A New Year's Homily

There is an expression, "What's in a name?"  The answer is, "Plenty!"  A name represents the person.  If someone makes fun of your name, you feel bad because you feel that you are being disrepected. 

The gospel (Luke 2: 16-21) ends with Jesus being circumcised eight days after his birth and being given his name.  It's the Greek version of a common Jewish name, Joshua, which means "God saves."  

Our second reading (Galatians 4: 4-7), says that we are adopted by God.  An adopted child receives a new name that indicates a new relationship.  As children of God we can now call God by a new name as well--"Father" or "Abba."  

In our first reading (Numbers 6: 22-27) God tells Moses to invoke his name upon the Israelites.  Moses does so in a strange way.  He declares: "The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!"  Notice, he doesn't actually use a name; rather he invokes God's action.  God is true to his name. His activity flows from the person this name represents--Love.  For "God is Love," as John wrote in his First Letter.

Jesus lives up to his name, "God saves." He lived, suffered, died, and rose, and in that way saved the world.  Mary lived up to her name, the title under which we honor her today--"Mother of God."  She opened her heart to receive God's Word who then took flesh in her and was born.  

We are called to live up to the name which represents our deepest identity--child of God and Christian.  How?  It begins as it did for Mary who, as the gospel tells us, "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart."  We open our hearts to the mysteries of God's will and Word and in that way we live as God's Christian children.  The world desperately needs us to do so.

Last night many people around the world celebrated.  In some cases people celebrated as though there would be "no tomorrow" in which to deal with the effects of their overdoing it. In many cases people celebrated, happy that the past year with its tragedies was over, and hopeful that the new year would be different.

Christians, as popes from St. John Paul II to Pope Francis have said, are called to be people of hope.  We are not to give in to cynicism or pessimism or despair. Our hope is active, not passive.  One can passively hope that there will be good weather for travel, but there is nothing one can do to realize that hope.  Students who hope they do well on an exam are called to active hope--to work and study in a way that their hopes will be realized.  I can hope that this new year will be better, that justice and peace will grow in the world, and this hope is not an idle or passive hope.  It's quite active.  As the song goes, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."

Today is the 49th annual World Day of Peace. For the occasion, Pope Francis has written a message entitled, "Overcome Indifference and Win Peace."  He began the message with these words: "God is not indifferent!  God cares about humanity!  God does not abandon us!  [emphasis in the original]  What we have just celebrated shows this.  God so loved humanity that the Son of God took flesh, shared in our humanity with its sufferings and death, and overcame them by his resurrection.  Now we are called to cooperate with God who is not indifferent to the world but cares deeply about each individual person. 

With hearts like Mary, open to the action of the Holy Spirit, we overcome indifference, cynical apathy, and the hopelessness that paralyzes us.  Then we can live up to our name and truly be who we have become through baptism--children of God, Christians.