What’s in a name?

This reading is in support of the St Thomas mission to support the Year of Faith and the Emeritus Pontiff’s call for mission.

We are christened, most of us as infants, and we are given a Saint’s name to accompany our own registered name. Our parent’s hope that this saint, for which we are named, will intercede and provide loving over watch as we grow and mature into full members of the church.

When we declare our intentions to petition for the sacrament of confirmation, we declare before all in the church that we have chosen a new name. We have become adults of the church and we declare the saint, which we feel the closest relationship to. This saint is one to whom we will petition and pray to for their intercession and patronage. We don’t dismiss the saint our parent’s have asked to look after us, but we evolve in our relationship with God, to the point where we make a statement about who we will be as an adult member of the church.

Our Holy Father and every Pope before him for the last thousand years has chosen a saint after whom he models and pronounces his most intimate feelings about his religion and the direction of the church.

Until the sixth century, popes went by their given names. There was a Pope Sylvester, a Pope Julius and a Pope Victor. Then, in 533, a priest named Mercurius was elected to lead the church and decided that a pope named after a pagan god — "Mercury" — just wouldn’t do.

He chose to go by John II. Since then, most popes have abandoned their birth names and adopted tributes to saints, popes and even relatives who have gone before.

After him, there was a mix of given names and chosen names up until the end of the tenth century. We need to understand that many chose in those days to use their baptized names, which used to be their registered names. Babies and infant mortality in those days meant that babies were named at their christening, and not at birth. If your parents were Christen, you were almost certainly given a “Christian name”. Many still refer to one’s name as your Christian name.

Our newly elected Holy Father has chosen the name St. Francis of Assisi. What does this mean?

Our new holy father celebrates many first: He is the first Pope elected from a country outside Europe in over 1000 years; he is also the first Jesuit priest to be elected to the position.

A number does not follow the Pope’s name. This indicates it is a fresh name, never used by a Pope in our 2000 plus years of history. Many will say this indicates a desire for a fresh start.

As a Jesuit, we can assume he will be committed to the principles of education and of providing religious education to those in need of it. Jesuit schools are known throughout the world to be of the highest quality. There are currently 114 universities around the world sponsored and run by the Jesuits.

Second, St. Francis of Assisi founded an order that we know today as the Franciscan Order. The Friars or little brothers are known since their inception for being servants of the poor. A selfless group forgoing their own material comforts on earth in order to provide something for others.

Many consider Francis to be the ideal Christian role model. Francis is well known for giving up a life of privilege to serve the poor. He came from a family of wealth and privilege, yet he spent the majority of his life with the poor living without means other than what was provided through charity.

Some believe that his life reflected more truly he teachings of Christ and that he above others led a life that was closer to the path and example that Christ set during his time on earth.

It has been said that a rose by any other name smells as sweet. Choosing the name Francis is significant as it reflects the values and principles, which are most in the heart of our Holy Pontiff. We pray for his health, and success in leading our church in a manner reflective of Francis of Assisi.

God Bless.