There comes a point in every Confirmation programme when we talk to the young people about the idea of choosing a Confirmation Name. Some already have an idea about which will be theirs, but others need more time, and a certain amount of persuading to make their decision. Eventually we get there, but that is only part of the story. Their chosen name is a saints name, and it is encouraged that this particular saint mean something to the young person.
As I’m sure you can imagine we get a wide range of names, it is amazing how many saints there actually are. The interesting part is when we start to examine and look at the reasons why that saint was chosen. Some are chosen because they are the patron saint of an important aspect of their life, for example, St Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. Others feel a connection with the story of the saint, St Bernadette is popular. And then others have a link with that particular saint, maybe where they were baptised, or the name of a previous school they went to. Whatever the reason, there is always a story associated with the saint.
As a youngster, I was confirmed when the rules were a bit different, at the age of 10. At the time I chose St. John the Baptist as my Confirmation name. I recall that the reason I chose this was, in the mind of a 10 year old, two fold. Firstly I had always, and still do to some extent, think that John the Baptist had a bit of a rough deal in the whole story of the Gospel. Not only did he live a very austere life, but the baptism and message he preached was to be quickly pushed into the shadows by the baptism and public ministry of Christ. And then almost to add insult to injury, as he continued to preach a message of repentance, he was beheaded for doing so. But even though he wasn’t the main man he stuck to his task, and that was what I liked and felt inspiring. Secondly, I was also aware that my name was a derivative of the name John – and there isn’t yet a St Ian!
Over the years I have become more aware of the lives of the saints and as such I think I would find it much harder if I was now asked which of the saints acts as an inspiration for me. Could I choose just one to be my Confirmation name today?
In many ways I feel a certain degree of sympathy and empathy with the apostles that Jesus had accompanying Him during His earthy mission. They weren’t the most educated bunch, they didn’t always understand what Jesus was trying to teach them, the necessity for the passion and resurrection they couldn’t see until after the event, and often they were more focused on themselves than on others – yet Jesus chose them to carry on His work after He had returned to the Father. Thomas in particular I think sometimes gets a poor press – he simply speaks what the rest of us would probably be thinking!
Then there are a couple of saints whose work helped to transform, through the church, the attitudes of those in power towards young people and education. I am grateful that I’ve always had a link with this kind of ministry, and it now continues in my role as a deacon. St John Baptist de la Salle and St John Bosco, have both been patrons of some of the work that I have been involved with. Their vision and tenacity enabled change and brought opportunity and education to those who wouldn’t have had much of a chance.
I have found also that the wisdom of what the saints have written, help to put some perspective and meaning into our lives and how we should live our faith. If someone were to ask me who to read, I would happily point them in the direction of St Julian of Norwich, St Teresa of Avila, and our own parish patron, St Francis of Assisi. Through them we are able to hear the word of God speaking to us individually.
A couple of modern day saints also grab my attention, St Mother Teresa, only canonised in 2016, the simplicity of the work she did, and the many many quotes that are attributed to her, are an inspiration to me in some of the difficult situations the world presents to us today. I also look at the actions and life of St Maximilian Kolbe. The selflessness of his final actions are something I don’t know if I could do, yet his faith and commitment to the love of God drove him on.
The saints that are recognised by the church are an inspiration to us. They, because they started out as ordinary men and women just like you and I, show us what is possible if we allow God to unlock the potential in our lives. We should pray for the strength to be able to respond in a way that enables God to use us effectively as He chooses.
So, if I were to ask you about which saints inspire you, who would be in your top ten? Would you still choose the saint that you picked for your Confirmation name, or would it be different?
P.S. Although there my not be a St Ian, we are important in the life of the Church – because everyone that follows Jesus is a Christ IAN !
Deacon Ian Black