Somewhat jarring, isn’t it? Just days away from the end of the liturgical year when we celebrate the feast of Christ the King to hear this aberration is somewhat odd.
The repetition of names can result in a situation where familiarity trumps significance. When we hear ‘Christ the King’ does the meaning of each of the words register with us? Or is it really three parts of one word which now has little meaning?
Along the same lines, when we converse among ourselves, how do we refer to the Second Person of the Trinity – or do we at all? Do we say ‘Our Lord,’ or ‘the Lord,’ or ‘the Master,’ or ‘Jesus?’ What kind of relationship with him does our choice of reference indicate? What is the significance of our reluctance to refer to him all?
Names, properly used, are powerful because they identify and strengthen relationship.
So, when names are eliminated or reduced to the minimum required for communication, is something lost? Surnames, like titles, are a societal convention that seems to be disappearing. When was the last time you were addressed with a title like ‘Mr.’ or Mrs.’ or ‘Miss,’ or ‘Ms.’ When my adult children introduce their friends to me rarely am I greeted with: “Nice to meet you, Mr. Robinson.” Usually it is with: “Hi.” Sometimes it is: “Hey, Dana.” Furthermore, few use last names. I am struck by how many contemporaries address their medical and dental professionals by their first names. It is not uncommon for children – even young children – to address their parents by their first names instead of ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad.’ Do your nieces and nephews address you as ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunt?’
Are last names and titles becoming archaic? Has this something to do with the democratizing and impersonalizing effects of instantaneous and mass communication where more and more we become account numbers or social security numbers? Or, has it to do with our accelerating tendency to eliminate distinction, for instance the distinction of one’s family status (husband, wife, mother, father), or the distinction represented by one’s family name?
Popular sentiment suggests that the ubiquitous and exclusive use of first names promotes equality among us. This may or may not be so, but the disappearance of surnames and titles in our culture presages not a strengthening but a diminishment of relationship among us. It doesn’t bring us together, it lets us drift apart.
Just as the endless repetition of a title like ‘Christ the King’ might deplete it of its powerful significance, the universal practice of addressing one by one’s first name only eviscerates a relationship of the intimacy and solidarity the use of a personal name should convey. This is regrettable.
Names, because of their misuse, have lost their power.
To appreciate this better consider the contrary situation in the Gospel scene where the Risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene. She does not recognize him until he speaks her name, ‘Mary.’ Imagine the intimate joy of full recognition that flowed through her, the overwhelming and invincible assurance that ‘all is well.’ He spoke her name and it meant something, indeed it meant everything. To her it meant life is a gift and salvation is at hand.
This Thanksgiving as we express our appreciation for those gifts we enjoy as the Kingdom advances – gifts like freedom, food, family and friends – let us, as we call on and contemplate the name of the Lord, also give thanks for those fundamental gifts he gives us at the beginning and end of our journey: the gift of life and the gift of salvation.