Tag Archives: name

7 September: Season of Creation IX: Naming Names.

Senecio (or Brachyglottis) ‘Sunshine’. It certainly deserves the second part of its name.

And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name.

Genesis 2:19

Of course when Adam named something, including plants, the same was its name, since there was only one human, himself, so no disputing his word. Things are somewhat different since humans spread around the world and our languages diverged from each other. Is that a mouse or un souris? A courgette or a zucchini? And that’s before we venture upon politically correct or incorrect terrain. ‘It’s demeaning to call grown women girls.’ Try telling that to my late mother-in-law, who in her eighties was still going out with the ‘girls’ she had teamed up with as a young mother.

But we can demean each other in our words as a moment’s reflection should tell us; we can be clear or obscure, sometimes deliberately obscure – ‘as seen on TV!’

The world of science aims for clarity and by being clear it advances in knowledge and techniques. An understanding of antibodies and t-cells enabled the covid-19 vaccinations to be produced at speed. At a more down to earth level, over the last 250 years or so scientific names for living creatures have been developed so that scientists from Aberdeen, Asuncion, or Amsterdam will know exactly what each other is talking about. Mus musculus is a house mouse anywhere in the world.

The trouble comes when names are changed. Microscopic and DNA testing can establish relationships, and botanists hold conferences to decide on names. That’s how the shrub formerly known as Senecio ‘Sunshine’ is now Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’. Senecio comes from the Latin for ‘old man’: the leaves and seeds of the plant are greyish and white. Other senecios include groundsel, S. vulgaris, (left) and S. cineraria (ashen), below.

It’s not difficult to see a certain type of person taking pleasure in this business of establishing names, and feeling frustrated when gardeners do not follow the scientists and call Sunshine Brachyglottis instead of senecio.

But recently I’ve taken pleasure from watching someone establish names for things. A toddler is naming things that are newly experienced. He or she will of course end up using the names that are common in their society, though sometimes their mispronounced names stick for years, such as ‘Kipper’ which was as close as one of my siblings could get to Christopher, the name of one of our brothers.

For my younger grandson there is a whole world waiting for him to name it, and bring it to life for him, as Adam’s contribution to creation was to give it all names.

I’m happy enough to be ‘Gu’ for the present, and to be part of his world. It sounds better than Brachyglottis, for sure.

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3 January: What’s in a name?

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‘My baby’s called Aubergine’, the little girl told me. I can’t help feeling that Aubergine will stick, even though it is not the one her parents will propose at her Baptism.

Some people are insistent on getting their names spelt and pronounced correctly. I taught one boy who had a soft spot for me because I always spelt his name with a K instead of the C it has in English. I must say I hate it when my name is spelt wrong, especially when people do it in front of me, without asking.

Others just do not feel comfortable with their names.  I was reading of a Spiritan Missionary who prefered to be called Shorty rather than Colman Watkins. He worked in Kenya and helped in Ethiopia when the Catholic Church there was in crisis. Peter was a nickname given to Simon by Jesus.

Another missionary who changed his name was Saint Edmund Campion. He travelled through England incognito during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, celebrating Mass for faithful Catholics when to do so was counted treason and liable to the death penalty.

We see him with his martyr’s palm and the rope he was hanged with, and his name in blood red mosaic tiles. Another name appears to the left: IHS – the first three letters of the Holy Name of Jesus in Greek. Biblical shorthand has a long tradition, going back to when parchment or papyrus was not cheap, and it has stayed with us.

Appropriately enough this image is in the Holy Name church in Manchester, run by the Jesuit order to which Edmund Campion belonged. Happy Feast to them!

Not Morris but Maurice!

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18 November: The Road to Emmaus – Seeing Salvation, I.

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Greetings again to Sister Johanna, who has been reading Saint Luke and letting the Word speak to her. Thank you, Johanna, for sharing with us! 

The complete story of the Road to Emmaus is told only in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 24:13-32). It is a well known account of two disciples making a journey on foot from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. One of the disciples has a name. Cleopas. The other is forever unnamed. A man whom they do not recognise finds them and walks with them. Because of this man, they have an experience that changes everything, that re-orients them vocationally, humanly – on every level. I love this story. Yet, whenever I read it, I feel a strange ache inside. I feel that I am there, with Cleopas – I am the other one, the unnamed one; I am walking down that dreary, hot and dusty road.

