The name game - Catholic Courier

The name game

I’ve been thinking about names since this past Sunday, when I helped at the Rite of Election in Horseheads. If you’ve never been to a Rite of Election it is a beautiful liturgical celebration that includes a moment when catechumens (people who are preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation — baptism, first Communion and confirmation — at the Easter Vigil) sign their names in the Book of the Elect. It is a powerful moment and called to mind for me the importance of our names and how we refer to ourselves and others.

It’s particularly striking to compare the reverence and joy of names as used in the Rite of Election to how names are often used in our society; say, referring to political leaders or others "in the spotlight." Oftentimes, in the news or on the Internet, I see people refer to others using only their last name, no title or other sign of respect. So for example, "President Obama" becomes "Obama" or "Sen. Bunning" becomes "Bunning."

Why might this be important? Well, I think that it shows how easily we can slip into seeing others, especially those in the news, as no longer human. We objectify them in a certain way, and forget that we are dealing with real live people, with faults and gifts and joys and challenges. As Catholics, we are called to more; to being a witness of the basic dignity of all people — those in leadership, those with whom we may agree or disagree, and even those who have made very poor choices. So when we speak about someone, even someone like Mr. Bernard Madoff, I think we should consider how our language, and our use of names, shows others what we believe about our God and all of humanity.

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