ColumnsNaming Grace

Named for mission: solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Immediately after our daughter gave birth, her husband, Zach, exclaimed, “We think you’re going to like this little guy!” He stated proudly, “His name is John Francis Leo.” Zach then explained, “It’s after our three favorite popes: John the XXIII, Francis, Leo the Great.” I smiled and pondered, “With such a noble name, what will this child be?” To what mission will God call our Johnny? Will he serve as a prophetic preacher of repentance, an advocate for reform, a tireless servant of the poor or a fierce teacher of the truth? Will he be called to the priesthood, religious life, marriage or the single life? Whatever, I pray the Lord’s hand will be upon him, guiding Johnny to the fullness of discipleship.

This Sunday, the solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, recalls Zechariah conferring the name of John upon the child who would later be called “the Baptist.” John’s name, which means “Yahweh has shown favor,” revealed God’s hand upon him. The Baptist was created by God and named “John” for a special purpose in the mission of Christ.

My elderly father says, “If you’re alive, you have a mission.” It’s true. When baptized, we carry a mission until our dying day. Pope Francis expands on mission in the apostolic exhortation “Gaudete et Exultate” (“On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World”): “We can forget that ‘life does not have a mission, but is a mission’ (#27). … Your personal mission is inseparable from the building of that kingdom” (#25).

When our children were young, I would quietly question, “Why did God make you?” And they would respond, “For a very special purpose.” God creates each child — each person — for a very special purpose, and the only tragedy in life lies in never discovering and living God’s mission — bringing others to Christ.

In the book “The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path,” Bishop Robert Barron writes: “Thus, your life is not about you, in a general sense … because it is always about God’s missionary purpose” (p. 118). Later, Barron refers to theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar’s work: “What God wants is that each of us find our role in the drama that God is concocting (p. 119). … The particular roles in this Theo-drama are as varied as the actors, but their purpose is always the same, because God’s drama has one end: to join others to the power of the divine life” (p. 120).

As parents/grandparents, our primary task is naming grace — God’s discerning presence — with our children and grandchildren. We name grace each time we help them in discovering their special purpose — their role in God’s mission. We name grace when we guide them in ways of Christ’s redemptive love — the divine life.

“What will become of this child?” This question rests upon the heart of every mother while gazing upon her baby. What will become of our little Johnny? If he is like John the Baptist, he may die a martyr’s death, or like Francis, he may lead a life of radical simplicity. John Francis Leo is a big name for a little guy, but, with God’s grace, Johnny will discover his special purpose in God’s great mission. Now, that’s good news!