O Most Holy Trinity: God within Our Names

Several weeks ago, as I was listening to local news on the radio in my car, a report came on about an annual service held in Chicago to remember all the deceased indigent persons in the city and county who were buried—alone and sometimes unnamed—by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. I’d heard of this service at Chicago’s First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, and I knew there were similar services held in other places. This year, for some reason, the report really caught my attention. Here’s why:

During the report, a woman who volunteers with a local homeless shelter spoke about the importance of that annual service, in particular the part of the service where the names of all the indigent people were read aloud. She spoke of how one homeless man told her how difficult and demeaning it was that people who would help him out on the streets wouldn’t ask him his name, or share their names with him. He had often seen people stop strangers walking their dogs to ask the dogs’ names, but they wouldn’t ask his name when they bought him something to eat, paid for his public transportation, or given him direct monetary aid.

I thought of the times I had helped out people on the street, usually buying them food or paying for their public transportation. Two days before I heard the report on the radio, I’d bought an egg salad sandwich and something to drink for a man outside the grocery store—and hadn’t asked his name, nor told him mine. I flashed back to the summer when I subbed as organist for six weeks in downtown Chicago, and regularly bought a fast food breakfast for a half dozen or so homeless people between Masses; I never learned their names. I struggled to remember the name of a single homeless person I’d tended when I volunteered for a foot care ministry…and drew a blank. Easily, I called to mind the names of several of my fellow volunteers, the nice, clean, and safe people who were like me.

The naming aspect of the news report and the service for the indigent deceased hit home during Trinity Sunday’s liturgies. There were all sorts of manifestations of the contentious debate over Trinitarian naming of the past decades: the privileged ritual names of Father/Son/Holy Spirit; the “job description” Trinity of Creator/Redeemer/Sanctifier; the more poetic rendering of Lover/Beloved/Love, and so on.

It all got me to wondering how much more deeply we could enter into the Divine Mystery if we brought ourselves to learn the names of God’s least and lowly. In our tradition, which values naming so highly when we are “Christ-ened,” why not also value the names of those valued by the Son of Man in Matthew 25: the naked, the homeless, the hungry, the prisoner—all those at the margins of our daily incarnated life—all those valued so highly by the Son of Man that he identified himself with them? They form, it seems to me, their own Litany of the Saints.

When we bind unto ourselves the strong name of the Trinity, let us likewise bind unto ourselves the names, the faces, the bodies, the Christ made incarnate again through the Spirit as we live the Gospel in service to all.

2 comments

  1. This reminded me of a ministry started in 2006 at a Catholic high school where I was chaplain called the Joseph of Arimathea Society. It is a group of students that come together to do graveside services and burials for the deceased indigent of our city. It quickly spread to all of our Catholic high schools and colleges. As the faculty member who brought the idea to our school said, “Everyone comes into this world with someone to hold them, they deserve someone to hold them as they leave it.” In the years since, a companion ministry has grown up where students carve headstones, since the city can’t afford them. They do indeed learn the names and lives of those least of our brothers and sisters. As a result, in the last 13 years not one person has died in our city without someone to carry them and pray for them. And I know from conversations with those involved that it has changed how they think about and treat those who still live on our streets.

    The ministry seems to be spreading through the Catholic school network and has been started in other cities. A documentary filmmaker made a film about it called “The Potter’s Field” that is available on YouTube.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwN_rfOoIuA

    1. Beautiful! I know of the Arimathea ministry & have also encountered it as a non-musical version of the Funeral Choir – parishioners/congregants who come to the funeral service so that there will be participation by the assembled faithful.

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