After all this time, it occurs to me that none of our lambs featured in our blog posts have had a proper introduction. As you may have guessed, our sheep are named after patron saints who reflect our love for animals, our role as shepherds, and our devotion to the communion of saints, “on whose constant intercession we rely for help.” And boy, do we ever need help!
Thérèse ("to reap, gather") is named for St. Thérèse of Lisieux (b. 1873), a beloved patron saint from my childhood. I was baptized, confirmed, and married in the Church of the Little Flower, which is the “nickname” of St. Thérèse. This humble Carmelite nun, who died at the age of 24 yet was declared one of just thirty-six Doctors of the Church (proof that the Church recognizes the feminine genius!) left us a treasury of inspired wisdom that’s all the more wise for its mind-blowing simplicity. Among my favorite quotes from her autobiography, Story of A Soul:
“The splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” She saw herself as “the little flower of our Jesus” and understood she could bring Him glory simply by loving Him in all her smallness, humility, and childlike trust. Her writings remind me that our value in the eyes of God doesn’t depend on the greatness of our deeds; in her words, Nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love. Our little Thérèse is indeed our “sweetest” and most loving lamb. Coincidence? I doubt it.
Bernadette ("brave as a bear") is Thérèse's twin and true to her name, has come such a long way in learning to be brave. She's lovingly named after Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, France, a patron saint of shepherds. At the age of 14 (in 1858), the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the young Bernadette, a poor shepherdess from a destitute family, in a grotto above the banks of the Gave River. Our Lady appeared there a total of 17 times to reveal messages of grace and healing to the world (including her identity as The Immaculate Conception). The flowing spring that St. Bernadette dug with her own hands at Our Lady’s direction continues to be the source of miraculous healings for pilgrims from every nation.
Faustina ("fortunate one"), our resident “mayor” and bold friend to all, is named after a Polish nun, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (b. 1905), a mystic and saint who, despite her limited education, became God’s renowned “Secretary of Divine Mercy.” Her extensive "Diary” records the many revelations she received from Christ regarding His divine will that the whole world should come to know and trust in His love and mercy for sinners. Through her, we have also received the miraculous image of Jesus as Divine Mercy that is venerated throughout the world. With this image came the call for every human being to practice mercy in word, deed, and prayer.
Our quirky, lovely, Josie/Josephina ("God shall increase") embodies a loving nod to St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and the overall patron saint of our farm. As any homesteader or farmer knows, caring for livestock comes with trials and tribulations, and we commend them all to the one God trusted to care for Mary and Jesus. St. Joseph's intercessions for us in times of trouble (think tornados) have never gone unheeded—his righteousness with God makes him a most powerful prayer partner! :) In fact, we call on all these "patron" saints to pray with us and for us (and for our lambs) in every aspect of our daily lives as shepherds.
So—what’s in a name? By biblical standards: anointing, assignment, revelation, relationship, and so much more!
From the very beginning, God has made a habit of naming names. When He wasn't selecting a particular name Himself, He was delegating the responsibility to one of His trusted human friends. For instance, in Genesis 2:19, Adam was entrusted with the awesome task of deciding the name of every living creature created by God, thereby revealing not only what they were at the moment of creation...but also what they would be for all eternity. Similarly, Adam referred to the special companion given by God as "Woman," (Gen. 2:23) later giving her the name Eve ("Living One") because she had become "the mother of all the living." (Gen. 3:20)
In Biblical times, names weren’t mere conveniences. They were imbued with meaning and revelation. For example, in the Old Testament:
God changed Abram's name to Abraham to mark His divine ordinance that he would become the father of a host of nations (Gen. 17:5). Isaac (Gen. 17:17, 18:12), meaning "laughter," was the God-appointed name for Abraham's and Sarah's son, recalling their reactions when they first learned that Sarah was to bear a child at the ripe age of ninety. Esau, meaning "hairy," denoted a physical feature that would figure prominently in the conspiracy to deprive him of his father's special blessing. Meanwhile, his twin brother's name, Jacob, foretold Jacob's ultimate "supplanting" of Easau's birthrights (Gen. 25:31-34; 27:36). Later, after wrestling with an Angel (Gen. 32:25-29) God, through the mouth of His angel, gave Jacob the new name of Israel because he had "contended with divine and human beings and had prevailed." Further along in the OT, the name Solomon means "peaceable"— a fitting reflection of the reign of peace (shalom) and prosperity that Israel was to enjoy under Solomon's wise and Spirit-led kingship. (1 Chron. 22:9)
In the New Testament, in the Gospel of Luke, (1:13) God instructed Zachariah, through the archangel Gabriel, to name his son John, meaning "Yahweh has shown favor," an indication of John's role in salvation history. It’s in this same Gospel (1:31, 2:21) that Gabriel announces to Mary what she was to name the Son of the Most High: Jesus (“Jehovah is salvation”).
From Abraham (Genesis) to Saul (the post-conversion Apostle "Paul" in Acts), God has taken a personal interest in the naming of all of his creation: people, prophets, animals, holy mountains, stars, rivers, valleys, angels, orders, and dominions, and most importantly: He has given Himself "a name above every other name" (Philippians 2:9) so that we can enter into a personal relationship with Him through His only Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite quotes from Scripture is, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5). God knows us and knows what we are about before we are even born! Hence, when Jesus gave Peter the "new" name Cephas, an Aramaic word meaning "rock," (John 1:42) he undoubtedly confused and humbled this poor fisherman whose impulsive character was well known to all. Yet, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. "You are Peter [Cephas], and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:17-19) He didn't see an ill-equipped, temperamental fisherman with good intentions...God saw a man after His own heart, a man of strength, character, courage, and faith. A man trustworthy of the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Peter himself did not know what he already was: rock solid. It was a quality ordained, revealed, and fulfilled by the Master's touch.
Do you know the story and “meaning” of your name? Have you embraced it, have you fulfilled or grown into it? Were you named after a saint—one who lived on earth and/or one who lives in heaven? Do you call on him or her to pray with you and for you? What is the “Story of Your Soul”?
So, too, with what identity, role, and purpose will you anoint those whom you are given to name? Pray on it, then choose wisely, for God himself shows us that the authority to "name" another living creature is an awesome power and a sacred trust.