Friday, May 31, 2013

What's in a Name? What's the Story Behind the Symbol?

I recently changed my profile picture on Facebook to a snapshot that was taken from the 154th Baccalaureate Mass of St. Ignatius College Prep.  I posted a caption about the evening and thought to myself "I hope I spelled that right."  I pictured the word  "Baccalaureate" in my head and thought of what it means.  Deductive reasoning led me to associate the word with the Roman god of the harvest, grapes, fertility, the theater--Bacchus--best known as the god of wine. As much as graduation is a time of celebration, I knew there had to be more.  And there is!
Celebrating Graduation with students you have both taught and coached is a great honor. 

Origin: From baccalauréat, from baccalaureatus, from baccalaureus, an alteration of baccalarius, to resemble bacca lauri (the ancient symbol of victory). Compare Bachelor.

We had a match!  A symbol of victory was a fitting way to describe the sentiment that fills the walls of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral where our Baccalaureate Mass is held.  Two days later the graduates will be joined by family, friends and faculty for commencement--a word that sounds like "an end" but actually signifies the opposite.  To "commence" is to begin and the use of that word for graduation is intentional.  The class of 2013 will say farewell, but they will also begin all that we have prepared them for.  

Knowing the meaning or the origin of a word transforms my experience with it. Perception is altered and understanding runs deeper.  It even awakens my appreciation for the concept, person or event.  Let the left-handed shooting guard of the San Antonio Spurs, Manu Ginobili serve as an example.  This pesky Argentine player ended the Warriors' hopes for taking Game 1 in the second round of the NBA playoffs by making a 3-point shot with 2-seconds left in double overtime.  A friend yelled out "Damn it Emanuel!" I turned to her and said "what did you say?" Manu is short of "Emanuel."  I said "damn it" in reply.  
I said that because I love the term, phrase, name "Emanuel."  And I know what it means because Matthew 1:22-23 reveals its significance: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” 

During Advent, I pray with this term as I prepare for Christmas. "God with us." That is Jesus--the Incarnation. What a beautiful word, what a great name. Knowing this changed my experience of watching Ginobili as the Warriors fell in six great games. It was a very, very subtle shift, but I have to be honest--it was a lot harder for me to demonize and detest a person when I know the significance of their name.

And that seasonal understanding is related to another one I make  a point of teaching to my students every Christmas or "Xmas."  The "X" wasn't intended to take the "Christ" out of Christmas, but you could make a strong argument that He has, but the X and P arose as the uppercase forms of the Greek letters (Ch) and ρ (R) used in ancient abbreviations for Χριστος (Greek for "Christ").  When my students make this connection, they have the same reaction I had to what a fun-fact I read in the review of the movie "42."
It is already a treat for me to read anything written by my friend and fellow Notre Dame graduate Peter Folan, SJ but most especially when it sheds light on something I have seen hundreds of times, but never understood.  In "Taking the Field" he write
The logo of the New York Mets—a bright orange N and Y interlocking on a vibrant blue background—is instantly recognizable for many baseball fans. But the story behind it may be less well known. The Mets rose from the ashes of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, both of whom left the Big Apple for California in 1957. Five years later, when the Mets took the field for the first time, they did so wearing caps that acknowledged their ancestors: the orange of the Giants paired with Dodger blue.
Wow!  Symbols have intention and meaning.  Names stem from something more.  Reminds me a lot of a central concept to the principle of sacramentality "there is more to life than meets the eye."  Once you begin learning the story behind the symbol and the significance of a name, your relationship to it changes.  Let's put "P" back in X-mas and as long as Manu Ginobili keeps nailing those field goals, he will remain "Manu" to me.  In the meantime, I look forward to learning, seeing and hearing more.

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