Matthew is the name of a saint in the Catholic faith. A Christian name. My name is Matthew, but I go by Matt. Unlike Matthew, my name is monosyllabic, a sound one hears from a distance, such that anything overheard might be my name, someone calling me from a distance. The name I prefer to go by rhymes with many things and is a homonym. A mat with one T, not two, is something you stand on, something laid on the floor, something to wipe one’s feet upon, perhaps after stepping from a shower, after washing one’s feet. The sound of my name, the name I go by, is produced by putting one’s lips together and producing a hum from the back of the throat, the sound coming forward as the mouth opens and the tongue is laid flat against the floor of the mouth, the teeth closing and the tongue clicking upon them to form the ‘teh’ at the end. Sometimes there is spit that comes through the gaps in the teeth, the lips still pulled back from the ‘ah,’ the spit pooled at the base of the teeth from when the tongue was laid flat there in anticipation.
To Mr. Guffey, the recovering alcoholic with whom I would ride to school as a teenager, I was “Matthew-Bartholomew-Pop-Tart-Jaws-Jones” because as a little boy I would often come across the street wearing a Jaws T-shirt while carrying a pop tart in hand. His son, John, was also a heavy drinker, sharing six packs of Miller ponies with my own brother, Tom. All of us named after Catholic saints, all of us knowing that we were something lesser. Tom was named after my maternal grandfather. My oldest brother, Ricky, the third in a line of Richards beginning with my paternal grandfather. I was supposed to be a Joseph, but my mother says that she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. “You just didn’t look like a Joseph,” she once told me. The youngest of three, I am the only one not named after a family member, and yet I am still named after a saint.
According to Suelain Moy, editor at BabyZone.com, “Catholics believe that when you name your child after a saint, you give your child a patron, a protector, and a role model.” She goes on to advise that “Another, more traditional way to choose a saint's name is to find the saint's day that falls closest to your child's birthday. Many saints are honored with their own feast day, or holy day, which commemorates the day that they died or were born into heaven.” Matthew’s Western Feast Day is September 21. The Eastern Feast Day, November 16. My birthday, October third, falls between these two.
Matthew was born a Jew—one of the twelve Apostles, witness to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension—and preached the gospel to Jews in their native Hebrew for the next fifteen years. Prior to being an evangelist, he was a tax collector near the Sea of Galilee in the service of Herod Antipas. A maligned occupation, he was likely shunned by the public, such that Jesus sitting and eating with Matthew may have been seen as an act of humility and grace, an example of forgiving the trespasses of others who have trespassed against you. Others may have seen Jesus’s recruitment of Matthew as the action of an upstart cult challenging the traditional culture of Imperial Rome, an attempt to convert someone in service to Mammon over to that of the new monotheist movement questioning the established order of things.
Matthew is the patron saint of bankers, stockbrokers, hedge fund managers, and accountants.
My father is an accountant, and in so naming me, his last born son, for the patron saint of his chosen profession, he may have wished unto me the hope that I would follow in his footsteps. None of us have. Not the Richard, not the Thomas, and not the Matthew. He laments our choice, voicing it with alarming regularity as he prepares our tax returns each year. The ER doctor spends more than he can afford. The alcoholic bartender refuses to file, does not even understand the red/black balance of his own check register. And me, my father’s youngest, burdened with debts sowed by an early flaunting of the commandments, a victim of succumbing to the very licentiousness for which I was forewarned during my Catechism. During those Saturday mornings at St. Phillip Neri, rather than watching Scooby-Doo and the Superfriends, I was ignoring the lessons to be learned, whiting out the eyes of the Apostles on the cover of my workbook with my pencil eraser. But, then, my father, who had been raised in the Jesuit tradition from his early Baptism through the completion of his Accounting degree in downtown Chicago at Loyola University, only brought us to church twice a year on Easter and Christmas. My parents would tell me later that this choice had to do with the Church’s stance on contraception, but I am left to wonder if it had more to do with an unbaptized, and therefore unnamed, sister who was buried only three days after birth, sometime between my older brothers. Upon my grandfather Thomas’s death, I had the opportunity to see the marker at the family plot. A single word carved into the green marble reads only “baby.” Catholic tradition offered her no opportunity to be a saint.
For, according to the Gospel of John, “Unless a person is born again of water and the spirit, they can not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965, the years between my brothers), most Catholics were taught that unbaptized children were condemned to hell. Nurses would often rush to baptize the child soon after birth, and many people’s children, administered to by Catholic nurses, were given the sacrament without parental consent. But even the Catholic reformation of the 1960s remained unclear on the matter until 2007. An Associated Press article on a 2007 Vatican advisory panel states that “theologians … have long taught that such children enjoy an eternal state of perfect natural happiness, a state commonly called limbo, but without being in communion with God.” The article goes on to point out that St. Augustine, in the 4th Century, determined that unbaptised [sic] babies do indeed go to hell, but that they suffer what this saintly role model referred to as “‘only the mildest condemnation.’” According to Rev. Richard McBrien, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, “If there's no limbo and we're not going to revert to St. Augustine's teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we're left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace…Baptism does not exist to wipe away the ‘stain’ of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church.” The commission’s report “does not carry the authority of a papal encyclical or even the weight of a formal document from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but was approved by the pope and published on the Internet — an indication that it was intended to be widely read by the faithful.” The commission’s secretary-general, Rev. Luis Ladaria, a Jesuit, said, "We can say we have many reasons to hope that there is salvation for these babies.” The Associated Press article points out that Rev. Ladaria stressed that there is no certainty, just hope. Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said "Parents who are mourning the death of their child are no longer going to be burdened with the added guilt of not having gotten their child baptized.”
We often say that the sins of the father are imparted unto his sons, and this is true. My father’s turning away from the faith has left me not exactly faithless, but wary of dogma. I am no saint. I am not Matthew. I am Matt, and my first daughter, the one conceived out of wedlock, is not Agatha, Angela, Beatrice, or Catherine. Not Clare nor Elizabeth, Frances, or Hilary. No Isidore or Joan or Lucy or Mary or Narcissus. Not Rose, not Scholastica, not Teresa, Veronica, or Zita. My daughter’s name is from before Catholicism, before Christ, before the Pharisees shunned the tax collectors in Herod’s tetrarchy. Chloe is from the ancient Greek. Sometimes referred to as a bloom, her name predates the flower she will one day become. A young green shoot. My son, her little brother, does have his maternal grandfather’s name. His mother’s surname: Carter. For my wish is to never have my children lose faith, neither in themselves nor others. Their names are entirely their own, owing no allegiance to anyone else’s ideas, as they should be.