As a Catholic, I am accustomed to hearing this story proclaimed in the liturgy during the Easter Octave; then, later in the Easter season, it comes again, this time on a Sunday. It is an important story. It is one of the stories about Jesus appearing after his death. It tells us that the Lord is Lord, and that he is risen from death. But this story has many levels, and teaches things in addition to the glorious fact of Jesus’ resurrection. It has a lot to say about what discipleship can feel like not only at Easter time, but all the time. It deserves to be revisited outside the liturgical season of Easter in order to appreciate just how many aspects of the ordinary Christian life it addresses. It is a lengthy story, but I would like to look at it a bit at a time in a series of posts.

It begins like this:

Now that very same day, the two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened (Luke 24:13).

Now that very same day….’ The same day as what? It’s the day that is three days after Jesus’ death on Friday – three days after a shattering Friday that no one had yet learned to call “good”. This third day is the one we now know as Easter Sunday, but in this gospel passage no one had learned to use that designation either. For Jesus’ disciples, that ‘same day’ is just the next day in a series of tragic days. Jesus, their master, their beloved rabbi, their dearest friend, had been crucified like a criminal on the Friday before. And now, he was dead. His ignominious death seemed to augur only one thing: that no one would ever take any of his teachings seriously or believe any of his claims. His kingdom would simply never be established. The disciples were confronted now with death’s finality, its apparently locked and barricaded door. There is no bargaining with death. The dead are irretrievable. The grieving have no choice but to accept the loss of the deceased person, as well as the unique world that person represents. That is what the disciples were struggling with on that day.

How often has discipleship been like that to me? How often has Jesus seemed to be, well, “dead” and lost to me? Yet, I can also say that this state, although I know it well and truly, has never been a permanent one for me. Jesus is full of surprises – as the disciples will soon re-discover.

That same day, surprising things began to happen that the disciples did not know what to make of. Tomorrow we will begin look at them.

SJC.

Franciscan friends on the road to Canterbury.

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December 20. Zechariah, an unlikely Advent Star, VII.

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Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and were surprised that he stayed in the sanctuary so long. When he came out he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. But he could only make signs to them and remained dumb (1:21-23).

I can imagine Zechariah staying in the sanctuary long after Gabriel had left him, and then slowly, reluctantly leaving. I imagine the reaction of the people to this long absence of his when he at last emerged. They were not prepared for this new Zechariah – for Zechariah the visionary. Undoubtedly, there were questions for Zechariah. He answers with signs, but maybe they don’t get it at first. Maybe they were impatient with him; possibly there was some teasing before the more perceptive ones among the people noticed Zechariah’s changed countenance and told the jokers to shush.

Zechariah was a man whose vision of reality had not prepared him for the vision he saw in the temple that day. Yet, he had stellar qualities that I would like to have. He was deep, stable, faithful, humble, loyal and prayerful. When the Archangel Gabriel announced a new reality to him that day in the sanctuary, and gave Zechariah the grace of silence within which to ponder this complete reordering of his existence, he acquiesced. And months later, when his eight day old son was circumcised, he was able to affirm his full concurrence with the angel’s message by writing the name that Gabriel had told him call his son: John – much to the amazement of all who where there. And so, he then regained the power of speech. He had used his silence well, and through it had grown and changed, and had come to a full acceptance of Gabriel’s message. (cf. 1: 59-66).

God works that way sometimes. He sometimes does something enormous in our lives and does not always seem to prepare us for it beforehand. He throws us in the deep waters. We may feel frantic. When he works in this way with us, we can only rely on him to give us gradually the understanding we need.

Every Advent is an opportunity to become like Zechariah, to encounter Gabriel in the Holy Scriptures, to hear him saying something that, even now, is hard, very hard, to grasp as fully as it deserves. We know that we each have a role to play in salvation history. We will not be bearing John, no. But as we each bear the unique gift that our personal faith brings to God’s people we can say, as Elizabeth did when she conceived, “The Lord has done this for me” (1:25). And we can pray during this season of Advent for the grace of silence to ponder the Word of the angel who stands in God’s presence.

SJC

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, photo by NAIB.

 

 

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9 January: The Baptism of Our Lord

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When my ten-year-old godson was baptised, he chose a new name, one that was important to him: his Father’s name.

When my son was baptised he was given names from his grandfathers and godfather. Our daughter’s names, too, were chosen to say something about who they were and where they came from.

We can learn something about a person – and their parents and ancestors – from their surnames.

And so it is when Jesus is baptised; we are told something about him: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

While John was right to say that Jesus did not need his baptism of repentance, by accepting it Jesus witnessed to his relationship with his Father – a relationship John encouraged his penitents to renew at a personal level through a symbolic death and rebirth in the water.

Let’s pray for the grace to be faithful to our baptism by daily witnessing to our relationship with the Father and by daily renewing that relationship in our moments of reflection and repentance.

MMB

The Baptism of the Lord, Basilica of the Holy Family, Zakopane, Poland.

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