God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. After wrestling with an angel, Jacob’s name became Israel. Jesus renamed Simon Cephas, which is translated in Greek as Peter. The call of God is not just one of inclusion, but one that transforms our identity.
God seeks a relationship with all of us and calls us by name. A name is any word or words we respond to. If someone calls out that word, we usually look to see who is addressing us. It can be confusing when we hear our name in a public space and look around, only to realize that we share that address with another. For those of us baptized as infants, our parents may have provided the designated name to the priest or deacon who is baptizing, however, that name usually sticks and becomes the name that God uses to address us in our relationship with Him. In the Essential Rite of the Sacrament [of Baptism], along with the water, “he accompanies the act with the words, ‘[Name], I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ The celebrant matches each pouring or immersion with the invocation of each of the Divine Persons.” (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, emphasis added) We are addressed and welcomed as a child by each of the Divine Persons in our baptism. We are called at that moment to journey with God, to learn from Him, to love Him as family. We grow and change over that journey, but our name goes with us.
One of the most famous, and perhaps most dramatic conversions is that of Saul in the Acts of the Apostles. The account of this transition from Saul to Paul begins in Acts Chapter 9. However, he is still referred to as Saul throughout that chapter, as well as chapters 11 and 12. It is only in chapter 13, verse 9 that simply says, “Saul, also known as Paul…” Why the change in name? Why now? According to the footnotes in the New American Bible version I was using, “there is no reason to believe that this name was changed from Saul to Paul upon his conversion. The use of a double name, one Semitic (Saul), the other Greco-Roman (Paul) is well attested.” From chapter 13 onwards, Acts mostly refers to him as Paul. Yet even if it was not made at his baptism, Paul’s preaching was mostly to those of Gentile origin in the Greco-Roman areas of the empire. It makes sense that he would transition from his Semitic name to one in the culture where he spent the most time. It is also very logical that he used his Greco-Roman name in the letters he sent to the churches where he preached. Perhaps he also wanted to distance himself from the earlier Pharisee who persecuted the Christians? Since we know him by his letters, we know and refer to him as Paul. We call him by the name that he used when spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Our identity in Christ is not by who our parents are, or a physical trait, but by our name. Our name marks our transition into the life of Christ and that of the Trinity. In the case of those that God calls into his service, there may be a change marked with a new name, or at the very least increased meaning attached to the name we already bear. God is calling out to you by name, can you hear Him?