Every week on the PBS News Hour they show a few brief biographies of people who have died from Covid-19. I find them very moving, as they put names and faces to the numbers, we see every night on the news. I was thinking of how important it is to associate a name with a person when I read the Gospel reading for today, where Luke recounts the birth of John the Baptist. Elizabeth, thought to be barren, has given birth to a son. This was announced before hand to her husband Zechariah, but since he had serious doubts about the announcement, he was struck mute by the angel who had told him this news. So, when Elizabeth told the relatives assembled that the baby was to be named John, and they, in turn, asked Zechariah, he wrote “John is his name.” And when he did that, he was able to speak again!
After witnessing all this, the people began to wonder among themselves, “What, then, will this child be?” and then Luke adds, “For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” If we were to imagine names associated with all the children of the world, perhaps especially those who have been affected by the pandemic, those living in poverty, those living as refugees, as immigrants, those who are being exploited, and even those considered part of “them,” would we find ourselves wondering, “What will happen to them?” For surely God loves them as God loves the children closest to us.
I know the “Black Lives Matter” movement is controversial for many people, but another phrase that is used seems apropos here: “Remember their names.” If we can remember the humanity of those considered the “other,” especially the children, and seek not only relief for those who are hurting, but justice for us all, maybe that is a way in which we, like Zechariah when his tongue was freed, can give praise to God, and we will be ready when Jesus comes again.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.