“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

March 10, 2009

You Don't Mess Around With Jim

What's in a name? Plenty. A word of caution to anybody who starts paying closer attention to the wisdom of his or her namesake saint: Get ready to feel woefully inadequate.
By Jim Moore
Do you ever lose track of your name? I do. Hey, this is a legit, faith-based question here. The answer isn't packed with doctrinal revelation, but anybody who reads this space on a regular basis ought to be used to that by now.

For those of you who may be stopping by for the first time: This column is basically about being a cradle Catholic who came late to the effort of truly understanding and appreciating the Faith. It's about being somebody like me. I would have called the column "Rocking the Clueless Catholic," but I thought that would be unfair to the rest of you.

Today's question for the clueless: Do you ever lose track of your name, the way I do?
Everybody stop a second and say your name out loud. The whole thing. Confirmation names, too.
Any saints' names in there? Do you know anything about those saints? How often do they even come to mind?

Personally, I don't think along those lines very often at all. I've been "Jimmy" to my family and "Jim" to friends and colleagues for so long, that I rarely think of myself as "James." Yet that's a pedigree that shouldn't be neglected. Though I imagine St. James wouldn't lose any sleep over not being consciously connected with me.

Of course, if St. James ever is consciously connected with me - or with any of the other kajillion guys going around giving his name a bad name - it's probably only when the other saints are giving him a hard time.

"Hey, James! Did you see what that clown with the cradle Catholic magazine column came up with this time?"

I've been "Jimmy" to my family and "Jim" to friends and colleagues for so long, that I rarely think of myself as "James." Yet that's a pedigree that shouldn't be neglected. Though I imagine St. James wouldn't lose any sleep over not being consciously connected with me.
"Yeah, James. I mean, come on. What a moron."

Not very nice of them, I know. But I understand both John and Paul have been extremely pleased with themselves since 1978.

"All right, you two. I'll tell you again. Linguistically speaking, James is only as close as English can come to my name. All those guys and I hardly have the same name at all. And if you two would quit wrapping yourselves in the papal flag every chance you get, I could show you a John or a Paul or two who aren't all that much to write home about."

In order to spare my namesake at least some ribbing, and in an attempt to learn better the worthy lessons associated with my name due to his writing, I decided to turn my biblically bereft cradle Catholic mind to St. James' epistle.

Remember when we used to call them "epistles"? Made 'em sound as important as they are. I have a few dim memories of hearing the word at Mass when I was little, but it faded out of sight not long into my grade school years.

It had to happen. "Epistle" is a word doomed to failure in America. And it has nothing to do with liturgical preferences. It's just not very singable. Try it yourself.

"I'm gonna sit right down and write myself an epistle." No.

"My baby just wrote me an epistle." Uh, uh.

"Mr. Postman, look and see/If there's an epistle in your bag for me." No chance.

Anyway, I got interested in the Letter of St. James because it was featured prominently at Mass during the month of October. I wasn't named after St. James due to any special affection my parents had for him, but I do know that the tradition of saints' names for children played at least some part in the choice. So I figured it couldn't hurt to pay special attention to what the man had to say.

A word of caution to anybody who starts paying closer attention to the wisdom of his or her namesake saint: Get ready to feel woefully inadequate. I didn't get through the first chapter of James without self-esteem problems. Here are just a few from among numerous examples:
James 1:19: "Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger . . . ."

And my Irish ancestors became Catholic how?

James 1:26: "If a man who does not control his tongue imagines that he is devout, he is self-deceived . . . ."

No self-deception? And Americans became Catholic how?
Then, in 1:27, he talks about "keeping oneself unstained by the world . . . ." Personally, I can't even keep myself unstained by lunch.

A word of caution 
to anybody who starts paying closer attention to the wisdom of his or her namesake saint: 
Get ready to feel woefully inadequate.

You could spend a lifetime just trying to live up to a single sentence in that first chapter. But there's always chapter two. Right?

James 2:2-4: "Suppose there should come into your assembly a man fashionably dressed, with gold rings on his fingers, and at the same time a poor man in shabby clothes. Suppose further that you were to take notice of the well-dressed man and say, 'Sit right here, please' whereas you were to say to the poor man, 'You can stand!' . . . Have you not in a case like this discriminated in your hearts? Have you not set yourself up as judges?"

I think I may be okay here, simply by virtue of changing times. You see, just about nobody shows up for Mass wearing fine clothes these days. And if they're wearing gold rings, they're wearing them in places most traditional people would judge less than formal.

I just typed "judge," didn't I? Strike two. And forget about chapter three.
James 3:6: "The tongue . . . exists among our members as a whole universe of malice. The tongue defiles the entire body."

Even I won't look for a way around that one.

And just in case the message hasn't hit home by the time he gets to chapter four, St. James, being the thorough kind of guy he is, states things even more plainly there.

James 4:14: "You are a vapor that appears briefly and vanishes."

That says it even more succinctly than Ash Wednesday. As a matter of fact, I understand there was once a James-ist movement to institute Vapor Wednesday as a Lenten alternative for communities where ashes weren't available. The local bishop would eat something with pungent spices, then breathe on people as they approached the altar.

Among the truly great things about the Letter of St. James is his ending. After raising the bar hopelessly higher and higher for five chapters, he ends with a word of encouragement to those of us who hope people will learn the truth of Catholicism, and that they'll learn it somehow through us.

James 5:19-20: "My brothers, the case may arise among you of someone straying from the truth, and of others bringing him back. Remember this: The person who brings a sinner back from his way will save his soul from death and cancel a multitude of sins."

I've learned a lot from St. James in those five brief chapters of his. And maybe he's turned me around in a few respects. If only because I now feel a need to live up in at least some small way to his name. If my parents had named me after anyone other than a saint, the notion would never have occurred to me.

Maybe the tradition of saints' names for children is one we ought to hold on to.

By Jim Moore, jimmoore [at] rocketmail.com
Source: Envoy Magazine
Copyright: Envoy Magazine, 1996-2009, all rights reserved. 


  1. That's not so bad, you're just called to imitate your patron saint; so just preach about doing good things all the time ;)

    If you want a hard one, try Christina the Astonishing, who put herself through extreme penances throughout her long life (extreme poverty, ice water, fire, etc). Or St Christina, who the anti-christian judges tortured and attempted to kill 8 times (only succeeding on the last).

    Now those are hard to live up to!

  2. My name is very nicely proper, and simple to look up: "Amanda Lea."

    "Amanda" from "Amo Dignus"-- worthy of love-- a rich heir who ran away from his family to join the Church. Several times. Way, way WAY back in the triple-digits.

    Lea- from Leah, weary; one of Jacob's wives, mother of 6 of the tribes of Israel, and Rachel's older, not-as-pretty sister.

    My sister's is the maiden name of our grandmother, who converted her entire family to Catholicism, and her middle name is from Mary's.

    My brother's is a Scott form of John, and an archangel.

    Going through kids' name-origins is a great way to get them interested in other languages, famiy history, and in the Bible and Saints.

  3. Kimberly Hahn taught me this whole name sake thing by telling me to pray for my brother through St. James. A few minutes after our discussion it hit me like a lightning bolt. I was named Patricia more than 40 years before my conversion to the Catholic Church through the influence of St. Patrick. Interesting, eh?