Matthew 28:16-20
On Familiar Terms by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by Permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.  When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.  Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."


We grow so accustomed to and familiar with certain things that we risk losing sight of their significance.  “Familiarity breeds contempt,” the old saying goes.  Not outright, malicious contempt, perhaps.  But certainly such neglect and disregard that appear contemptuous.  Such is the case with the words we speak often (many times a day, if we are praying as we ought). “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  We say these words so frequently that it may surprise us that our Lord spoke them only once.  (Mt 28:16-20)  Let us try to recover, then, an appreciation for the meaning of these words – lest our familiarity breeds contempt.

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  The words provide a glimpse, first of all, into the nature of God himself.  But we should stop here and consider that astounding gift of our faith: insight and entrance into the nature of God himself.  The triune God desires not merely that we obey him or even that we just be united to him.  He desires that we know his inner life and enter into that life.  The Father has sent his Son and Holy Spirit not just to command us but to bring us into his intimate life.

Further, a “name” in Semitic thought meant far more than just a word to designate one person from another.  A person’s name summarized the person himself.  By the use of this formula, then, we invoke not just the authority or the power of God, but God himself.  Our lives as Catholics are lived in God.  Our daily prayers, and our last prayers, are offered in God.

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Notice that “name” is singular.  We do not baptize or pray in the “names” of the Persons of the Trinity.  There is only one name for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The singular name suggests the oneness of God.  We do not believe in three gods, but One.  There is one divine nature that the three Persons share and which each one possesses entirely in himself.  We are not subject to the competing and capricious wills of various gods.  We trust in one, omnipotent, providential God, who is above all.

Following on this oneness is the listing of the three Persons.  God is one not as though he were an isolated individual, far off and aloof.  He is not solitary.  Islam insists that it is not fitting that Allah (God) should have a son or indeed any companion.  Catholic theology insists, however, that it is to God’s glory that his one life is shared by three Persons.  His oneness is that of family, a community – not of a bachelor or loner.  For this reason He can invite us into His life.  Were He alone and solitary He would have nothing to invite us into.  But because His life is that of a community of Persons, He can invite us into that eternal communion of love.

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  These words are more than just a formula for Christian initiation or bookends for prayers.  They put us on the most familiar terms with God.  But we must guard that familiarity against contempt.  It is worth asking, in light of the profound meaning of this simple phrase: How would your life be different if God were not three Persons?  Would you have to change everything if the dogma of the Trinity were wrong?

These truths are not reserved and waiting for us in haven.  They are to be lived already here on earth.  We are to live – to think, speak, and act – with confidence in the one God and a delight in our communion with the Father, Son and Spirit.  We are to live, in short, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

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