I’ve tried to name each of our four daughters Scholastica in honor of the saintly sister of St. Benedict. Benedict was in awe of her. Each time I suggested it, my wife vetoed it as being a tad too unusual. Never afraid to be viewed as odd, I vigorously debated her ruling. I pleaded. She held firm. In the end, each of our daughters received a lovely name. Even though I still love the name Scholastica, I cannot imagine any of my daughters with that name.
It’s funny, isn’t it, how names fit us so intimately? They almost become physically part of who we are, becoming so entwined with our existence that we couldn’t imagine possible being called anything else.
Names have always been a big deal in the Scriptures. When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, they were tasked with naming all the other creatures. In doing so, they developed a relationship with those creatures. They became responsible for them. Through their stewardship, I imagine they came to love them, all those flora and fauna that are so bright and beautiful.
In giving names, Adam and Eve imitate God the Father who bestows names on His children. Abram becomes Abraham. Jacob becomes Israel. Simon becomes Peter. Saul becomes Paul. Each time God gives a name, it’s a transformation of an entire life and vocation. If a person is to live a new life, born anew by the power of the Holy Spirit, it only makes sense that God would provide His child a new name. The old one is no longer fitting.
We, too, receive new names. It’s a profound moment when, at confirmation, the bishop addresses the confirmandi by their chosen, sacred name, the name of a saint. I’ve always thought that the saints, in sharing their names with us, subsequently take a special interest in us and spend extra time praying for us, their namesakes.
Even more importantly, though, we all share one common name given in baptism, and that is the name Christian. In giving this new name, Christ declares that He will be responsible for us. He is our brother, our guardian, our Savior. By sharing His own name, He declares that He loves us and wants to share His life with us.
The name Christ was given along with the name Jesus directly by God the Father. This is because only God can name Himself. When Moses asks for the divine name at the burning bush, the answer isn’t forthcoming. God has no parent, no one to whom He is responsible. No one is greater. He is unnameable.
The naming of Jesus, then, is a startling event. This is the humility of Our Lord, who has joined us in our humanity, declaring that we now share responsibility with Him.
The feast day of St. Scholastica is coming up on Feb. 10. I hope when it arrives, you think about names. Think about your name, and the name of Christ, and how fitting each one is as we grow into them.
Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.