Part of the call of the Year of Faith is to renew our knowledge of and commitment to the faith that was gifted to us at baptism. Veritas is therefore happy to offer a Year of Faith: Book of the Month. These books are intended to inform readers on a wide variety of faith topics. As an initiative for the Year of Faith, you might like to start a Year of Faith Book Club in your work, school or parish community, where these publications can be discussed and shared.
Book of the Month for February: Take the Plunge by Timothy Radcliffe
After a string of bestselling books, Timothy Radcliffe argues that Christianity will only thrive today, overcoming the challenges of secularism and religious fundamentalism, if we rediscover the beauty of baptism. It touches the deepest dramas of human life: birth, growing up, falling in love, daring to give oneself to others, searching for meaning, coping with suffering and failure, and eventually death.
An excerpt from Take the Plunge:
Our personal names may be suggestive of who we are to become, our vocation. Luke’s gospel begins with Zechariah in the Temple being told the name that he is to give the son shortly to be born: ‘You shall call his name John’ (1.13). John was not a family name. The name ‘John’ implies that he will be free of his family for a vocation which they could not yet understand or imagine. His father has to let him go for the Lord’s work:
And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child and they would have named him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said, ‘Not so, his name shall be John’. And they said to her, ‘None of your family is called by this name’. And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called. And he asked for a tablet and wrote: ‘His name is John’. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed and, he spoke, blessing God (Lk. 1.59-63)
‘John’ was a common name. It means: ‘The Lord has been gracious’. Usually the graciousness was the gift of the child itself. But here it expresses the baby’s vocation, to be the one who proclaims that in his cousin Jesus, God’s grace is breaking into our lives. So names can be signs of our destiny.
Gregory David Roberts is an Australian who had lived a life of crime and violence before being sent to prison. He escaped and made his way to India. In a lightly fictionalised autobiography, he describes how we gradually discovered who he was called to be. A turning point was a stay in an Indian village. The village women gave him a new name, Shantaram, which means ‘the man of peace’, or ‘the man of God’s peace’.
He arrived in that village as a hardened criminal. His face and body said: ‘Don’t mess with me’. But the villagers could not read this Australian’s body language, and every time that he tried to look tough, they laughed and patted him on the shoulder. And then they gave him his new name, which he received as his vocation, standing by a river in the rain:
I do not know if they found that name in the heart of the man they believed me to be, or if they planted it there, like a wishing stick, to bloom and grow. Whatever the case, whether they discovered that peace or created it, the truth is that the man I am was born in those moments, as I stood near the flood with my face lifted to the chrismal rain. Shantaram. The better man that, slowly, and much too late, I began to be.
My parents called their children after the saints on whose feast we were born, as long as it was not too ghastly. I was born on the feast of Sts Timothy, Hippolyus and Symphorianus. I got off lightly, though my great uncle who baptised me used to write to me at school as Master Timothy Hippolyus Symphorianus Radcliffe, which caused a lot of mockery. ‘Timothy’ means: ‘The one who honours God’. This does not describe me accurately. My name is an invitation to become that person. Not all names evoke a journey to be made. A friend of mine is called ‘Graham’ which I am told means ‘gravel pit’, which is not, I hope his glorious destiny! The Importance of Being Ernest, by Oscar Wilde, plays upon how a name may or may not promise a future. The beloved would only marry someone with a dignified name like Ernest.
Members of religious orders often take new names when they commit themselves to a new way of life. I was threatened by the novice master with the name ‘Cuckoofat’. He may have been a fine Spanish saint, but I could not have survived a week as Cuckoofat Radcliffe!
So when a child is named at baptism, it is given more than a convenient label. It is being prepared for participation in the conversation of those who love it. Naming the child in love is the food that will help it grow into a human being capable of calling others in love too. But this conversation is sacramental of our entry into conversation with God, which will transform us in ways that we cannot anticipate. We may fear to get entangled with God, not knowing what will become of us. It is dangerous to let go of control of our identity. Will we be ourselves anymore, or become inhumanly pious, cardboard saints? Augustine cried out, ‘O Lord, let me remain Augustine!’ But God’s grace only transforms us so that we may indeed become fully ourselves, at the end of the journey, when we shall share in the eternal loving conversation which is the Trinity.
About the Author:
Timothy Radcliffe was Master of the Dominican Order. He is the winner of the 2007 Michael Ramsey prize for theological writing for his book What is the Point of Being a Christian? He is the author of The Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2009 Lent Book, Why Go to Church? He lives in Oxford but spends much of his year giving retreats, lectures and conference keynote addresses in the UK and overseas.
Previous Books of the Month:
October 2012: Heaven Sent: My Life Through the Rosary by Fr Gabriel Harty
November 2012: Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2013, from www.sacredspace.ie
December 2012: The Illustrated Bible: Story by Story by Michael Collins
January 2013: Will there be Faith? Depends on Every Christian by Thomas H. Groome