Naming a child is one of the first things new parents do. The name given to the child helps define an identity that will last a lifetime. Studies have shown that a person’s name influences the development of their personality, their interests in life and how they are perceived by others in the world. That’s why choosing a name is a significant part of every culture and is so important to both the people who receive them and the societies that give them.
Elizabeth and Zechariah knew that naming their first born child was not something to be taken lightly, especially since an angel of the Lord told them their son shall be named John. For Zechariah, John was an especially troubling name since no one in his family had previously been named John. This name was clearly outside of the cultural norm of the Jewish tradition. Choosing the name John required Elizabeth and Zechariah to have tremendous faith and trust in God.
As it turned out, John was the perfect name for the child who one day would prepare the way for Jesus. He was chosen for this purpose even before he was born. The name John, which means ‘God is Gracious’, is forever linked with our savior Jesus Christ in baptism. Through the baptism preached by John we also share in the glory of God and come to know Him by the grace of faith that leads us to the kingdom of heaven.
How important is your name? Well, to put it in perspective, the very first words said at your baptism was a question asked of your parents: “What name do you give your child?” After receiving your Christian name, the priest claimed you in the name of Jesus, consecrating you to God, by tracing the sign of the cross on your forehead, asking your parents and godparents to do the same.
John’s name was significant to the people of Israel causing them to wonder “What then will this child be?” The name we receive in baptism tells the whole world not what we will be but rather what we have become…a ‘Christian’ or follower of Christ.
Every baptized Christian is another John – each receiving the graciousness of God’s favor in life. Our Christian name, and the faith it embodies, bonds us forever with Jesus our savior. Our baptism gave us a mission (or vocation), like John’s, to point the way to Jesus through the actions of our life.
In the faith of baptism we share an awful lot in common with John the Baptist.
– He was called from his mother’s womb to testify to Christ in the world. In baptism we are newly born in Christ and pray that He will touch our ears that we may hear the word of God and open our mouths that we may proclaim his glory.
– John was recognized as a light to all nations, illuminating the way to Christ by his preaching. In baptism we receive the light of Christ, entrusted to us to be kept burning brightly; a symbol to all of our faith in God’s promises.
– The prophet Isaiah forewarns about John toiling in vain. In baptism we are anointed with the oil of salvation to strengthen us with God’s power to face the world with all of its temptations so that we might never toil in vain against sin.
When we were baptized as Christians, we assumed the responsibility to grow in the practice of our faith, the faith of the Church. It’s unfortunate that many Catholics today are too consumed with the daily grind to live the promise of growing in their faith. Too many Catholics are drowning in a sea of intellectual and spiritual apathy. They don’t have the time to study and learn more about their faith. Sometimes it’s just easier for them to show up at Sunday Mass thinking that’s all that is required of them. But that’s not enough!
We need to take to heart the responsibility that comes with being named a Christian. In order to truly lead a Christian life we need to understand what that means. We must appreciate not just what our faith asks of us, but also the principles of the church’s teachings that give us, and strengthen, our faith.
What should we do? We can start by informing our self and forming our conscience by reading what the Catholic Church teaches about our faith. It is our duty as followers of Christ to understand why we believe what we believe: To understand the importance of daily prayer, Catholic moral teaching, the role of family life, the real presence of Jesus in every particle of the Eucharist, the dignity of life and human sexuality, caring for the poor, the healing that comes through the forgiveness of our sins, and current issues like the principles that underlie the Healthcare debate. It’s only when we understand the foundations of our faith that we are able to live the vocation we received in baptism.
Many catholic organizations like The Catholic News Agency or the US Conference of Catholic Bishops have wonderful resources to help us better understand our faith. Spend some time reading and learning about our faith and you will better understand why you believe what you believe. You’ll also have a better appreciation of what it means to honestly live a Christian life.
Truly knowing our faith ignites in us John’s passion to point the way to Christ. It gives us the courage to proclaim his presence in the world by the holiness of our life. That’s what our Christian name calls us to do.
That’s why your name is so important!