Sunday Scriptures

With New Names, A New Song

by Father James Rodriguez

IN THE 548 baptisms I have been privileged to perform over the last five years, there is an aspect of the baptismal liturgy that always startles me – the very beginning. It does not begin the way most of our other prayers and rites do but rather, after a welcome from the priest or deacon, with a series of questions. The first of these sets the tone for the entire ceremony: “What name have you given this child?”

In today’s first reading, the significance of names cannot be overstated. Last Sunday, we heard the voice of the Father over the waters of the Jordan refer to Jesus as, ‘my Beloved Son’ (Luke 3:22). Today, the same Lord, through Isaiah, promises to call His chosen Israel by “a new name” and goes on to tear away the false names of “forsaken” and “desolate,” renaming His beloved, “my delight” and “espoused,” beginning the baptism rite of the cross nearly 700 years early.

Once we hear and accept our new name, spoken by the Lord, it becomes our turn to speak. In today’s responsorial psalm, we “proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations” (Psalm 96:3b). Notice the absence of the word “nag.” So often we Catholics are considered a contrarian and old voice, naysayers with fingers wagging, just waiting to say “I told you so” to a world that refuses to listen. The truth is vastly different, for with new names we can sing to the Lord a new song. We can and must announce His salvation, day after day, and tell His glory among the nations. We give to the Lord glory and praise – the glory due His name! Only in His name do we find our own, and it then becomes natural to glorify Him in the simple, everyday things, right down to the way we dress for Mass.

The Psalm goes on, “worship the Lord in holy attire, tremble before him, all the earth.” As a priest, it is part of my job to wear dignified and holy attire at Mass, but this practice comes from everyone’s vocation to glorify God as visible and audible signs of the One who is alive, real and active, here and now.

Returning to the baptism ceremony, right before the moment of baptism, we call upon the saints, naming those great heroes of our faith who showed us through their lives, at their particularly appointed times in history, that fidelity is indeed possible. Together we beg their prayers, and then the priest or deacon asks one final question: “Is it your will that this child should be baptized in the faith of the Church, which we have all professed with you?” Only once this consent is given does he either pour water or immerse the child in it three times, baptizing him in the name of the Trinity of which he is now a part.

To this end, God gave us His Spirit, as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians. He describes many of the gifts of the Spirit, including the Spirit Himself. By our baptism and confirmation we are given gifts and abilities, usually manifested in our talents. When used to glorify God, these also become a sort of “holy attire,” and united by the Eucharist, we begin to more closely resemble the God whose image and name we bear.

Recently, my mother was blessed with the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Among many memories and souvenirs, she brought back a bottle of wine from Cana. For my father’s birthday, my family shared this wine, which naturally made us think of today’s Gospel passage.

Like my family that night, the original hearers of this story were gathered at a meal. Like us, they shared stories, as well as food, and grew closer through both. At the altar, where the Word becomes flesh once more, we begin to realize the significance of this first sign of the Lord. In light of the cross and later the monstrance, we begin to see that this first miracle was in fact a sign pointing to the lasting miracle of the Eucharist. The Mass is the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7), in which God and man pledge themselves to each other and express this commitment through Communion. He gives, we receive, and the two become one. The six stone jars, one short of the Biblical number of perfection, can represent our own shortcomings, the blandness of our water, and yet, when we “do whatever he tells” us to do, as Mary herself did at the Annunciation, our lives become wine, and our names become new.

Every Sunday we can say He revealed His glory. May we begin truly to believe in Him.[hr]

Readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 62: 1-5

Psalm 96: 1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10

1 Corinthians 12: 4-11

John 2: 1-11

Father James Rodriguez, parochial vicar at Most Precious Blood, Long Island City, was ordained to the priesthood in 2008.