Sunday, April 23, 2017

What's in a (Nick)Name?

   Second Sunday of Easter - Divine Mercy   A 
My full name is Joseph W. Giroux, Junior—since I was named after my Dad.  So very early on, because we just couldn’t have two Joe Girouxs in the same house, I was given a nickname within my family: Jo-Jo.  It was cute enough when I was really little…but I still have one uncle who, to the great delight of my siblings, persists in calling me Jo-Jo even now when I’m in my 40’s.  My 1st Grade teacher, Sr. Stephanie, consistently called me Joseph—a name only otherwise used if I was in big trouble at home.  And at the dentist’s office, in order to keep my records separate from my father’s, they called me Joey (and to this day I’m not sure why, because no one else anywhere called me Joey).   I had a few other nicknames during my college days…but we won’t get into any of those right now.

In the gospel reading this Divine Mercy Sunday, we hear the nickname of one of the Apostles: Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  “Didymus” is Greek for “twin”—apparently a nickname.  Whose twin was he?  Thomas probably wasn’t born a twin, since the name Thomas itself also means “twin” (which would be kind of like parents having a daughter and naming her Girl).  Some scholars speculate that Thomas was nicknamed The Twin because he bore such a strong resemblance to Jesus.  Maybe they cut their hair or trimmed their beards the same way.  Maybe they had the same eyes, or walked the same way, or talked the same way—we can only guess.

There’s more than a bit of irony, then, that Jesus’ double is the one who apparently has something more urgent to do on the most important day in the entire history of the world: that first Easter Sunday, when the risen Lord reveals himself to his Apostles.  It’s clear: a superficial, physical resemblance to Jesus isn’t sufficient.  It’s only a week later, when Thomas is now among the others, when Jesus appears again—wounds and all—and all of Thomas’ fears and doubts are dispelled, that The Twin begins to really look like Jesus. 

Thomas is brought to deep, deep faith as he realizes that everything Jesus has said is true.  He who was crucified for all to see has come back from the dead!  What complete trust Jesus has shown in his Father—throughout his preaching and ministry, and most especially in going to the Cross.  What complete trust Thomas can now put in Jesus: “My Lord and my God!”  In Jesus, Thomas has found Divine Mercy.  In Jesus he knows perfect peace.  With trust in the Lord, he can now truly be the Lord’s Twin: an instrument of mercy and peace for others.

Most of us can see a lot of ourselves in St. Thomas—in his questions and doubts.  Might we not also see ourselves in his nickname, The Twin?  We call ourselves Christians, and that—whether we realize it or not—is a nickname: we are “other Christs” or “little Christs.”  Which—if we’re going to be true to the name—means we ought to bear some notable resemblance to Jesus. 

We Catholics have a very visible religion: we do a lot of uniquely Catholic things and use a lot of uniquely Catholic stuff…which can give us the false assurance that, if we look Catholic and act Catholic, then we’re a pretty good disciple:  “Well, I wear a Cross around my neck and have a Rosary on my rearview mirror; I got my ashes on Ash Wednesday and palms on Palm Sunday and ate fish on the Fridays of Lent; I put out the manger at Christmas and colored eggs for Easter—so I must be doing OK as a Christian.”  But as Thomas the Twin makes clear, such exterior, physical things can never substitute for a relationship of faith and trust.  Resembling Jesus isn’t a matter of what’s on the outside; what’s on the outside must flow from within.

How can we do that—as individuals, and as a community?  In our first reading this Sunday, St. Luke gives us a snapshot of how St. Thomas and the other Apostles, along with the disciples who gathered around them, lived in those early days.  Since they were the ones closest to Jesus, their example is one we ought to examine and imitate.  The Acts of the Apostles says: They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.  There’s our recipe: four ingredients for being Twins of Jesus today.

[1] They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles.  The Apostles handed on to others what Jesus had handed on to them, and the first Christians knew that studying this was worth their time and attention.  Matthew Kelly, a popular Catholic speaker and writer, says that good Catholics ought to be lifelong learners.  But did learning about our faith stop for most of us when we received Confirmation?  Because we know there are 10 Commandments, 7 Sacraments, and 3 Persons in the Trinity, do we think we’ve got the Catholic faith all figured out?  When we stop studying the teachings of the Church, our faith grows either superstitious or vague—and, in neither case, can it really sustain us.  When was the last time you picked up your Bible?  Or read a good Catholic book or magazine?  Twins of Jesus never stop learning about the faith.

[2] They devoted themselves…to the communal life.  How many of you are at this Mass most every Sunday?  Now look around and ask yourself, of these folks whose hands are raised: How many of them do I know their name and something significant about their lives?  The first Christians didn’t just happen to all assemble in the same building at the same time every week or so.  They were intimately involved in one another’s lives.  When something good happened for one, everybody celebrated.  When somebody struggled, they all chipped in with support.  To say they were “brothers and sisters in Christ” wasn’t just a formal way of speaking.  Twins of Jesus care for each other as family.

[3] They devoted themselves…to the breaking of bread.  In the New Testament, “breaking bread” doesn’t mean sharing any ol’ meal; it means sharing the Lord’s Supper—celebrating the Holy Eucharist.  You might be thinking, “Whew!  At least we’ve got this one—we’re here for Mass!”  But do we have a clear sense of what it’s all about when we come together at the altar?  At a recent funeral Mass in the parish, something was said about the fact that we Catholics believe that the bread and wine really and truly become the Body and Blood of Christ and, therefore, that only Catholics who are properly disposed ought to come foreword to receive Holy Communion.  Not too long after, someone who was at that funeral posted something on Facebook saying, “I’ve been a Catholic all my life, though not an active one recently.  Am I the only one who’s never heard anything like this before?”  How we speak about the Blessed Sacrament, how we handle ourselves at Mass, how we handle the Sacred Host when we receive it—they all speak volumes about what we actually believe.  Twins of Jesus are clear: the Eucharist is the very heart, the very center of their lives.

[4] They devoted themselves…to the prayers.  The first Christians were people who prayed: alone and together, at home and in the Temple, every day and throughout the day.  They knew that prayer was absolutely essential for sustaining and strengthening their relationship with Christ and with his Church. They couldn’t even imagine living the Christian life without it.  Is it the same for us?  Or do we only pray on special occasions?  Or when we’re in desperate need?  Twins of Jesus stay in constant contact with him—and each other—in prayer.

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.  And what was the result of this fourfold recipe for living as a Twin of Jesus?  Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.… And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  Wow!  And the very same can happen today!

The older I get, the more and more I resemble my Dad, whose name I bear.  It’s not that we look that much alike; in fact, as far as physical features go, I’ve pretty much only got his hairline.  But I catch myself thinking like him, and speaking like him, and acting like him…and I’m proud when I recognize that I’m mirroring the very best I see in my father.

My friends, the world today as much as ever needs us to be Thomases—to be Twins of Christ, whose name we bear.  The people of our day cannot see the risen Lord, but they can see us.  As individual Christians, and as a Catholic parish community, let us live in such a way that others will see us, but believe in Jesus—putting all their faith and trust in him.

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