23 December 2009: Misa de Gallo
Mal 3, 1-24; Psalm 25; Luke 1, 57-66
In Palestine, the birth of a boy was an occasion of great joy. At the time of birth, friends and musicians gathered at the house of the parents. When the child was a boy, the people sang with jubilation: they believed that a boy causes universal joy! If the child was a girl, the people and the musicians just left silently. For Elizabeth, her joy was doubled. She had a child at last, and she had a son!
The Gospel unfolds during the eighth day since childbirth. The eighth day was the day designated for circumcision and the naming of the boy (a girl’s naming happens within 30 days). During the time of Jesus, the naming of a boy was an important occasion where friends and families meet. The naming of a child is descriptive. It can be by circumstance attending the child’s birth (Esau and Jacob), a description of the child (Laban means white or blond), a parental name (Saul/Samuel), what one asked for, and historical significance (e.g. Elijah: “Jehovah is my God” a testimony when Elijah’s parents asserted their faith in the time of Baal worship).
In the past, names are given with meaning, not just because it was a popular name, or it was nice to hear. A child was named according to a saint such as Antonio, Juan, Santiago, Francisco, Ignacio, Maria, Barbara: together dedicating their child to the care of the saints. Often the names become a guide to moral life: their names are reminders on how they live their lives. For example, Gerard was derived from the Germanic element ger “spear” combined with hard “brave, hardy”. The Normans introduced this name to Britain. Gonzales is from the medieval name Gundisalvus, which was the Latin form of a Germanic name composed of the elements gund “war” and salv which sounds like salvation. Jesus is the English form of Iesous, which was the Greek form of the Aramaic name Yeshua. Yeshua is itself a contracted form of Yehoshua. Yeshua ben Yoseph (after his father Joseph) is the name of Jesus Christ. It might be helpful for us to regain the meaning of our names, and see whether its meaning may provide a motto or a guide for us to live by.
When Zechariah named his son, John, he meant several things. First, John means Jehovah’s gift or God is gracious, an acknowledgement of the truth surrounding John’s birth. Second, it is a discreet way of showing gratitude to God. Finally, it is obedience to God: it is the name which God asked Zechariah to name his child. Despite the people’s expectation to name the child after his father or ancestors, Zechariah defied convention if it was God’s will. Zechariah then proved his trust in God’s word, and finally regained his voice. Because of this, people began to wonder what the child will turn out to be.
A child is a bundle of possibilities. You will never know who they will turn out to be. For parents, a child is reason enough to thank God for. On the other hand, a child is his parents’ supreme responsibility. Often it depends on parents and those who stand in their place such as teachers, family members, friends how these possibilities will or will not be realized.
For many of us, we therefore look back on how we have contributed or not contributed to another person’s realization of their growth and possibilities. We first take into consideration ourselves, and see how others contributed or not contributed to our growth as persons. We look at our relationships in the family, with our friends, at our school or workplace and see how they are helping you grow and realize your possibilities. Finally, we look at ourselves: how do we contribute or stifle another person’s growth and the realization of their possibilities.