Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Gifted with the name Christians

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published May 14, 2015

“It was in Antioch that the disciples were called Christians for the first time.”
Acts 11:26


A baby arrives into this world naked and nameless. Hopefully, with that unique kind of love that parents have for their infant, they will give all they can to help the little her or him start this journey of life.

They will name their newborn. They will provide warmth, food, shelter, a place called family. And all the while, a new and living page in the history of the world is being written. All that is given to the baby comes as gifts, given with joy and the hope that he or she will grow, be good, be happy.

It was no different for the early church, referred to in recent readings from Acts as no more than a gathering of people. Not a building, or a temple or synagogue, but simply people. And they are noticed by those outside their gathering because they are perhaps different, and are named by them. They, the outsiders, gave them the name Christians. The first of many gifts that would define the church; give it a name to allow it visibility.

The early church was powerless, lacking even something as anchoring and as fundamental as a name. And the gift of a name came from without.

And in that naming, we are offered a point to ponder on the origins and ongoing life that is the mystery we call church. All that we are, all that for which we can ever hope, comes from others in our midst. It is not only infants who in their powerlessness are dependent on the love and kindness of others. We are all in that same boat.

All that we are and have come from others. The life and mission that is the church is the generative grace that comes from peoples, cultures and lifestyles that are God’s way of being in this world, a God who manifests a nature that delights in difference and variations on the theme of being human. God’s church is still in the making, blinking, powerless and naked as it looks around this big terrain we call life.

We are yet a gathering of those who lack a full and proper name. It cannot be such until the day comes when all peoples of the earth live and love as brothers and sisters. When that day comes there will be no more outsiders or insiders. It will be a place that names, welcomes and shelters all that is remarkably different about being human and having a name. For the gift of a name means that we have been set apart, so that we can be seen, known, loved and welcomed by each other.

We were gifted with the name Christians by strangers. And it was obviously, at the time, a fitting name. But there are yet strangers in our midst, looking at us, wondering what we are about or looking at us with cool gazes of indifference. Their presence is as well a gift and it is one that Christians should take to heart. It was, after all, strangers who first named us into being. And it may well be the strangers of this day and age who are calling us to live up to the promise of that being.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at