We are Called by Name
“The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”
Everyone has read the headlines; heard the news reports and interviews; watched the “experts” and pundits debate and dialogue; and seen the pictures. For many at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church, immigration and separation of families is not another “breaking news” item. It is a threatening reality confronted daily, and it influences and touches families’ lives and daily living. Our faith challenges us to be well-formed persons with well-informed consciences, knowing and appreciating the Church’s teachings and traditions in assisting us in our response and action.
Two Sundays ago, Jesus asked the crowd, “Who are my brothers, sisters, and mothers,” as well as provided an answer: “Those who do the will of my Father are such.” Jesus entered an extremely precarious subject, because the family dictated someone’s identity, belonging, and security to her/his existence. Family was (and remains) a matter of survival- emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We celebrate this Sunday the Nativity of John the Baptizer- a man whose parents (Elizabeth and Zechariah) “broke tradition” and gave their child a name that no one in their family possessed prior to this birth. The name John means “Yahweh [God] is gracious.” Once again, our readings challenge us to examine human life as members of a family.
Fr. Peter van Breemen, S.J. expresses: “God called me by my name- that is my vocation. But it is more. It is my existence . . . My name enables me to be addressed and to respond, so that I can bear responsibility and fulfill a mission- it constitutes my identity,” Called by Name, Foreword. It is in the family, either similar or dissimilar to Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John, that each one of us discerns, discovers, and claims this vocation/call and her/his existence.
For better or for worst, it is difficult to deny the family’s affect and influence in shaping our identity, self-perception, and self-worth. No matter the appearance or composition, members of a family are formative and fundamental to one another. The reality and truth of the importance of the family should not be underestimated. St. John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio (The Family in the Modern World) that, “Christian marriage and the Christian family build up the Church: for in the family the human person is not only brought into being and progressively introduced by means of education into the human community, but by means of the rebirth of baptism and education in the faith the child is also introduced into God’s family, which is the Church,” 15. The family is the cornerstone of any society.
As God’s family and a sacrament (a channel of Christ Jesus’ active, salvific, and transformative grace and presence), the Church must maintain Her role responsibly. She and Her members must be agents that unite families, while at the same time, create and promote environments in which families and their members continue to realize God’s call and name for each. Whatever plan is implemented, this idea must navigate us.
Baptism into Christ Jesus’ Paschal Mystery reminds us of the invaluable gift and role of the family: “Christian” is our “first” name, for we are followers of Jesus Christ, transfigured and configured into Him. And our central identity is daughter/son (child) of God. We are members of Christ’s Mystical Body (the Church), making us children of God’s family, the Church. God has called us into this family, one in which we are in communion because of the Eucharistic celebration in which this reality and truth of being family is nourished and strengthened.
No matter which arenas in which the dialogue takes place, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition demonstrate how God’s care and interest lie in anything affecting the human person’s capacity to live authentically and fully God’s call to each person. Jesus spoke, preached, and committed actions as God and man, realizing that as the latter, it was an integral part of being human, and as God, knowing that God cannot separate or tear Himself away his care and compassion from any of His children. All who are called by name are included in being a light to the nations- the light of Christ. We must become the baptismal candle that was offered to our godparents. It was at that moment that we (or our parents and godparents) promised that the one being baptized would be the light of Christ, bearing and carrying that light so that salvation may reach all the ends of the earth, all those separated by darkness, all those who are estranged from their families.
We pray, Lord Jesus, that these words move us towards reflection. That our reflections compel us towards prayer. That our prayer disturbs us toward action. Finally, that our action will become a channel of God’s salvation, the salvation You, Lord Jesus, gave to us. Let us be mindful, making others mindful as well, that “the hand of the Lord is with us”- the hand that grasps others on the journey.