Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent
People have trouble with my religious name. Shocking, I know… Frequently when I meet someone new, he will ask what my name means. I understand it is exotic; still, I did not take my name for its definition but for the patron saint. At the time I proposed it to the abbot, I had no clue what it meant – I hoped it didn’t mean “little girl” or something embarrassing. (Pachom in Coptic means “king’s falcon,” by the way.)
As a former pastor baptizing his fair share of children seemingly named after designer jean companies and parents’ favorite Dawson’s Creek character, it is regrettable that we as Catholics have lost sense of the importance of names. The biblical practice was that a name proclaimed a mission. Today Elizabeth and Zechariah’s kin are scandalized that they did not pick an ancestor to be the boy’s patron. However, the child has been given a mission as John, a name that means “God is gracious.”
God is first gracious to the once barren Zechariah and Elizabeth, blessing the faithful but long-suffering couple with a son. They are a sign of the faithful remnant of the Jewish people awaiting a Savior. God is also gracious by sending John as a messenger before the Messiah. The prophet Malachi says John will be like “the refiner’s fire, or the like the fuller’s lye.” These seem less than gracious things as both burn in order to purify. John’s direct and simple rebukes prepare Judah and Jerusalem for the Good News of God’s merciful love: “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise,” “Stop collecting more tax than what is prescribed,” “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages” (Luke 3:11-14).
God is gracious and is not outdone in generosity. He calls each of us to fulfill a mission. Yet each of these missions is submitted to the call of Jesus, whose name means “God saves.” May we be Christians in deed and not just in name, drawing the world into Christ’s Church.
Reflection by Fr. Pachomius Meade, OSB