Sunday, April 29, 2012

What's in a Name?

I'm in St. Charles, Missouri, right outside St. Louis these days for a parish mission at Saints Joachim and Ann parish.  As always, I preached at all the Masses this weekend and invited the parishioners to take advantage of this opportunity where you don't have to go away to make a retreat but where the retreat comes to the parish.  Here's a bit of my homily:

We've all heard the expression, "What's in a name?"  It's a dismissive expression meant to say that names are not important.  What's important is the person.  But in the first reading, part of St. Peter's speech in Acts Chapter 4, we hear about a name that is very important as well as powerful.  It's a name that can heal a crippled man.  It's the only name, according to St. Peter, "under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved."  It's the name "Jesus." 

Several years ago a fifth grader asked me, "What was Jesus' middle name?"  I asked him what was Jesus' last name and he answered, "Christ."  I told him that at the time of Jesus they didn't have last names or middle names the way we do and that "Christ" was actually a title and not a name.  It means "Anointed One." 

At each of our baptisms we were given this title--"Christian"--for at baptism we were anointed with the Sacred Chrism.  We were joined to the Body of Christ and became Christians, Anointed Ones.  In the second reading from the First Letter of John we hear that God has bestowed a great love "on us that we may be called children of God."  But we are God's children not just in name but in reality for St. John continues: "Yet so we are."  This is not only our name but our deepest identity.

Every Fourth Sunday of Easter is known as "Good Shepherd Sunday" because that is what our Gospel is about.  It is also World Day of Prayer of Prayer for Vocations.  The Holy Father writes a special message for this day every year and in his message this year Pope Benedict quoted St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians 1: 5.  God "chose us, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him in love."  Commenting on this, Pope Benedict wrote: "We are loved by God even 'before' we come into existence! ... every human person is the fruit of God's thought and an act of his love, a love that is boundless, faithful and everlasting."  Think of it: God had you in mind from all eternity.  The thoughts of God are eternal.  It wasn't as though 9 or 10 months before your birth God decided, "I think I'll make so-and-so."  From all eternity God planned to create you.  You give God a pleasure and glory that no other person can give him. 

Then Pope Benedict wrote: "The discovery of this reality is what truly and profoundly changes our lives. ... Dear brothers and sisters, we need to open our lives to this love.  It is to the perfection of the Father's love (cf. Mt 5: 48) that Jesus Christ calls us every day!  The high standard of the Christian life consists in loving 'as' God loves; with a love that is shown in the total, faithful and fruitful gift of self."

God loves totally.  This is the meaning of the story of the Good Shepherd.  Unlike the "hired man" who runs when the wolf comes, the Good Shepherd risks his life for the sheep.  I suspect this teaching would have been shocking to those listening to Jesus.  What human would risk his or her life to protect animals?  It is just as shocking that God would do such a thing for his human creatures.  God became human, suffered, and died.  God sacrificed all to save his human flock.  We must be worth very much for God to do this. 

But we are not just sheep.  Our baptism has raised us up and joined us to Christ, the Good Shepherd.  We are called and empowered now to love as God loves, to make a total gift of ourselves to God and to his human flock for whom he sacrificed all.  At baptism we were anointed to be Good Shepherds with Christ.  We received the Holy Spirit to empower us to love like the Good Shepherd.  The Sacred Chrism with which we were anointed is used on only a few special occasions.  When this church building was first consecrated its walls were anointed with the Sacred Chrism, setting this space aside for a sacred purpose, for worship.  At the same time the altar of this church was anointed with Chrism, setting it aside for a sacred purpose, for worship.When I was ordained my hands were anointed with Sacred Chrism, setting them aside for a sacred purpose, for worship.  And when each of us was baptised and confirmed, we were anointed with Sacred Chrism, setting each one of us aside for a sacred purpose, for worship.  We fulfill this task by gathering as we do today to worship God together.  But we also worship God when we leave Mass.  We are called to worship God with each moment of our day.  Our entire life is meant to be an act of worship, an act of love for God and his flock.  The Morning Offering helps us to begin each day mindful of our holy call to worship God in our daily lives. 

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