This past Saturday evening, I heard a sermon preached by my friend and colleague, Fr. Mark McGuire, Rector of St. Paul's Parish in Lee's Summit. For the first time in nearly 3.5 decades, I was able to "get underneath" a Sunday feast day and actually be part of what is called a Vigil Mass. In the Church, feast days follow the lunar calendar tradition. The feast day begins with sundown and ends the following sundown. Also, I didn't have to think ahead to the next day's work. I could be present to the moment....a luxury not always given to active parish priests. Fr. McGuire's words were timely, accurate and well crafted.
He reminded us that names traditionally reflected the vocation and character of the individual to whom it was given. As I thought about that (later), I began with the discovery of the history and meaning of our family surname: Mann. We came from Scotland in 1747 and for a specific reason. We were being chased and "on the run" from British soldiers...a lot of them.
Our name then was "Man" (the second "n" was added after the Revolutionary War in this country). We were a sept....a special subgroup...of the Clan Gunn. Our surname reflected our craft. When not tending our farms or merchantile shops, we were militia for the chief of the clan....the "Laird's Man." If one is familiar with the story "Rob Roy," they were militia men. If there was a threat to peace, a brigand on the loose or a security mission required, the Laird (Lord, Chief) would call up his "Men" to carry out the armed mission. There were no standing armies in the Highlands of Scotland.
When Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stewart) tried to take back the throne by force of revolution in 1745, it failed. Prince Charlie retreated to his native Scotland and to the northwest corner...the Caithness...which is where Clan Gunn and part of Clan Stewart dwelled. My ancestors, militia, gathered to protect the Prince and to try to get him out of the country safely. Ultimately, it didn't work. The British landed two ships of troops, and one troop marched north from the border. Prince Charlie was captured and only a few of the subclan of Man escaped. My grandfather five times removed was one of them (John Man).
When searching the National Achives in Washington, DC in 1994, I found my family lineage materials. As the Revolutionary War began, John Man's son, William, volunteered in the North Carolina Standing Regiment. I found his military enlistment card on microfiche. I was stunned and moved to tears. Here it was....my grandfather four times removed. In the "Home of Family" line of the card, was printed, "Berne in North Carolina & Lately of Scotland." So my heritage was a people of the land trained to be fighters and defenders of their clan's people.
But what about the given name? Fr. McGuire had spoken of the names given to children at the time of circumcision at the time of Jesus. It described the deep sense of what the parents hoped or discerned of their offspring. Mary already knew what her child's name would be. It was given to her by Gabriel at the time of the Annunciation, "and his name will be Jesus." This name did not reflect anything of the family character. It literally means, "God is Salvation." In Hebrew it is "Yeshua" (Joshua). It most assuredly described what would become Jesus' ultimate vocation and identity.
I thought of my own given name: Frederick. It comes from my maternal grandmother's family. It literally means, "Peaceful Ruler." Since it is a longtime family surname in that family, one might gather that the vocation included some level of leadership or vested authority. I have not been able to research this part of my family beyond their arrival from the lowlands of Scotland in 1742. The Scots-English placed an "e" between the "d" and "r". The Germans tended not to (Friedrich, in German). I was given the name to represent that lineage of our families coming together in my mom and dad. While some parishioners would tell me it was the perfect name for a priest, I might take issue with them from the origins.
My point in sharing this is to add one more layer to the profound sense that name and heritage provide. All of us who are called Christian bear that name by virtue of the sacrament of Baptism. A sacrament is an act that alters the core character of an individual or object. It is an outward sign of an indward act of Grace....God does someting permanent. After the water of Baptism, the priest annoints the newly baptised with the words, "you are marked as Christ's own forever."
This is a great deal deeper than a vocation. It is a profound statement that one's entire being is being directed and shifted to a new way of being. The question to ask here is one that can only be answered in the heart of the individual who ponders it: How do we live into this fundamental shift in our character? What does "Christian" mean to us? I have spent most of my adult lifetime coming to grips with that. It's a kneeding and shaping process.
Thirty-three years ago on 29 December, I was ordained a priest by Bishop Arthur Anton Vogel at Christ Church, Sprinfield, MO. It is a sacrament and, thus, indelible. We call it an "ontological shift," a fundamental shift in our character....who we are at the core of our being. It makes those , who are ordained, vessels and channels of divine gifts and stewards of the Church's sacred life. I have also spent those 33 years coming to terms with the depth and profundity of that vocation. Far, far deeper than being the "Laird's Man" of my heritage, the name nevertheless reflects the unique place in community. "Christian Priest." "Christ's Priest." Fundamentally, each of us Baptized persons is "Christ's Man" or "Christ's Woman." However, this is not just when needed or convenient. It marks us in service forever!
It's a humble way to begin the new year. Whatever your tradition, or your heritage, ask yourself if you are living fully into what it means to be that person in community. It is a good way to create "resolutions" for a truly New Year.
Blessings in this Season of Blessings!