Daily Reflection
April 13th, 2000
Tom Shanahan, S.J.
Rector, Jesuit Community
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Genesis 17:3-9
Psalms 105:4-9
John 8:51-59

In the first reading in today’s liturgy, the reading from the Book of Genesis, God is in dialogue with Abram.  God promises him that he will be the father of a great nation.  Then he says to Abram, “no longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham.” 

What is this changing of names all about?  It seems that whenever God gives a special vocation he underscores the importance of the task by changing the person’s name.  So it is with Abraham with whom God makes a covenant.  The terms of the covenant are that God chooses a people and he remains faithful to the people.  It all starts here with Abraham (the former Abram) and it continues throughout the history of the Chosen People.

The same thing happened in the New Testament when Jesus changed the name of Peter (the former Cephas) and when Saul became Paul.  Both of these apostles were to take on a monumental task (vocation) in the early church. 

So, what’s in a name anyway?  How about our own names?  We get our names at the sacrament of baptism.  Some Christian traditions refer to the baptismal rite as “Christening.”   And what an appropriate word it is, because it implies that whatever name we are given then by our parents, we each are given the name of Christ; we are invited to live the new Christ-life that is given us at baptism.

So, just like Abraham, Peter, and Paul, we are re-named; we are incorporated into Christ; we are indeed “Christened.”  We receive the name of Christ at baptism when the waters of new (Christ) life make us come alive to the things of God and of His Son.  We are given a special vocation like Abraham in the Old Testament and Peter and Paul in the New Testament. 

The new life to which we are re-named is Christ’s own life.  We are called, invited, even “named” into the life of Christ through the waters of baptism.  What a vocation that is!  By it we are invited to live out the reality of what is symbolized by the waters of baptism: the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Awesome!  And how do we do that?  We live into it the same way that Abraham (the former Abram) and Peter and Paul lived into the reality of their new callings.  It does not happen overnight; it is a process in which, little by little, by God’s own grace, we “live into” the new life (and name) of Christ in the shapes and contours of our own lives, our own blessed experiences.  And, clearly, we are not alone in this venture: Thank God! 

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