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Names are very interesting. Sometimes they can signal continuity. (Many names have been in a family for generations.) At other times they can express uniqueness. (I do a lot of Baptisms, and I’m continually surprised at some of the new names that crop up.) Names can also have a religious connotation, (think of Faith, Hope and Charity). They can also be an expression of a popular trend. (I’m always intrigued each year by the list of the most common baby names.)
In our Gospel this weekend for the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, we encounter Elizabeth and Zechariah who have to choose a name for their new born son. We are told that “When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, ‘No. He will be called John.’ But they answered her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has this name.’ So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, ‘John is his name,’ and all were amazed.” The child was named John because the angel Gabriel had told Zechariah this was to be his name. In Hebrew “John” means “God is gracious.” In this case God was indeed gracious because Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren, conceived a son in her old age. The name is also appropriate because John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ, thus his name is a sign of God’s gracious favor toward all of us.
Our first reading for this Feast is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In this reading, Isaiah rejoices that he was called by God to be a prophet. “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name…………………You are my servant, he said to me, Israel through whom I show my glory.”
In our second reading for this Feast, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul reminds us that “John heralded his (Christ’s) coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. What is special/unique about your name (first, middle, last, or a nickname or Confirmation name)?
2. Isaiah saw himself as being called by God to be a prophet. Have you ever felt God “calling” you to do something?
3. How or when have you experienced God’s gracious activity in your life?