Marriage is so profoundly beautiful in the most surprising ways. It had been a tough week at work, and after coming home on Friday, my wife had dinner ready for me. We enjoyed some wine and her delicious pesto while we discussed our upcoming weekend plans. She asked, “Want to go to mass tomorrow morning?” Admittedly, my knee-jerk thought was, “Wait, really? I’ve spent the past five mornings waking up super-early, quickly getting ready for work, and heading out the door. Tomorrow is my day off; I want to wake up when I want to wake up, go for a run, eat some breakfast, relax, read something – and you want to book my morning with mass across town?” As I looked across the table at my wife, who was waiting for my response, my next thought was, “God, you’re clearly asking this of me for a reason. OK.”
We got up a little earlier than I wanted, and we ate breakfast a little later than I wanted; but sure enough, I received a poignant message from the pulpit. The day’s feast was for St. Bartholomew and so the priest focused his homily on this saint’s life as an apostle of Christ. I’d never realized this, but the priest taught us that St. Bartholomew was not consistently listed as “Bartholomew” in the Gospels and, rather, he’s associated with the name “Nathaniel.” The priest further explained that beyond those specifically listed by name, certainly Peter, James, John, Andrew, and a few others (who I can’t remember), there is some debate as to the actual names of the other of the twelve apostles. We do know that there were twelve; but depending on which list one might reference, the other names can change.
As I thought about the legacy of this man – St. Bartholomew – I couldn’t help but contemplate the value of a name. One of my deepest sadnesses in dealing with infertility, as the oldest son in my family, is the observation that my family name will likely not continue through me. My dad is Robert James Jr., I’m James Robert, and our shared name will likely die with me. Even now, more than two years since receiving the prognosis that my wife and I will likely not conceive, it still hurts to think about. Yet, the longer I’ve had to come to terms with my family name ending with me, the more lucidly I’ve come to perceive an unholy self-disordering of my own identity. I want so badly to have a son and to continue my family name through him. I want so badly to be the link through which a new generation will carry the legacy and family history that I possess into the future. Reflecting on the life of St. Bartholomew, I found peace in the realization that I need to let this go.
In a sense, the legacy of St. Bartholomew is somewhat lost. We really know very little more about him than that he was on a list somewhere as one of the twelve apostles, and, I presume, must have lived a virtuous and devout life worthy of sainthood. This is, mind you, not to diminish the life of a saint (St. Bartholomew, pray for me); but it is to say that maybe names don’t really matter nearly as much as my hopes and desires would have them mean. Even if my family name continued for another 5 or 10 or 15 generations, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that in another 2000 years from now anyone would remember it. In short, like everything else in life, even names are fleeting – and my desire to maintain my temporal name for eternity, inevitably, points to pride and vanity.
What is eternal is the call to spread our faith. Saintly, Christian men like St. Bartholomew give me that example in their handing down of this faith to the next generation. That example points to the more essential truth of my identity: I am more than a name; I am an heir of Christ. More important than passing my name on to the next generation is the more perfect calling to pass down my identity as a Christian – a Catholic – to the next generation. Praise God, I don’t have to be able to have children to accomplish that task!
I’m not the first person to say it – bearing infertility is a series of deaths to self out of which we are resurrected into a more perfect understanding of who we are as God’s creation. I pray that through the example of St. Bartholomew I, and you too, might have a fuller appreciation of what it means to focus our identity in Christ and to share that identity with the generations to come.
James is married to Allie, his wife of three years, and writes from the great state of Texas.