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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | God-given names express our deepest identity and mission

Knowing His true name set Jesus free from the agendas of others and enabled Him to devote all energy to the Father’s plan

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

“The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb He gave me my name” (Isaiah 49).

Did you know you have a name — not the name your parents gave you, but a name that God gives you?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this name “expresses a person’s essence and identity and the meaning of this person’s life” (CCC 203).

So, for example, the Catechism notes: “Jesus means in Hebrew: ‘God saves.’ At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel gave Him the name Jesus as His proper name, which expresses both His identity and mission” (CCC 430).

St. John Paul II said much the same of Mary in his encyclical “Redemptoris Mater” (“Mother of the Redeemer”): “For (at the annunciation), the messenger greets Mary as ‘full of grace;’ he calls her thus as if it were her real name. He does not call her by her proper earthly name: Miryam (Mary), but by this new name: ‘full of grace.’”

There are many naming episodes in the Bible which alert us to this spiritual reality. And it’s a rich and fruitful theme in the spiritual life. But it’s also helpful because of how it sets us free.

Think of it: Jesus knew His “name,” which gave Him His identity and mission. That made Him free from everyone else’s agenda for His life. Wouldn’t it be nice to live with that kind of freedom? And being free from everyone else’s agenda left Him free to give all His energy to the mission the Father gave Him — even and especially the hard parts of that mission, which we see and hear in abundant detail all through Holy Week. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of strength in our own lives — to be able to say, with Jesus at the pivot point of betrayal, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him” — in other words, “this is exactly why I’m here — this is my mission”?

Knowing our name can become a home base for consolation and a guiding compass for discernment. It’s a home base for consolation, because as long as we rest in our God-given identity and mission, we’ll maintain the kind of consolation that comes from remaining in right relationship with God. It’s a guiding compass for discernment, because we can judge every proposed course of action by this criterion: “Is this consistent with the identity and mission God has given me — my spiritual ‘name’ — or does it take me away from that identity and mission?”

So here’s a simple exhortation for this week. As we walk with Jesus through the events of Holy Week, as we see Him live His name — the identity and mission the Father gave Him — let’s listen for the name that God gives each of us. Let’s pray to know our deepest identity and mission and for the clarity and strength to live them out.

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