I sometimes wonder if anyone pays any real attention to the formal name for a parish and therefore to what the name might imply. My conviction, of course, is that the name chosen for a Christian community really ought to say something about that community itself. Even naturally, an Italian family name usually says something about its values, heritage, culinary favorites, etc., as does a German, Slovak or Hispanic family name. The fragrances of each ethnic kitchen are distinctive blessings.
Similarly, the parish name should, by the very fact of its distinctive patron/ess, somehow signal the unique character which defines that community and distinguishes those folks from their neighboring Catholic community members. Names matter.
Moreover, a parish is a territory, circumscribed by certain streets or demarcations. It’s more than simply a single set of central buildings, no matter what our casual thinking might imagine. The name really signifies the whole Catholic Christian community uniquely at work in that part of town.
So what does it mean if a parish is called, Saint Mary’s, or Saint John’s, or Saint Jerome’s, or Saint Clare’s or Holy Assumption or Holy Family? Does anyone ever pay attention to the name at the top of the Parish Sunday bulletin? Does it really matter at all? I think it should.
The question came to mind this past week when I was suddenly confronted by an unexpected invitation to write this week’s column. I sat still for a moment and wondered about the regular title for this feature in our archdiocesan paper: “Herald of Hope.” There’s almost something a bit pretentious, or at least provocative, about writing a column entitled “Herald of Hope.” The title certainly lifts the bar for any comments which the article might contain or offer, and sharpens its intended focus. Such an article should both be a proclamation and provide an example … of “hope.”
In this first week of the new year 2018, by general concession the constant reports of a world gone awry are all around us … terrible famine in Yemen, constant military action in Syria and Afghanistan, violent deaths at the hands of ISIS members (Pseudo-Muslims if ever there were any), bitter paralyzing political battles in Washington, D.C., train wrecks, fatal rogue shooters across the country, devastating storms beyond memory, American children dying daily in neighborhood crossfire. The daily TV evening news seems desperately compelled to find some small glimmer of hope in the last few seconds of its broadcast.
And yet we dare to write a column week after week proclaiming ourselves or our community as “Herald of Hope.” Ambitious to say the least.
Any realistic hope must be built on something positive and trustworthy. The writer of a column with that title should be realistic, but also positive. A wise columnist ought to know precisely whence comes the dare to hope, especially amid the dismaying evidence around us to the contrary.
Behind the title, its author ought to have a veritable litany of reasons for hope. The Epistle to the Hebrews has a thoughtful meditation on Abraham as a man who dared to place his hope and trust in his God (11:1-40).
It’s true that Christmas time seems to provide examples of reasons for hope in so many ordination situations: kindness in neighborhoods, kids mindful of others less fortunate, Holiday meal programs staffed by police or public officials, toys collected for children of incarcerated parents, snow shoveling for ailing neighbors, rides to the supermarket for the elderly, etc.
The challenge is for people of faith to keep doing those things all year long so that our daily life is itself a reason for hope … and we thus become its heralds week after week.
Names really do mean something, every time and all the time … at least they should. Faith matters … not only for ourselves, but for the happiness and health of the whole world. That’s why we really are people of hope, all of us, and heralds thereof.