We commemorate today St. Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist. Actually, we commemorate two St. Matthews.
After the Resurrection of Christ and after the Holy Spirit descended on the Disciples and they were sent throughout the world to preach the gospel, St. Matthew preached, among other places, in Ethiopia. It was there that he appointed his follower Plato as bishop. St. Matthew baptized the wife and the son of the prince of Ethiopia which greatly enraged the prince.
The prince sent soldiers to capture the holy apostle but when they arrived they said they were able to hear Matthew’s voice but couldn’t see him. The prince then sent out a second guard and this time Matthew shone with such heavenly light that the soldiers were not only unable to see him but they were filled with such fear that they returned to the prince to tell him what had happened. The prince, finally, decided to go himself. Matthew radiated with such light that the prince was instantly blinded. The holy apostle, however, had a compassionate heart and prayed to God so that the prince was given back his sight. Unfortunately, he saw only with physical eyes and not spiritual eyes. He arrested Matthew and subjected him to cruel tortures. After miraculously surviving one torture after another the apostle finally prayed to God and gave up his spirit. The prince commanded that the martyr’s body be placed in a lead coffin and thrown into the sea. The saint appeared to Bishop Plato and told him where the coffin bearing his body could be found. The bishop retrieved the coffin with Matthew’s body from the sea. Witnessing this new miracle, the prince was baptized and during his baptism a voice was heard that the prince’s new name should be: Matthew. After that, the prince left all the vanity of the world and became a priest. Later, when Plato the bishop died, the Apostle Matthew appeared to the priest Matthew and advised him to become the new bishop. He accepted the new position and, for many years, was a good shepherd.
Reading this from the life of St. Matthew the Evangelist it’s interesting to note how the prince was not only baptized but a point was made to change even his name. We find an example from Holy Scripture of the significance names can play when we read in the very first pages of the Bible how Adam looked at the woman and said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Of course, “Adam” is not a name so to speak, as much as it is the name of a species. Adam means “dust” but it also means “man, mankind”. And so when man saw woman, the name he gave her was “woman.” Later, however, we see how this changes. That first man and woman, as we all know, fell into sin. As a result not only were they kicked out of paradise but God prophesied to them of man’s miserable future: the sweat, the toil, the sorrow and, of course the worst of all, death. And the only good news was that the woman would bear children. So, Adam re-names the woman from woman to Eve, which means “living.” In other words, Adam doesn’t focus on how miserable their future will be. Rather, he finds hope in that one good thing, from that hopefulness comes the first genuinely proper name in the Bible. (*)
Subsequently, when we give our children names and we name them after Saints it is with this same desire, this same hope that our children will find inspiration in their namesake. Whatever the case, however, the names we give them should come from prayer, a desire for their salvation and not according to any personal liking or fad. We go back to the Bible to see an example of this when Eve named her first child. She named him Cain and with a prideful boast said, “I have acquired a man through God”.
Cain, as we remember from the Bible story, inherited this pride of his mother and he would later became a very proud farmer. So proud was he that even killed his brother Abel when God choose Abel’s sacrifice and not his. He wanted to secure his place as number one. Interestingly enough, it seems that Eve finally got the hint and when she bore another child she names him not with a prideful boast but with a bit more humility, realizing that children are not human creations, she says, “For God has appointed me another seed in place of Abel.”
After the gift of life, the first gift of parents to a child is its name. Indeed, it is a gift that lasts not only during a lifetime but even afterward. When we are gone, our name carved in stone and the memories it evokes will be all that remains.(*) Whatever our name might be the name each and everyone of us must live up to today and all the days of our lives is the name by which we are all of us collectively are called – that is, a Christian.
* It was this fine article, What’s Your Name which served as inspiration for the above sermon.