Hello, My Name Is …: Names in the Salvation Story

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“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1b, RSV-CE)

When my son Adam was a boy, he had a collection of action figures called “Rescue Heroes.” These robust little representatives of first responders came with all manner of cool gadgets and tools that were a great alternative to weapons. I remember having many awesome adventures with my son on our family room floor: rescuing trapped toys, fighting mock fires, and overcoming imaginary natural disasters of all kinds. I recall those times with great fondness, but one thing that gives me an extra smile is how all the figures were named.

Each Rescue Hero had a specific name that went along with his or her job: Billy Blazes and Wendy Waters, the firefighters; Jake Justice, the police officer, Jack Hammer, the construction worker, and Roger Houston, the astronaut, to name but a few. I would laugh as I sat on the floor with my son, thinking that when Roger was a small boy, his parents had severely limited his career choices with the name they had chosen for him. But this little name game reminded me of a wonderful truth that we as Catholics experience in our lives – how God, in Christ, gives us a new identity and an ever-unfolding “rescue mission” in life.

What’s In a Name?

From the moment God first spoke the world into existence, names have carried a creative power. Adam, the “Man of Earth” and Eve, the “Mother of the Living” revealed humanity’s incarnational link to the flesh and spiritual connection to our redemption through Jesus Christ. Names reflected godly character, family identity, future choices, and proper position within the eternal plan of God. Abram (“Exalted Father”) and Sarai (“Princess”) became infused with God’s ruach — His eternal Spirit — and became Abraham (“Father of Nations”) and Sarah (“She Knows”). The sigh of God’s love could be heard in the sound of their new names, forever forging a bond of covenant love that manifested itself in every moment of their lives.

Throughout the history of the Bible, names embodied the relationship of Yahweh — the Great “I AM” — to His chosen people. They demonstrated the transformative power of the One who could take a “Deceiver” like Jacob and turn him into Israel, the one who “Wrestles with God.” They spoke prophetically of the brokenness of that relationship in names such as Lo-Ruhamah (“Not Loved”) and Lo-Ammi (“Not My People”) (Hosea 1:6-9), and revealed the restoration of that relationship in our Messiah, Jesus (“Yahweh Saves”). The power of names communicated the wonderful incarnate message of God’s love that lived and breathed in His children, and eventually, in His Son.

Sacrament and Single-Mindedness

Catholics share in eternal signs from heaven, the sacraments, spoken into this world through Jesus, the Name above all names. Christ is infused into our spirits as He calls us His own in Baptism. He draws us into deeper service within the Church through our Confirmation. In the confessional, He speaks our name with forgiveness and grace. At the eucharistic table, the miracle of the Word made flesh speaks new life from the cross as we touch the eternal mystery of salvation.

We often talk about our call to live out our sacramental life as believers within the Church. The beauty of being given a new identity in Christ is that we can define and carry out this call with the same power of the Word who was “in the beginning” (John 1:1). Because we have been redeemed, renewed, and renamed, we take on the powerful single-minded purpose to declare with our lives what God has done for us:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9, RSV-CE)

We who participate in the ever-unfolding work of salvation begun in eternity through Jesus Christ have been enabled to move from potential to power because of the name we have been given. We whom God foreknew as he knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (See Psalm 139), are seeds that spring forth from the darkness of worldly living into the light of Christ’s love to become all we have been graced to become!

Speak, for Your Servant is Listening

In Jesus, we become heroes, rescuing others from death and answering the call to serve in the strength of the One who gave His life for us. Like the prophet Samuel, when we respond to the voice of God with “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10), we become caught up in current of the River of Redemption that overflows into the world and sweeps up all those who believe. It is an awesome truth to know that God desires that we cooperate with Him in salvation. We can be living signs, showing forth the power of the name we have been given, as we draw all men into the journey of salvation.

So many in in the Bible received new names from God that reflected the transformative power of God’s grace in their lives. Simon (“He Hears”) became Peter (“The Rock”), and the Church was born upon the seed of faith so strong, the gates of Hell could not prevail against it. Similarly, when Saul (“Asked For”) received his call to apostolic ministry, he took up his Roman name, Paul (“Humble”), showing forth his willingness to surrender to the path that would lead him across the known world for Christ. Catholics too take on new names in the call of our Confirmation as we shake off our past and commit our lives to greater service on behalf of the Kingdom.

Personal Reminders

In my corner of the world, I am constantly reminded of the name of Christ and its power to transform my life, and through me, the lives of others. My wife, Christina, is a living sign of the steadfast love that has taken this restless and angry soul and transformed it into a gentle and humble man. My son Adam, himself a successful writer, points me to Jesus, the new Adam, who answered God’s call to write the story of salvation upon our souls. My missionary daughter Lina, named after her Italian Great-Grandmother, is carrying out a legacy of love and service that has been passed down through our family through many generations. And my daughter Hope, the child we were not supposed to be able to have, is a living reminder that God still provides miracles to His people.

What an awesome gift to be given a new identity in Christ, and with that divine name, the power to become servants of the Kingdom. What a joy we, as Catholics, share to be able to reach out to the lost and hurting with the same love that has been spoken into our lives. We who follow Christ can walk this journey with strength and courage because we have been blessed to share in the great name of Jesus!

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