saint to his own well-being.
Names are on my mind as I write this column on the feast of St. Bartholomew, apostle. I started this day at the Eastern Point Retreat House. It was the last morning at my annual retreat and I was spending time thanking God for the blessings of the week — time for prayer, the quiet of the house, the beauty of the place, the splendor of the weather, a perceptive and wise spiritual guide. Toward the end of that time of prayer I took up the list of the 40 people who shared the experience. Although we do not talk to one another through the week, we do develop a deep awareness of one another, and support one another in prayer. I silently called to mind each name and named something about each for which I wanted to thank the Lord.
It didn’t take long to do that but I realized how much is in a name, how powerfully our names connect us with one another, how the mention of a name can evoke a flood of memories. So I thanked God for Gordon, John, Mary Ann, Carolyn, Tim and all of the others who really were heroes for me this week. They inspired me, supported me, showed me the way.
When you pray in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, I hope that you frequently speak the names of those who bring meaning to your life. It’s a wonderful way to thank God not only for the witness of heroes we share with the whole church but for those lesser known whose words and ways invite us to deeper friendship with Jesus.
Peace to all.