A new birth


In Baptism, the Holy Spirit unites our pasts and futures with Christ who is the Beginning and the End.

Our baptismal name is a sign of that relationship. Parents choose a name for their child because they are procreators on behalf of the Creator. This is indicated in the Creation narrative when the first man and woman are allowed to name every living creature. This taxonomy is a sign of cooperation with God's plan of salvation. So the authority to name is more significant than the name chosen, but the name also is important because it symbolizes an appeal to God.

In the Bible, names are changed to signify a new circumstance. Abram became Abraham in the old dispensation, and in the new covenant Saul became Paul. The first pope to change his name was John II in 533. His name had been that of the pagan god Mercury, whose figure sculpted by Jules Coutan faces us each day over the façade of Grand Central Terminal, a fine symbol for travel as he represents speed, but not suitable as a name for a Bishop of Rome, where time is measured in centuries rather than minutes. It is not clear why his father Projectus named him Mercurius, save that it might have been fashionable. By being fashionable, fashion quickly becomes unfashionable.

Joseph Ratzinger had one of the best Christian names, but he called himself Benedict as pope in tribute both to St. Benedict, whose monasticism became a core of European civilization, and to Benedict XV, who desperately tried to save Europe from self-destruction. When he baptized 21 infants this month in the Sistine Chapel, Benedict XVI remarked on the importance of names as signs of divine adoption: "Every baptised child acquires the character of the son of God, beginning with their Christian name, an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit causes man to be born anew in the womb of the Church.”

There is a tendency to name children now for perfumes, celebrities and sports equipment. The retired bishop of La Spezia in Liguria, Italy, remarked that in 2008, of 500 girls baptized in his city, "not one was registered or baptized with the name Maria." Any decent name can become Christian, but the Catechism teaches that names not be given that are "foreign to Christian sentiment," and that the names of saints are models for children. "The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it" (#2158). Whatever our name, may we be faithful to our Lord who has a plan for each one of us: "To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it” (Rev. 2:17).




Father George William Rutler. "A new birth." From the Pastor (January 21, 2011).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.


Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001.

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2011 Father George W. Rutler

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