“Hi…who are you? What’s your name?” How many times have we been asked that question! When we tell someone our name, we hand them the key to communicate with us. Most people have their name changed later in life. Let me explain. In the case of a mom or dad of a family, their kids do not call them John or Mary, but dad or mom. Priests or religious are called Father, Brother, Sister… Of course, the person keeps his name. (Although in some religious orders, they renounce their names and receive a totally new name when they make their religious profession). The new name (mom, dad, Father, brother, sister) expresses a new responsibility. Before getting this kind of “name change,” there is a vocation, from the Latin word vocare, meaning to call. God calls, because He has a particular mission in mind for every person from all eternity: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you…” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Many people, especially young people, suffer from depression and contemplate suicide because of what has been called an “identity crisis.” The modern world has lost the meaning of human life. This is not surprising when within the mother’s womb, the place that should be most secure in the entire world, there is a war against the most innocent of all the human race. We must return to the question we are asked so often by those who meet us for the first time: “Who are you? What is your name?” Have you thought to ask the One who brought you here in the first place? No one chose to be born after all. We were chosen: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16). St. John Vianney, after years of hearing the sins of humanity in the confessional said: “My children, we are in reality only what we are in the eyes of God, and nothing more.” We discover who we are by learning to see ourselves with God’s eyes.
Only God knows us perfectly. Only in the perfect happiness of eternal life with God shall our true identity be revealed and our mission be completed. The last book of the Bible expresses this beautifully: “To him who conquers… I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it” (Rev. 2:17). In the Servant Brothers and Servant Sisters, we have the custom of choosing a religious name when we make our profession of vows, though our baptismal name remains the same. Recently, I had the grace of professing my first temporary vows. My religious name is Brother Peter Mary of the Immaculate Heart. I have the tremendous honor and the corresponding responsibility of having the name of Mary added on to my name. On the second of July, during the ceremonies of the profession of vows for the Servant Brothers and Servant Sisters, there was a litany of religious names, as each one professed his vows. Perhaps this is a small image or foretaste of what it will be like in heaven when all the blessed receive the name that only God knows. After all, the religious life is meant to be a sign and testimony of eternal life.
“To him who conquers…” (Rev. 2:17). Have you ever wrestled with an angel or with God or with some mysterious figure who refuses to identify himself? Jacob did. In Genesis 32:24-29, there is an account of a wrestling match. There was no sports television channel to cover the event, but the Holy Spirit made sure it made it into the Bible. What is really interesting is the dialogue during the event. The mysterious figure asks Jacob his name. After Jacob responds, the other replies: “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Jacob responds: “Tell me, I pray, your name.” Earlier on in the account it says “a man” wrestled with Jacob, but it is obvious that we are dealing with no ordinary man here. So, we are all clinging to our seats, waiting to hear who the “mysterious person” is… What does he respond?: “‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him.” In the depths of the heart of every person there is a desire to know God personally, to enter into a relationship with Him, to call upon Him by name (Read Catechism 2563, 2567; it is well worth pondering these rich passages). When we go to pray, we must ask ourselves: why? Do we seek God just to satisfy our curiosity or to enter into a relationship? Do not forget that relationship involves commitment and commitment means effort.
Do you want to know your name, who you are in the eyes of God? Do you want to know what God thinks about you? Open yourself up to God. Ask Him. Jesus Himself has assured us: “Ask, and it will be given you…” (Luke 11:9). In the silence of prayer, we enter into encounter and dialogue with our Father, Who gives us our existence and sustains us in being: “In Him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:28). In looking to Jesus, crucified for love of us, we discover who we are: “Christ…fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” (Gaudium et Spes 22:1). We have been known and understood in the human, pierced Heart of Jesus, Who had each one of us present in His Sacred Heart as He offered His sorrowful Passion to the Father for us… (Read the Catechism 478, and 616. It’s beautiful!). If in the silence of prayer, you hear your name spoken by the Lord, you might wonder what to do… It is a pity not many people contemplate the stars, because there is something we could learn from them: “the stars shone in their watches, and were glad; He called them, and they said, ‘Here we are!’ They shone with gladness for Him who made them” (Baruch 3:34). How much more should we, who are made in the image of God, respond with gladness when the Lord speaks our name. We can learn much from little Samuel, who responded to the Lord: “Speak, for thy servant hears.”
The depth of who you are extends farther back than the umbilical cord in your mother’s womb… It goes back to eternity, to the God Who is Love, and Who has revealed Himself to be three Persons, as we so often repeat while making the Sign of the Cross: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All men, since they have been made in the image and likeness of God, are also called to live in communion of love. We cannot find our identity alone, because we are meant to live in relation with others. As holy mother Church so wisely teaches: “…man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes 24,3).
When we hear our name our attention is immediately captured. We have been called. Perhaps it is someone asking us for help at a moment when we have “more important things” to do. Are these things really more important, or are they “more important” only because they are MY plans? What prevents our response to others or to God, once we realize that our name has been spoken by someone (or Someone)? The obstacles and impediments may be many and of different kinds. It is important to pray for light to discover them and to beg for the grace to fight them, as well as to do all that we can to overcome these barriers that prevent us from truly being ourselves.
Whoever you are, whatever your name might be, whether it be long, short, funny sounding, one of a kind or a common name… know that God knows you perfectly, loves you and seeks you to be fully you, which can only take place after having fought to know, love and serve Him in this world, so that we can be perfectly happy forever with Him and all the saints in the life of the world to come. Amen.