Article 27: Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
For Catholic Spirit (Week of December 3, 2015 edition)
Father John G. Hillier
Every parent knows how important it is to choose the right name for their child. In the words of the Catechism: “A name expresses a person’s essence and identity and the meaning of this person’s life” (ccc 203). For some this is easy, especially when the family custom is to name a child after a parent or grandparent. Others select the name of a favorite saint or Christian hero. It is not uncommon, for example, to name a male child after a current pope. This was apparent during the papacies of John XXIII, John Paul, Benedict, and currently, Francis. Female children are often named after the Blessed Mother or another favorite saint like Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Clare, Saint Brigid or Saint Faustina.
In recent years a diversion has taken place in our culture. The name of a family member, saint or Christian hero has been replaced by a celebrity name or worse, by the name of an inanimate object or a thing of nature like Sky, Cloud, Tree, Blossom, Blanket, Apollo, Cricket, Rainbow, Moon, Apple, or Pilot.
Although many families have been influenced by this new trend, the fact remains that a person deserves a more dignified name. Why? Because even God saw it necessary to dignify us by revealing his name to us.
In his goodness God also gave us life, and no one but he could have given us that life. And during every moment he sustains us in existence; for without his support we would instantly lapse into our original nothingness. But even greater than the natural gift of life, God gives us the power to know him and his truths through his own revelation. The Catechism reminds us: “God revealed himself to his people Israel by making his name known to them” (ccc 203). If a name holds such a place of honor that even God is named, it ought to be upheld with great dignity for us too.
At first, “God revealed himself … under different names to his people … (including) the divine name to Moses in the theophany of the burning bush, on the threshold of the Exodus and of the covenant on Sinai” (ccc 204). Most of us recall the Old Testament story of God calling Moses and the bush that burns without being consumed (see Exodus 3:2). Then come the words: “I am the God of your father … the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6).
When Moses asked God his name, God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:13-15). God, who reveals his name as “I AM”, reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them (ccc207).
As a sign of respect for the holiness of God, the people of Israel do not speak his name. In fact, the divine name revealed to Moses “I AM WHO I AM” is replaced by the divine title ‘Lord’” (ccc 209). It is under this title, Lord, that the divinity of Jesus will be acclaimed: “Jesus is Lord” (ccc 209).
The divine name, “I Am” or “He Is”, expresses God’s faithfulness: By going so far as to give up his own Son for us, God reveals that he is “rich in mercy”. By giving his life to free us from sin, Jesus reveals that he himself bears the divine name: “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will realize that “I AM”.” (ccc 211).
As God gradually reveals himself, we soon discover not only “the truth that God alone IS,” but also that “God is the fullness of Being and of every perfection, without origin and without end. All creatures receive all that they are and have from him” (ccc 214). Finally, God or “HE WHO IS,” reveals himself to Israel as the one “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:5-9) (ccc 214). Further, “God is Truth itself, whose words cannot deceive” (ccc 215). He sends his Son into the world “to bear witness to the truth” (ccc 217). The truth, of course, is God!
“God had only one reason to reveal himself … his sheer gratuitous love” (ccc 218). It is no wonder then that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”(John 3:16).
Next, the Catechism tells us that “God’s love is everlasting” (ccc 220). “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (ccc 220).
St. John further affirms: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). In other words, God’s very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Holy Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God reveals his innermost secret: “God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (ccc 221).
“Quality,” it seems, is the secret ingredient that everybody shares when putting their name behind something deemed exceptional whether it is Rolex, Cartier, IBM, Puma, Niki, Apple, Chanel, Disney, Amazon, Gucci, or Dell. Do you suppose that, each in their own way, are imitating what God first did when he revealed his name to us?
Father John G. Hillier, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Chancellor to the Bishop and the bishop’s liaison to persons with disabilities