The spiritual formation we receive from our family of origin is deep and powerful. Family forms us for good and for ill as a family environment and history can be both healthy and harmful, not infrequently, both. Yesterday while going through old family photos with my aunt and my mother, I found a photograph of my great uncle Tony, my grandfather’s brother, the person for whom I was named. I only knew him as an old man. Due to health reasons, the only thing he ever said was “What do you say?” Although it sounded like “Whadyasay?” When I became an uncle – an Uncle Tony – it became a family joke for me to croak “Whadyasay?” to my little nephew. My own identity as an uncle was as an aging, if not an old man. To see him in this photo as a young man in the U.S. Army in Belgium during WWII was a profound experience. All my life, I was named after an old man who couldn’t speak well, but now my personal namesake has a visible presence for me as a young and vital human being. I feel reminded to be a young and vital presence to my nephew, not just an old and quirky one.

Questions for spiritual reflection:

Were you named after a family member? What’s that been like for you? What do you know of them as a person? How has having this namesake affected your sense of self and sense of connection to your family and its history? How has being a namesake affected your sense of self and identity?

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