The Name

(Homily for Trinity Sunday, Year B)

Richard Nixon continues as one of the great enigmas of American politics: How a poor boy from rural California, painfully shy, could rise from a double defeat to become twice-elected president. Historians will probably never solve the puzzle, but they have pointed out one important factor - his extraordinary talent for names. Visiting an urban precinct or a small county, Nixon knew the names of local leaders, their wives and something about their families.

To know someone’s name is power. It gives the ability to relate personally by calling that person or asking something from him. The Bible recognizes that power - it treats names almost mystically.* Jesus tells us that if we come together in his name, he will be among us. (Mt 18:5) He taught us to venerate the Father's name. (Lk 11:2) The apostles – and also schismatics – used Jesus’ name to prophecy, work miracles and cast out demons. (Mk 9:38, Mt 7:22) He promises enormous repayment to those who do even the smallest kindness in his name. (Mk 9:41) The Acts record Peter and the other apostles doing many things in Jesus’ name, including sacraments like baptism and the breaking of bread. (3:6, 9:16, 10:48, 20:7) Finally, Revelation states that the elect have the Father's name (and the Lamb's) on our foreheads. (14:1)

Today’s Gospel contains an interesting twist. Jesus instructs the apostles to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Mt 28:19) But it seems like it should be plural because there are three names. This apparent anomaly underscores what I have said. Name indicates power or full being. We baptize a child or adult in the power, the full being of the Three.

Catholics begin prayer in the name of the Three. As we do so, we touch the forehead, heart and shoulders, tracing a cross. To outsiders this can seem an exotic ritual. Well, we are asking for something very great - that the power of the Trinity penetrate our minds, fill our hearts and straighten our shoulders. Our past mistakes weigh us down - and the task ahead seems overwhelming. But only if we forget the power at our fingertips. What we have yet to do, let's do it all in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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*Though we sometimes pretend indifference, we have not lost that sense. Shakespeare's Othello contains this lament: "O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!"

Nixon himself illustrates how much a man can value his name. His character flaws brought him to disgrace, but he spent the rest of his life attempting - with some success - to restore his name. Stephen Ambrose recounts this "remaking" in his biography of Nixon.

Versión Castellana

From Archives:

Trinity Sunday Homily 2011: Origin and Goal
2010: I Have Much More to Tell You
2009: Purpose of Our Existence
2008: Family as Origin and Goal
2007: Hope Does Not Disappoint
2006: Back to the Basics
2005: Alone Again
2004: I Was There
2003: The Name
2002: An Excellent Question
2001: The Image Within
2000: Out of the Midst of Fire
1999: A Capacity for God
1998: Foundation of the Universe

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