What's in a name?
I don't really know and I can't guess how many times that question gets asked. In our modern society where everyone is represented by several strings of disparate numbers (Social Security ID, telephone numbers, bank and other account numbers, addresses and postal zip codes), it seems that unless you're among the famous, you're in a place far removed from that TV pub 'where everybody knows your name.'
The point gets hammered home on this eve of the midterm elections here in the US of A. Those of us planning to vote have been hit with a barrage of campaign ads, flyers, and blind robo-dialed phone calls urging us to vote for this or that candidate. Most of us probably know the major candidates running for office in their respective place; those running for state governor, US senator or Congress. Some may even know people running for office at the county level. But there's usually a lot more on your average ballot. There are judges to be retained or replaced, and propositions or referendum to be accepted or turned down. A list of names and items, from which one must choose with little or no knowledge of the people or issues and what the ramifications are.
One of the significances of this time of year is brought to mind quickly at the hand of Nature and her God. The daylight grows shorter, the temps get colder, and many plants go dormant as winter approaches. Ultimately this leads to reminders that we're not getting any older. The Catholic observances of All Saints and All Souls Day, the celebration of the Dìas de los Muertos in Mexico, and the marking of Samhain in ancient Celtic culture all point to the bridge that, sooner or later, all of us will cross.
Yesterday, my Catholic congregation was read a list of the thirty-two parishoners who had died over the last twelve months. As the music minister most readily available on weekdays, I attended at least half of their funeral Masses. While I won't mention their names here, it did remind me again - much like my visit to the ancestral graves three weeks ago - that there's more to life than a string of numbers.
My given name (apart from my surname) and each of the myriad aspects of my life can be tied to the name of another who in some part did or had an impact on who I am and what I do today. These are, according to Catholic teaching, my patron saints. Their lives and their contributions are held as examples and inspiration to call upon as needed as each new day unveils its blessings and challenges.
My given names may have come from other ancestral family members, but they are also names of saints. One name is shared by both an apostle and a deacon. And my life aspects hold more:
- Joseph - husband and father
- Stephen and Lawrence - deacons
- Cecilia and Gregory the Great - musician
- Benedict - bereavement (he is the patron of a peaceful death)
Because the pace of life picks up speed in these last weeks of the calendar year, it is important to me to remember all of these influences now. I may be bringing them to mind with more frequency in the future.